The Evidence of a Life by Victoria Hyla Maldonado
As humans, we have a burning desire to make an impact on the world while we are here. I’ve never seen this more clearly than with my friend Lisa F. Gullo. I met Lisa in 2015, and the impact she had on the lives of everyone around her was immeasurable yet she never allowed herself to believe that was true.
In December 2018, Lisa lost her life to suicide after decades of struggling with trauma, both to her psyche and her health. We all saw the eventuality of it after several previous attempts, but her death still rocked us.
Lisa desperately wanted to be seen, so I didn’t want her existence to just “go gently into that goodnight.” Inspired by the knowledge she’d written poetry, I asked her husband, Dominick, if he would give me her poems so I could review them and possibly “do something.” He was ecstatic, and soon I had a flash drive and folder of handwritten poems to sift through.
What I found was a poetic journal of Lisa’s experiences and brutal emotional honesty about her physical, mental, and emotional battles written between 1983 and 2018 (the last dated two months before her death). The result is a massive posthumously published poetry anthology, The Evidence I Have Lived, which celebrates her and her work. The book’s title was inspired by a quote I found among her writings: “Where is the evidence/That I have lived.” To that, I say with confidence, “Here it is.”
The physical and mental adversity Lisa faced in life is nothing short of epic. For her, poetry was a way to make sense of her internal struggles and pain. She writes, “The words I choose are simple/But they mean so much to me/They flow from inside my being/Longing to set me free.”
Even as I walked alongside her while she grew in confidence and strengthened her faith, she dealt with migraines, seizures, relapses, and an internal war few of us knew about. She also writes about feelings of isolation just as debilitating as physical pain: “I don’t let people in/They just won’t understand” and “I am my own worst enemy/I let no one in/So they can’t help even if they knew.”
My hope is that you engage with her words and begin to understand the depths of the human experience—with all of the pain and suffering alongside pure joy and enlightenment—that she experienced on this Earth and that her words challenge, comfort, and inspire you to love and embrace life’s journey.
Perhaps you will find comfort that you’re not alone or see the importance of embracing the fleeting yet wonderful beauty in this world. Perhaps you will gain understanding about the true struggles of mental health and feel compelled to support and champion its study and analysis. Our mutual friend, Lauren Harris, Psy.D., offers, “The voices of those who struggle with mental health need to be shared so others who have been silenced by shame or stigma can listen to stories that sound like their own. Lisa Gullo’s poetry and Victoria Hyla Maldonado’s editing are doing just that.”
At the very least, I hope you get a clearer picture of one woman’s life, faith, and battle to overcome everything thrown into her path by genetics and circumstance. Dave Ferguson, cofounding pastor of our church and author of Helping People Find Their Way Back to God, says this is “a beautifully honest tribute to Lisa Gullo and her struggle through uncertainty, pain to hopefulness… a journey of great agony [that] brings you to a place of hope and healing, just as Lisa would have wanted.”
In her own words: “Maybe that’s my purpose/To help others find the light/Even through the dark.” I think that’s true, Lisa. I hope she is smiling down now that this collection is available to the world and has peace knowing there is very solid evidence that she lived and impacted so many people in amazing and lasting ways.
Dear readers, this book is her legacy. One of Lisa’s prominent concerns was the “burden” she was to her family. To that end, all proceeds from this book go back to Lisa’s family to help them live freer and more enriching lives like she wanted. I hope you will buy, read, and appreciate it, and then spread the word so Lisa’s dream of providing a lasting gift to her family can be fulfilled.
Victoria Hyla Maldonado is an author and editor. Please visit the book’s landing page on www.victoriajhyla.com to learn more and order Lisa’s book.