Susan E. Casey

Rock On: Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Sibling Grief


We are not meant to live life like salmon, swimming against the current

Good afternoon, my friends!

It’s been 8 months since my last post. Time truly does seem to have a set of wings. I’ve been working on my book proposal and it’s been quite a process so thank you for not giving up on me.

Kelly Murphy, whom I met in 2012 at the Passion Test Certification in SC, is one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. She now hosts a podcast on titled High Heels, High Hopes to inspire and encourage people to live fearless lives as she does.

Kelly contacted me a couple of weeks ago and gave me the opportunity to be interviewed for her podcast. Through her questions and guidance, I had the time and space to share what I did to bring some light into the darkest period of my life after my brother died, and how I approach life as a result. She titled the podcast after something I say often, “We are not meant to live life like salmon, swimming against the current”

Thank you, Kelly, for the opportunity!

I thought I’d share the link here for any of you who may be interested in listening since you have been on this journey with me, reading my intimate feelings as I moved through the grieving process. Your comments, love and support helped me to “survive” a desperate time in my life. I am deeply grateful to each one of you.

“We are not meant to live life like salmon swimming against the current”

Note: it’s close to an hour long, so if you do listen, do it while cooking, driving, etc. And whether your listen or not, please leave a comment on a time in your life when you were afraid to do something, but you did it anyway!

With gratitude,





Mining for Joy

Tick tock. Tick tock. The hands on the clock twitch, reminding me of time, passing time, fleeting time. It’s been five months since my last post. It wasn’t a conscious choice. The days stretched into weeks, weeks into months. So I thought I’d let my readers know what has reeled me in and sucked me under. 20131225142344-2Seven months after my brother passed, I woke up in the early morning, the sky still drenched in ink, whispering, Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Grief. It’s meaning illusive, living somewhere in the future. Months later, I’d awaken again at that same thinly veiled hour, repeating, Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Grief. A title. A book title. A book title about sibling loss.

A week after I had this flash of inspiration, it was my turn to submit a piece of work to my writing group, but I had nothing but a title and a loose idea about this book. As a fiction writer, I sat down and wrote an introduction about people I interviewed, who at the time only existed in my imagination. When I sent the intro to my writing group and arrived for my critique, they asked me, “So how did you get all these people for the interview?”

I laughed and said, “I haven’t interviewed anyone. I don’t even have anyone to interview. I just made it up to give you an idea of where I’d like to go with this project.”

“Where are you going to find these people?” They asked.

Answer: I. Have. No. Idea. I left the writing group, thinking, How am I going to do this? On my drive home, I thought about what I’ve always believed: Bubbles of magic float around us all the time, invisible yet there, waiting for us to reach out and pop them. Just waiting to sprinkle our lives with whatever it is that we need, what we’ve asked for as long as our intentions are clear, and we understand the motiving and driving force behind them.

bubble magic again MGD©

Yes, I understand that clarity is key to calling into our lives what we hope for, wish for, strive for. If we want to manifest the grandest vision of our dreams, we have to remove the white noise we send out into the universe in order to create a clean, clear, crisp line of communication. This was a problem for me, because the only piece of information I had was nothing more than a desire, a soul-need to write a book about sibling loss in the hopes of tossing a lifeline to those who were surviving the loss of their sibling. I imagined the improbability of rounding up at least 25 people who would be eager and willing to entrust their painfully intimate, raw, and true stories with a stranger who claimed to be a writer, but had ZERO published books. Crazy, stupid idea. I took these inspiring thoughts to bed with me that night, deciding the project was too big, too hard, and too overwhelming.

In the morning, as most mornings, I talked to my brother, always feeling his spirit around me since he passed two years ago on February 14th.

RockyI heard, call Mini, my brother’s college friend, who had become my friend as a result of Rocky’s death. I punched her number into my phone and shared my vision for the book with her. The bubbles began to pop. She knew 7 or 8 people who had lost a sibling. “I’ll reach out to all of them and ask them if they’ll do it,” she said. I felt a shiver of excitement ripple up the fragile spine of grief. I sat with myself in the silence, waiting for answers to these questions: What if interviewing people will reawaken, reignite that tragic moment when their lives blew apart? What if I cause more harm than good?

My questions were answered forty-eight hours later when I had 17 people who not only agreed to be interviewed, but were grateful to have the opportunity to talk about their siblings. Two weeks later, I had a total of 25, and emails flooded my inbox of people who knew people who had lost a sibling. I now had a wait list.

