By Laura Raines, Pulse editor
Writing a memoir of her life was a healing experience for Florence Brown. She hopes that “The Breezy Meadow: A Butterfly’s Story” will heal, inspire and encourage others, too.
“I wanted to write something to help people get through significant changes, including poor health and emotional struggles,” said Brown, BSN, senior staff nurse in health behavior and psychiatry at MCGHealth in Augusta. “I wanted to share the lessons I’d learned from my parents … because not everyone had strong role models like I did.”
A psychiatric nurse for more than 20 years, Brown helps patients heal from depression, anxiety, grief and physical and emotional trauma.
“Patients will call me up after just starting [to take] an antidepressant and say its not working. The answer isn’t always immediate,” Brown said. “We have to work within ourselves if we are going to change and see life differently.
“Sometimes what you can do with words is a lot more powerful than a medication. Writing these words was healing for me and they can nurse my readers.”
Brown decided to write the self-published book after her parents died about 10 years ago. She was numb and grieving after her mother died, and then her father got sick and she spent many hours at his bedside.
“He would share tidbits of memories and I’d write them down. I decided to write a memoir because I didn’t want to lose my family history or legacy,” she said.
The breezy meadow in the book’s title came from Brown’s childhood. Brown grew up on a small farm in Alexander, about 30 miles south of Augusta in Burke County. Her parents raised seven children there.
“My parents always believed and taught us that the farm was a blessing,” she said. “In a small rural town, there weren’t many jobs readily available for African-Americans, especially those with a fifth-grade education like my Dad.
“We always thanked God for the farm, which kept us fed and clothed, and allowed us to share vegetables with our neighbors.”
Life wasn’t easy on the farm. Brown remembers watching her parents shoulder heavy burlap bags and pick cotton in 100-degree heat.
“The cotton fields seemed so much hotter than the corn fields when I was little,” she said. “You could look down the rows and see the heat waves coming off the dirt road. But they never complained and they didn’t force us to do things before our time as children.”
Brown did chores after school, but after dinner she did her homework because her parents expected good grades.
“The most important lesson they taught me was perseverance,” she said.
Brown grew up watching her mother nurse her sick children and neighbors. There was little money to pay for insurance or doctors, and she had no formal training, “but Mom was very savvy about home remedies. She had a kind and gentle approach and she was a dedicated and patient nurse with us,” Brown said.
While standing in a cotton field at age 13, Brown had an epiphany and realized that she wanted more out of life than working on a farm. She wanted to become a nurse.
“I had my parents’ full support. They wanted more for their children and [they] knew that education was the way to achieve it,” Brown said.
She studied hard and graduated as the salutatorian of her high school class. Brown graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 1983.
“Nursing is rewarding because you are reaching out of yourself to listen and show compassion to others every day,” she said.
Reliving the journey
Brown spent many nights burning the midnight oil to write her book.
“It’s an interesting process to write a memoir. You can’t just go to the computer and start typing,” Brown said. “You have to actually leave where you are and allow yourself mentally to go back in time. You have to relive the journey.”
Writing allowed Brown to appreciate the lessons her parents taught her and to cherish memories. Before her death, Brown’s mother urged her to order her tombstone immediately and visit the grave site. When Brown went to inspect the tombstone, a beautiful butterfly appeared, hence the second part of the title.
“It flew around in such a frenzy of activity. It was like it was rejoicing,” Brown said. “When I told Mom that we were getting ready to leave, the butterfly disappeared.
“For me, it was a reminder that even in times of despair and pain, there are reasons to rejoice.”
Brown was thrilled when her book was published in February.
“It was like bringing my parents back to life, and it was truly a celebration,” she said. “But a book doesn’t really become successful until a reader enjoys it. There’s a lot of healing between the covers of this book and encouragement for readers to seek their own reflection and restoration.
“Even if it touches just one person, it will have been worth it to me.”