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Welcome to the Virtual Book Tour of Always My Brother Tour info and prize info on the bottom of the page.
An interview with the author, Jean Reagan. Grief Speaks hosting 11/5/09
Becky and her brother John were best buddies, telling jokes, caring for their dog Toby, and playing soccer. John was always there to cheer her up and help her out- until he died. Becky wishes everything could go back to the way it was. When she is surprised and feels guilty about enjoying a friend's birthday party, her mom wraps reassuring arms around her and says, "Don't you think he'd want you to laugh, even now?" A poignant book written to help families dealing with the grief arising from the death of a child.
An interview between Lisa Athan and Jean Reagan
1. What would you say has been the hardest part for your daughter in dealing with the loss of her brother?
The hardest part was that she became an only child. All of a sudden her buddy and “peer” within our family disappeared. I wonder if sometimes she felt like we were a married couple with an extra person tacked on. I don’t think that’s true much anymore, because for the most part, we have re-formed as a new family-of-three. In ALWAYS MY BROTHER, I show how the family felt like a “three-legged dog.” Just like three-legged dogs in real life, they eventually live life fully although never again as a four-legged dog.
2. What was helpful for her and what was not helpful in terms of what others did or didn't do after John died?
One thing that was very helpful for her was having a friend who had also lost her sole sibling several years before. Even when they didn’t talk about it, they were aware of their shared loss.
What was hard was that many well-meaning people asked how her parents were doing with the loss, but not how she was doing. Unconsciously they were discounting her devastation. Young people generally don’t have much experience with loss, so their ability to understand and empathize is perhaps more limited than my adult friends.
By writing ALWAYS MY BROTHER, hopefully I have affirmed to Jane (and other siblings) how devastating losing a sibling is. Sibling loss is often discounted and I aimed to turn this around with this book.
3. It is so hard to deal with the loss of a child while also trying to support your other child through their grief. What suggestions do you have for other parents who also are in that situation?
My husband and I tried to create times when we were with Jane alone. The two of them went on a long Europe trip together, and Jane and I went on shorter trips together. On these trips, the absence of John wasn’t so thoroughly front and center.
Also, I generally tried not to fall apart emotionally with her around. She had enough to deal with without also having to handle my grief. Yes, I freely talked about my difficulties with her so she would know we’re all pained by this and that we’re all in this together.
I grieve primarily when I am alone. That way I only have to worry about me. I also find comfort in “talk” therapy while hiking with friends, particularly friends who have lost children, too.
4. When Becky (Jane) returned to school and the kids didn't say anything to her, was that helpful or did it make school harder?
What’s so hard is that both opposites are true. You want friends to treat you exactly as they did before and not to walk on eggshells around you. Yet, you also want everyone to acknowledge how everything has totally changed for you. Sometimes a simple gesture (a nod with a smile) can convey a depth of empathy. Casual mentions of memories about the person who has died can be helpful, too.
What support did Jane receive from the adults at school and what did she wish had happened or had not happened?
Some teachers wrote short letters to her and mailed them to the house. That was a wonderful way for teachers to reach out without causing a scene at school. Jane could read the letters when (and as often as) she wanted.
5. What would you say has helped your family through this very tough time?
Being surrounded by people who loved and admired John has been very helpful. Even four years later, our friends and family comfortably and casually will mention his name in reference to a memory.
I found attending Compassionate Friends (www.compassionatefriends.com) gatherings to be very helpful. Even anticipating a meeting offered a peaceful sense.
Also my husband and I continued to go to the therapist who had helped us during John’s difficult time with addiction. This therapist told us we needed to be “gentle with ourselve s and gentle with each other.” That was very helpful advice.
The three of us did little things to keep John present in our daily lives. Jane and I wore bracelets. We changed our “pin” number to a number representative of John. Our computer screen saver was a photo of John.
6. Fathers often feel responsible for taking care of their families in difficult times and often don't get a chance to mourn. Has your husband found a way to handle his grief in different ways than you and your daughter?
Peter knows that John would be devastated to witness the pain he has inadvertently created for the three of us. Therefore, Peter philosophizes that it should be our goal (to the extent that we are able) to grab life and live it, so that we minimize the suffering caused by John’s death. This desire helps us move forward and seize opportunities, even when we’re feeling down.
As a college professor, he has re-doubled his effort to help students in need as a way to honor John’s memory. If students are stressed or struggling, he’s always there for them.
Would he suggest anything to other dads?
Make a commitment to do things (no matter how minor) to honor the memory of the loved one you lost.
Everyone needs to know there is no wrong or right way to grieve. My husband has not yet been able go fishing; because that was something he shared with John. And, he has decided not to read ALWAYS MY BROTHER because it would be too painful for him. We all do what we can and don’t do what we can’t. Peter wrote John’s obituary, something I could not have done. We have to honor the difference in each other.
7. Many children who have lost their only sibling worry what they will tell people when asked if they are an only child? What has Jane found helpful to say.
This is a tough question for parents, as well. Sometimes you don’t want to “drop the bomb” about a lost loved one when a conversation is meant to be light-hearted and casual. Yet, you don’t want to back yourself into a corner or feel dishonest (or disloyal). I answer differently depending on the circumstance. If it’s a super casual, temporary relationship, I just say, “I only have one child.” If it’s the beginning of a real connection with someone, I may go ahead and say, “I have one child living, and I lost my son four years ago.” (By the way, in the Nepal where childhood deaths are common, people usually ask, “How many children do you have, living and dead?”)