Throughout the past seven months, I interviewed people from all over the world. The interviews ran anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours. When the bubbles pop, what sprinkles into our lives often becomes something other than what we anticipated, and we’re given something far more than what we believed we wanted, what we thought we needed. I thought I’d facilitate these interviews, transcribe them, and use excerpts in my book to offer that lifeline of hope to others, but they are the ones who offered it to me.

love-linesAs I listened to tragic story after tragic story, I’d weep with this stranger on the other end of the line. When their voice cracked, I felt my own break. With each call, I knew I was standing on Holy Ground. I had not anticipated how honored I’d feel to bear witness to their pain, the joy they’ve allowed back into their lives, and feel the love they had and have for the brothers and sisters they lost to murder, suicide, cancer, overdoses and accidents. I listened with a whole heart and whole-heartedly as they shared their own sacred thousand-mile swim through their agony and sorrow.

Interview excerpts of the moment they learned their sibling had died:

Yvon: Because we had such a good conversation and laughed back and forth and got quick responses, all of my worries were gone. I was very much relieved that he (brother) wasn’t in a very bad place or so I thought. I was relieved and I said, “We’ll hang out soon. I said, “Just one more hug and I’m off to do the dishes.” He said, “Luv ya” and I said, “Back atcha.” That night at 4am, I was woken up by Hans (husband), who said, “Matt had jumped in front of a train.” (32 year old brother died by suicide)

Emily: My phone rang and I saw that it was my brother and I thought, “Oh, he’s so sweet. He’s calling to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day” and I could tell he’d been crying and he said, “Sit down, I have some really awful news.” I just said, “No , no , no,” because I knew what he was going to tell me, because I knew there was nothing that could possibly break our hearts more than losing our older brother. And he told me and I just kept saying, “No, no, no.” (56 year old brother died of a heart attack on a 13 mile run)

 Kim: She (sister) was packing boxes so he (husband) knew there wasn’t a chance and he begged her and pleaded and promised to change. It didn’t matter, she was still going to leave that’s when he shot her 3 times in the head. (Sister was murdered by her husband. She was 50 years old)

 Julie: I was 13 years old, a freshman in high school when Keith was diagnosed with cancer. I was in a fog. I don’t think I really understood what was happening. He was 26 years old and was told he had advanced testicular cancer. (30 year old brother died from testicular cancer)

I carry their stories around with me, knowing regardless of how challenging this project becomes, or how frightened I am that I won’t be able to pull it off, this book is no longer about me and my journey; it’s about us. It belongs to each sibling, the living and dead, who have a message of heartache, love, courage and hope to pass on to others.

A woman I interviewed from Israel who lost her brother in a bombing, said, “I don’t like to talk about my brother and what happened. I’m doing it because if you’re brave enough to write this book, then I have to be brave enough to tell you my story.”

Brave? No. This is not a work of bravery; it’s necessary. The brave ones are those I interviewed who dove boldly into the gaping hole of their loss, and kissed the bottom of that black river of grief and emerged a different and stronger version of their former selves.


Note to my readers: Always thank you for hanging with me even when I don’t post for months on end. I do plan on starting a podcast on Grief and Loss and will let you know when that goes live so you can pass it on to people you know who may benefit from a little dose of hope when they are deep in their over river of grief. Blessings, light and love to each and every one of you.



The Language of Water


At the end of August, as the slight chill of Autumn drifts through open windows in the early morning, we pack up dogs, food, books that have waited patiently to be read, journals and pens, and head North to Moosehead Lake.

On the first day I arrived, I breathed in the crisp air, tipped my head to the sun, and listened. To. Her. The massive expanse of water. If not for the missing scent of salt in the air, I’d mistake her for an ocean. She sounds tidal on this morning, lapping over rocks, jutting above her surface, like glistening heads of dolphins, against the weather-beaten dock. They have a relationship, a bond between them like siblings, like family that have grown together, intertwined by time, weathering the heartaches of thunderstorms. The bond ever tighter when sub-degree temps freeze them in a stiff embrace, until April arrives, releasing them, as they rejoice under the sun’s warm rays.

Each year, I long to return to her, to listen and wait for her whispers of divine wisdom. She has a language of her own. She speaks to the camel-backed mountains that surround her like a protective fortress.

