|Tilbury House Publishers
|Always My Brother by Jean Reagan
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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
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
For the story behind the book, visit www.jeanreagan.com.
ALWAYS MY BROTHER
House, June 2009
For the story behind the
Always My Brother Tour Nov. 1 — Welcome from Tilbury House - http://tilburyhouse.com Nov. 2
— Griefcase - http://griefcase.blogspot.com Nov. 3 — Author Jean Reagan's website — http://www.jeanreagan.com/Blog_tour. Nov. 4
— Healing the Grieving Heart - http://www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley081309. Nov. 5
— Grief Speaks - www.griefspeaks.com Nov. 6
— Chronicles of an Infant Bibliophile - http://infantbibliophile.blogspot.com Nov. 7
— heartfeltwords4kids - http://heartfeltwords4kids.blogspot.com Nov.
8 — I Did Not Know What to Say - http://ididnotknowwhattosay.com Nov. 9
— Moziesme - http://moziesme.blogspot.com Nov. 10
— Anastasia Suen - http://asuen.wordpress.com Nov. 11
– Maw Books http://blog.mawbooks.com Nov. 12
— Author Emily Wing Smith - http://www.emilywingsmith.com Nov. 13 — Bri Meets Books - http://www.brimeetsbooks.com Prizes
We will draw 7 lucky winners from all of those who leave comments on the participating tour posts (Nov.1-13) to win one
of the following prizes: - A copy of Always My Brother signed by author Jean Reagan (5 available)* - A set of 10 winter
notecards with art by illustrator Phyllis Pollema-Cahill (2 available) * Winners are welcome to designate a grief center,
school, or library to receive their signed copy in their place. All winners will be announced after the tour. US/Canada addresses
only, please. Twitter Prize Everyone that tweets
about the tour using the hashtag #AlwaysTour from November 1-13 will be entered to win a set of three children's books from
Tilbury House — your choice! Winners will be announced after the tour, US/Canada addresses only, please.
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.
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.