8. When Becky said, "I just want everyone to act the same as before", what helps children feel safe or hopeful when "nothing will ever be the same as before"?
We found that many of our family traditions were hard to repeat, because John’s absence was all-consuming. So we tried to shift our traditions slightly. The first two Christmases we joined another family, even spending the night at their house. For the first Mother’s Day, we chose a restaurant we had never been to. We went on trips to new places. The newness in these traditions helped normalize our new family of three. When we did revisit places we had been as a foursome, sometimes it was helpful to not have other people along with us. Then we weren’t distracted away from the emotional journey we were walking together. We could talk or not talk, but we shared the experience of loss, even as we shared the happy memories of earlier times.
9. How has your grief changed over the past four years? Have you, your husband and daughter each grieved in different ways?
Time does offer some relief to the paralyzing, gripping pain. Although the loss continues forever, we have readjusted in many ways to a family of three.
I grieved by writing in a journal and by eventually writing ALWAYS MY BROTHER. I also read grief books and grief sites. Being with friends allowed me to grieve by talking and sharing.
Peter grieves by re-doubling his commitment to help others and by talking with me.
Jane, as an artistic person, grieved by making collages and art inspired by John’s memory. As an outdoors person, she takes on wilderness challenges in his memory.
10. Since this is the anniversary of John's death, what are some ideas you can share with other fami lies as to how you handle anniversary dates as well as special days, like his birthday.
For the anniversary of John’s death, the three of us like to be together. The first year we had a gathering at our house and distributed tulip bulbs to everyone. Each spring friends tell us, “John’s tulips are blooming.”
Now we like to spend the anniversary with just the three of us. Jane is away at college, so we either fly there or she comes home. We generally go on walks together, but we don’t necessarily talk about John any more than we always do. If we’re home together, we walk to John’s memorial bench at our neighborhood park where the kids learned to swim, ride bikes, and play tennis. The plaque appropriately reads, “Power to the Peaceful.”
John’s birthday is in the summer. Jane has traditionally gone on a backpacking trip by herself, and Peter and I do a major hike together. But, this past summer I had an opportunity to go backpacking with a friend and the timing conflicted0Awith John’s birthday. After much deliberation on my part, I chose to go. I decided John would have wanted me to embrace life’s opportunities in his honor rather than turn them down because of him. He would have been proud of his mom for backpacking through terrain he had enjoyed when he was a young teenager.
11. I love that in John's obituary you wrote "you will never stop talking about him". How can that help people to maintain a connection with their loved ones?
As long as we keep his memory alive in our lives, we can feel his presence. John, through his example, helped me be a better person. I want to hang on to the positive impact he has had on my life. And in the years ahead, I hope the pain of losing him will give way to the joy of having had him in our life as long as we did. As Dr. Seuss said, “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.” I smile everyday because John happened in my life.
** Next stop for the virtual tour is November 6 at: http://www.infantbibliophile.blogspot.com
For the story behind the book, visit www.jeanreagan.com.
ALWAYS MY BROTHER
Tilbury House, June 2009
For the story behind the book, visit:
Always My Brother by Jean Reagen a book about sibling loss for young children- 2009, Tilsbury Publishing House
Other Great Book Suggestions:
After the Fire: A True Story of Friendship and Survival by Robin Gaby Fisher 2008 (Wonderfully inspiring account of two Seton Hall University students who survived the fire on Jan 19,2000. Their courageous fights to recovery from the worst damage the burn unit at St. Barnabas Hospital had ever seen). Could not put the book down until I finished in a day.
Letter to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope by Olivia Gardner (2008). An inspiring collection of messages from all across America- the personal, often painful remembrances of former targets, remorseful bullies and sympathetic bystanders. This book speaks to all young people who have been bullied, offer advice and hope to those who suffer, and provide a wake-up call to all who have ever been involved in bullying.
The Glass Castle: by Jeannette Walls 2005. A remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. The dad was brilliant and charismatic but when he drank he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family.
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The Empty Room: Understanding Sibling Loss by Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn, 2004. Author draws on hundreds of interviews and creates a larger exploration of the enormous-and often unacknowledged-impact of a sister's or brother's death on the remaining sibling.
Empty Cradle,Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby by Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D. The heartache of miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death affects thousands of US families every year. This book offers reassurance to parents who struggle with anger, guilt and despair after such tragedy. The author encourages grieving and makes suggestions for coping.
Children of Immigration: Carola Suarez-Orozco and Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco. "This book addresses how immigrant children fare in America. What thought has American society given to the special needs of these students? Have we done anything to accommodate them? What have they experienced? The answers to these and many other questions are woven together with moving accounts of immigrant children. It is impossible to read this book without being moved." - Sandra Isaacson, Library Journal
My Daddy is a Stranger by Vicki Cochran
"When people ask me where my dad is, I sometimes say, "I don't know where my dad is." Sometimes they say, "How can you not know where your dad is?" I say, "He left when I was a little baby." They look at me funny and usually the stop asking questions."
In this wonderful little book, Vicki gives children who have had a parent leave, a voice. She gently shares some very common feelings, thoughts and concerns that other children have when dealing with a parent who has left them. I recommend this book for children who feel abandoned or confused regarding a parent who has left, recently or a long time ago.
When Andy's Father Went to Prisonby Martha Whitmore Hickman
In this book, Andy shares what it is like to have a father in prison. You will learn about fears, thought and concerns from dealing with kids at school, to moving closer to the prison, to feelings of shame, loneliness, jealousy and even hope. I highly recommend this book for anyone who knows of a child who has a parent in prison.
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