By SARAH CHAIN
Daily Record/Sunday News
Julie Swope was at her brother Tom’s funeral in 2006 when she first thought about how she might be remembered.
“All a person gets said about them is that little paragraph,” Swope, 64, said. “I thought about my own obituary, what I would like to say.”
Her musing turned into a memoir of more than 400 pages, beginning with her and her seven siblings’ arrival at the St. Francis Orphanage, Schuylkill County, in 1949. From the orphanage to her adoption by a wealthy family and her relationships as an adult, Swope details a past riddled with physical, verbal, sexual and emotional abuse.
“For many, many years, I was questioning myself,” Swope said, often believing her behavior or failures had caused the abuse.
It wasn’t until Swope began taking psychology classes at Millersville University in the late 1970s that a professor suggested Swope enter therapy herself. She also began writing poetry.
“The first one I wrote was ‘In the Beginning,’” Swope said. “It was the first time I really reflected on … some of the horror that had gone along with being abused.”
Therapy changed Swope’s view of her experiences, relieving her of feelings of guilt.
“There were a lot of things that I thought I had caused,” Swope said. “What I learn in terms of the therapy is that children are never the reason and never guilty, and adults are always in charge.
“It made me like myself a whole lot better, too.”
After her brother’s death, Swope took a couple of years to write her memoir. When she finished in late 2008, she wasn’t sure she had the strength to publish it.
“It was very difficult,” Swope said. “I finally got to the point where I could read some sections and not cry, and I thought, ‘OK, I can put it out there.’”
Even now, she said, when someone reads the book and mentions a specific section that affected them deeply, “there’s still that sadness and grieving.”
As a precaution, Swope changed some names in her writing. But her memoir doesn’t gloss over her circumstances.
“I did think about each thing I wrote and whether to include it or not, and I thought, you know, if we’re going to be honest, then be honest,” she said.
At first, she called the memoir her obituary, referencing its original inspiration. Affected by some people’s startled reactions, Swope changed its title to “Of Roots and Wings.”
“There is a saying that goes, ‘Every child needs two things; the first is roots, the second wings,’” Swope explained. “I thought about my childhood and all my siblings and how entangled our roots are, and how today, every single one of us is productive and has flown away from that and spread our wings.”
In writing down her story, she aimed to provide a message of hope — “hope for what you want, but cope with what you have,” Swope said.
Since “Of Roots and Wings” was released Nov. 7, Swope has received feedback from many readers who were touched by her writing.
One woman, she said, detailed some of the abuse she’d been through at the hands of her uncle and how much the feeling of being unprotected had affected her life.
Swope said her story offers hope to clients at her psychology practice in York, Yorktowne Psychological and Addiction Services.
Her family members, too, have praised the memoir.
“My sister (Jeanie) got the book and read it and said this book helps me a lot to understand why I am like I am,” Swope said. “She said I love this book, and I love you. And that’s the first time she ever said that.
“She’s 63 and I’m 64 and that’s, you know,” Swope trailed off.
Despite her memoir’s difficult subject matter, Swope said she never thought about giving up.
“If the book had never been published, it was still a really good thing for me to do for myself,” she said. “When I was writing the book was pretty much when I became my own hero.”
Name: Julie Swope
Lives in: York
Family: Six children
Occupation: Psychologist and owner of Yorktowne Psychological and Addiction Services
Hobbies: Playing the harp, gardening, traveling
To purchase: “Of Roots and Wings” is available through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, or call Swope at 717-843-2689.