20150829_083047_resizedShe speaks to the rocks, the piers, the finned and winged and vegetative creatures that live in her, beneath her, drift and float along her rippled surface. Creatures that feed from her body, like a newborn sucking sweet milk from her mother’s breast. She provides meaning and purpose; she understands her calling. Without her life-giving there would be parched land, carcasses and bones.file2091342661341She feeds and breathes and gives without asking for anything in return from the trout, small mouth bass, minnows and perch that move through her like blood through our veins, or from the loons that call out to her as they arch their spotted backs, and slap her with their shallow wingbeats.


She asks nothing from those who cannonball off floating docks to cool their tanned skin, and parched souls, or from those who rip across her on ski jets and speedboats, or from those in Kayaks and canoes, who plunge their paddles deep and slice through her easily.


She says, “I will give all of me to you, because I am for-giving.” She exiles no one, no thing, no creature. She does not expect to be canonized, bowed down to, or to be thanked. Her giving is her receiving. She beckons to share herself with all creation.

The docks stand motionless and timeless in her. She does not ask them to move because she’s fluid, flexible, and abiding, She slips around them, under them, between them, and over and around the rocks. She shows her love and gratitude by softening the jagged stones, and transforming their spiked edges into the soft curves of a heart.


That evening, I stood at the edge of her and she said, “Come to me,” as the sunset cast tiny sparkles of light as if a swarm of fireflies had descended from the night sky, skipping, glinting, twinkling, hooping in up on this warm summer night.


“Come,” she said again. “Dip below me. Drift with me. Let me cool you, cleanse you, and fill you with all that’s true. I will carry your grief away with me. I’ll hand it over to the angels, to the mountains, to the earth. Let me wash over your heart, cleanse the worries from your muscles, your bones. Listen. Be still. Let the breeze that rolls over me devour your heavy thoughts, the doubts that plague you. Let the sun that shines upon me, igniting the northern sky, fill you with peace, bubbling joy, rippling laughter.”

I slipped out of my clothes, felt the pebbles bite my feel. I waded in, ran my hands over her surface and gently slipped under the water, feeling her embrace. As I lingered there, treading neck-high as those twinkling lights danced before me, I remembered something I heard from Dr. Wayne Dyer, “Don’t die with the music still in you.”


That night under the sunset, in the water, I thanked her for sharing the music that’s inside of her. I asked myself, what if I lived my life like this awe-inspiring lake? With her abundant willingness to give, to be fluid, to share her song without fear over and over again. We all have our own music, our own song inside of us. A passion. A calling. What would the world look like if we lived our lives, like she lives hers? What would the world sound like if we all played our own unique music lying dormant inside of us just waiting for it’s release?


Fly Free, Fly Often

tatoo inkThe tattoo artist lined up ten miniature plastic cups filled with SkinCandy© ink. The colors so vibrant, exquisite, I was tempted to dip my pinky finger into the Candy Apple green, lick it off, and hold it on my tongue. Next I’d try Red Berry Cherry, Raspberry Jam, Candy Corn yellow, Tangerine, and Tastywaves. I liked the idea of sweet ink soaking through my skin, one droplet at a time, becoming a permanent glaze of hardened sugar.
“Will this hurt?” I asked.
“It’s different for everyone,” he said. “Women usually do better than men.”
The artist poured liquid green soap on a cloth, ran it over my ankle to cleanse it; to prepare the delicate skin for something permanent. He turned on the tattoo machine that mimicked the sound of a dental drill, but there was no Novocaine. I closed my eyes and imagined my brother, Rocky standing next to me, flashing that glacier-melting smile, saying, “It’s no big deal, sis. It’ll be over before you know it.”


“This is for you,” I said. “I was going to get Pegasus on my thigh, just like yours.”

“I like what you’ve picked better,” Rocky said. “Remember the song?”

I blinked back tears from the memory, not the pain from the needle, biting into my skin, moving up and down 50 to 3,000 times per minute. I wanted to feel the pain, to share my brother’s experience, etch it into my memory like our tattoos, like his: the dolphins, dancing bears, and Pegasus. Though he’d described the sensation to me any time I asked, now that he was gone, it helped me to feel closer to him. I closed my eyes, my breath moving in rhythm with the humming of the machine, the stop and go of the needle piercing skin, making wings.


