Sue Daigneault reveals process of “Writing Shadow”

Sue Dahlgren Daigneault, whose book, In the Shadow of a Mountain , was featured on our last  WoW-Words on Wednesday, takes us with her today, into the heart of her process. 

Edward Dahlgren MOH

Edward Dahlgren MOH

Her intimate sharing today, reminds us that warriors are not the only ones to experience transition from war, virtually over a life time. And, to be called on to meet the challenge of post traumatic stress.  

We asked if Ms Daigneault was impacted by the reliving of her father’s  painful transition from combat to home and civilian life after. As she explains, the transition cycle continued after his passing and then, unexpectedly through Daigneault’s own retirement and passage into yet another level of maturity and understanding.  

And now…… in her own words….


On Writing about Shadows

When I started writing the book that became “In the Shadow of a Mountain”, I was new to the experience of being fatherless. When Dad died on May 31, 2006, I began a long, long process of grieving his loss, of missing him every day, of never wanting to fully let him go.

Writing his story and my part in his story was a way to keep him with me. At times, the writing was painful and I was swept away by grief, unable to staunch the tears that rained down my face and onto the notebook where I penciled my memories of Dad.

Edward and Susan Dahlgren with BorderAs I wrote, I often felt his presence.

As I wrote, I realized that I could spin out stories of Dad, but even words and memories would never fill the hole in my core left there by his leaving.

As I transitioned to a life without Dad, I received comfort from others who also loved him and I learned that loss can sometimes bring families closer.

That was true for my family and for me.

My siblings and I shared countless memories about our dad and those conversations comforted.

Throughout that first summer without Dad, I learned that we don’t get over a loss but that we go through the experience of dealing with loss, an experience that often changes us forever.

Writing about Dad, recalling memories of growing up with him, sometimes brought smiles.

As I watched his beloved Red Sox during the summer of 2006, I remembered how he would sometimes shake his head and say, “They’re not a darned bit of good. I don’t know why I watch them.”

I know full well that he would have the television tuned in to their next game the next night. When the Sox were doing well that summer, I would often think of Dad and of how happy he would have been on those nights.

At some point in my journaling, which served the purpose of helping me adjust to being fatherless, I had an epiphany. I simply knew that Dad’s story was not just for me but that it had relevance in a much larger world and I wanted to tell the world his story.

In the Shadow Cover with BorderI wanted others to know about this love story between a daughter and her father. I wanted to tell about this father who had no father of his own, but who knew how to be the very best of fathers. And I wanted to tell the story of how a soldier who endures horrifying battlefield experiences and returns home to fight a lifetime of post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt, created a life worthy of his survival. I wanted his legacy of public service and goodness to be remembered.

I wanted readers to understand that the war experiences of our soldiers often do not end when the guns fall silent.

Physical wounds may heal but as combat veterans age, the incidence of PTSD rises. Although he suffered in silence for 50 years, soldiering on with life as best he could, not knowing that the many issues he faced in his long postwar life had a name and the name was PTSD.

Eventually, Dad had the courage to seek help for his PTSD and I tell his story so that others will follow his lead and seek treatment. No one should suffer in silence when resources are available to ease the pain.

During the process of writing my book, I retired from a long career in education and found that I needed to redefine myself.

I was no longer a guidance counselor with a daily routine and countless students to counsel. In looking ahead to how this new chapter of my life could have meaning, I went back to my high school yearbook and the statement under my senior picture, indicating that my dream was to write a best-seller.

Now, I had the time to write and a passionate story to complete. I also had time to travel and with my brother, Brian, I went to France to see the places where our father had fought so many years before. We came away from that experience even more in awe of the courage under fire that defined our dad’s war.

I’ve heard it said that we need to study history so that we don’t commit the mistakes of the past.

Our current situation, with American soldiers fighting on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, would suggest that we have not studied history closely enough.

Edward Dahlgren, Photo credit: from files at: Bangor Daily News

Edward Dahlgren, Photo credit: from files at: Bangor Daily News


Many soldiers are returning from their war experiences with horrific wounds, both physical and emotional. They will need our nation’s financial support for many decades to come and we must not be frugal when it comes to providing for their needs. I wrote this book to bring attention to this most important issue.


Edward Dahlgren passed away at the age of 90. In this 2007 Bangor Daily News file photo, Edward Dahlgren, then 89 of Blaine, wears his Medal of Honor and holds a display of other medals he was awarded for his service in the U.S. Army during World War II. Among them are the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, the French Croix de Guerre.  

Dahlgren, was also decorated with the French Legion of Honor, the highest honor bestowed by France.

As transition cycles go, and as fate would have it, the day selected so far in advance to publish Sue Daigneault’s process piece, fell on February 11, 2013. This was the very day that Sgt. Romesha was awared the Medal of Honor by President Obama. The story with heart warming photos, is covered in this Washington Wire segment of the Wall Street News.

He accepted in the name of all the men, with whom he fought for the United States and for survival at COP Keating. The post was later deemed tactically indefensible, and closed.


  1. Susan Dahlgren Daigneault says:

    And, as fate would have it, February 11th factored mightily in my dad’s life. On February 11, 1944, he was wounded in the shoulder during the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy and lay on the side of the mountain quietly all night so as to avoid the German soldiers looking to finish off wounded Americans. Exactly a year later on February 11, 1945, Dad was on Winter Street in Oberhoffen, France where German snipers shot at him from both sides of the street. His courage that day resulted in him being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

    • Helena Kaufman says:

      What symmetry in life’s wondrous web?
      A fiction novel could not have plotted such timing of events with such perfection.

      We had scheduled your personal process post weeks ago for Feb 11 without knowing of this. Then, I had to move it to Tuesday Feb 12.. something in me insisted on actually getting out of the bed I had thrown myself into early, so as to be fresh for today and then working on posting it BEFORE midnight!!

      As it turns out, Sue, today is my own father’s birthday (he shares it with President Abraham Lincoln). This morning I recalled our meaningful exchange about fathers and loss and the dregs of damage on family from war time service. … amazing isn’t it?

      with respect and appreciation to you, Sue,

  2. Very heartwarming process by the author and hope for those who come back with combat trauma. Thank you, Sue, for sharing your father.

    • Helena Kaufman says:

      Thank you Carol, also, for your sharing of your legendary dad, “Dutch Schultz” and the story of your lives as they unfolded after his service.

      As editor, I feel like each post enlarges our scattered yet connected family, through Military Success Network.

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