Dragonflies collected me; I didn’t collect them. Long before I became familiar with animal totems and the divine messages they offer, before I was introduced to the spiritual meaning of the dragonfly, I had already received one dragonfly gift after another, in one form or another, since I was a child: pins for my coat, earrings, necklaces, Christmas ornaments, paperweights, towel hooks, stained glass pieces, canisters, plates, candle holders, scarves, cards, a painting. Year after year, gift after gift until I surrendered, and said to my  friends and family, “Yes, I collect dragonflies.”

stained glass

In 2005, I wrote a children’s book about fairies and a dragonfly. When my youngest brother, Kevin married Jessica, I wrote them a song for their wedding. The refrain going like this: the fairies and the dragonflies, the fairies and the dragonflies, the fairies and the dragonflies will lead you home. Rocky hummed and sang the chorus throughout the weekend. So when my sister-in-law, Galye said, “Why don’t you get something personal, like a dragonfly with Rocky’s name in the wings? I could hear Rocky humming that song, and I knew a dragonfly was right. Pegasus was his, not mine.

I went to my Animal Speak book and looked up the dragonfly as I had many times throughout the years. I read,  Dragonflies remind us that we are light and can reflect the light in powerful ways if we choose to do so. “Let there be light” is the divine prompting to use the creative imagination as a force within your life. This is what the dragonflies and damselflies teach us. Life is never quite what it appears, but it is always filled with light and color. Dragonfly can help you to see though your illusions and thus allow your own light to shine forth. Dragonfly brings the brightness of transformation and the wonder of color. (Animal Speak, pg. 342)
Dragonflies live short lives. Once they’ve grown wings, they fly free for about 2 months; they know they must live to the fullest during their short lifespan. As they mate, either on branches or gliding through the air, their lithe bodies form the shape of a heart.



Now I carry my brother’s name around on my skin, etched into the filmy wing of a dragonfly; I carry his spirit around in my heart, BOTH to honor his life and as a reminder of how to live mine. He flew free all over the world, shining his light, sharing his laughter, embracing his one colorful, beautiful, precious life. My dragonfly reminds me that we are each responsible to believe in, and shine our own inner light to illuminate each other’s lives in the most magnificent ways. It’s our gift, and our right to embrace the fragile splendor of each moment, to share our creative spirits in our own unique way, and to live life to the fullest in the short time we are here.

I think Rocky whispered these lessons to me on the eve I got my tattoo, because I woke up at 3 AM and wrote them down:
1. If you’re not going to love with your whole heart, don’t bother
2. Choose JOY in each moment
3. Go after your dreams as if your life depends on it, because a peaceful life does
4. Take risks. The kind that make you sweat and laugh and sizzle
5. Don’t waste another second reviewing past mistakes, because they’ve made you who you are today
6. Make someone’s day better each and every time
7. Stop thinking about what you hope to do, dream to do, and just do it

When my youngest brother saw my tattoo, he said, “Fly free, fly often.”

Ahhh…yes, and lesson number 8: Fly Free, Fly Often.
I think I will for whatever time I have left in this one precious life.

And you? What life lessons would you add to Rocky’s list?

Thank you always to my readers for taking the time to read my thoughts on my journey since I lost my brother. And on another note, I feel blessed to have lived long enough to experience the joy of all those who have waited and waited and waited to marry their partners. Miracles really are always waiting for us right around the corner. Another powerful reminder to NEVER give up!

 Love, light and blessings,



A Valentine Letter

Dear Rocky, my brother, my friend,

Today is Valentine’s Day. For some, this holiday means sinking teeth into truffles IMG_4790 copy

and chocolate-covered strawberries,


inhaling the scent of red roses,

IMG_1486__ copy

 and popping corks on fine champagne.



For others, it’s an arrow through the heart that bleeds and aches from past hurts under a cloud of “aloneness.” While still there are those who chalk the day up to another useless Hallmark Holiday.

For me, it is a marked “hall”iday. It marks one year, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds since I received a call from Kowloon, Hong Kong. A call from the hallway in Queen Elizabeth Hospital. A call from your spouse, my sister-in-law, Dewi. Over the 7,760 miles, spanning across the North Pacific Ocean and South China Sea, the line cracked like Dewi’s voice when she said, “Sue, you have to be brave. You have to be brave. Brian is gone, Sue.”





A year ago, I stood in that Valentine bubble of shock and imagined your sweet soul floating away from your body, away from a faulty heart that gave out on a day when they’re given out in abundance. Big ones. Small ones. Miniature ones.





I closed my eyes and imagined this, too: you hovered over Dewi, whispering in a spirit-whisper voice, “Be strong, my love. Be strong my Valentine.” But she couldn’t hear you through the crumbling of her own heart. Like those towers that collapsed in a thunderous rumble when planes ripped through the heart of those buildings, your death ripped through our hearts it that same way.

shutterstock_23882404Since that day, I’ve read story after story from people who’ve lost children, and spouses, and parents, and siblings,  and debate over whose loss is more painful.






I feel fortunate that I can’t cast a vote on which loss makes the heart ache more, or which one makes the knees sink deeper into the earth, and hands clasped more tightly in prayer to survive it.






I only know that you were a part of my life, our family, for 43 years. I only know when I’ve been asked how many siblings I have, I’ve always said four, two younger brothers and two older.

me and my four brotherLeft to right: Paul, Jim, Me, Kevin, Rocky

Now, four catches in my throat like a balled fist. I only know that for the past 365 days, I’ve awakened each morning and think, It can’t really be true that I’m never going to hug you, and Dewi, and Sara after your long flight back to the states from Bali.

I’m writing this letter on the anniversary of your death to thank you for being my brother. For expanding the way I see the world. For entrusting me with both your dreams and your fears. For holding me together during our trip though Walmart when mom was in a coma from her stroke. For the million and one times you’ve made me laugh, and for the  times you’ve made me cry. For fathering two beautiful children who carry your spirit around in their eyes.  For a sister-in law who loves you in the way you deserve to be loved. For being a mentor to so many. For being an inspiration, and showing me what it means to live a courageous life.


I’ve waited for four seasons to pass as I was told to. And I did it, brother. I was numb through winter. Clawed my way through Spring. Dragged myself through Summer. Said goodbye to the person I used to be in the Fall. Now, a year later, I stand barefoot in the snow, awake, alive, and changed for good and for the good because of you.


Because of you, I take more chances. I live more fearlessly, love more deeply,  and say “YES” to joy, to life. On this day I embrace our memories, feel your spirit fill the room because now after four seasons, I realize you carried Joy into—not out of—our lives. I honor and celebrate the miracles you brought into this world and continue to in the space you’ve left behind.

Rocky and Susan





Happy Valentine’s Day, Rocky. I hope you’re sinking teeth into truffles and chocolate-covered strawberries, inhaling the scent of red roses, and popping the cork on the finest champagne.

I love you brother on this day and always,

Love your sister,



What No One Ever Told Me

Last Valentine’s—that  rose-scented, chocolate-infused day, God reached a hand down,  scooped my brother’s soul into his Godly palm without asking if we were ready, if Rocky was ready, to transition from this world into the next.


He was plucked from our lives without any warning at all, leaving a jagged hole in our wholeness, sending tremors through our family while hairline cracks mushroomed through our “ROCK” solid foundation.

better hairline cracks

The past nine months have crawled by in a blurry, non-linear haze. I’d attach wheels to the next three, hitch them together like freight train cars, and shove them over a cliff if it would speed up time, whiz me past the four season mark a little more quickly. Many who’ve lost deeply have offered me this wisp of advice, “Give yourself 4 seasons. It will get better.”  What no one told me was all that happens while you’re waiting around for those seasons to hurry up and come, to hurry up and go.

Fall leaves

No one ever told me that each and every time my family gathered, we’d walk along the sharp and fragile edges of those cracks, like high-wire acrobats without a balancing stick or a safety net, teetering so close to the edge as memories crowded around us like ghosts on the haunt.  We’d ask ourselves, I’d ask myself, Do I whisper my brother’s name, “Rocky…” Do I stand in the center of my family and scream “ROCKY” as if I were on a mountain top, hollering to God and the angels and the spirit guides.  Or do I hold his name in my mouth,  like a bitter slice of apple,  and pretend, as my mother does, that Rocky’s living in Bali, riding motor scooters, twirling his four-year old daughter around in his arms, dancing to the theme song of Frozen, humming, “Let it go…”; and  in the evening, he’s cuddling up with his wife as they write their bucket list, and dream the dreams they’ll create over the  next forty years of their lives together.

With all that nobody told me, I attended a 35 hour training at the Center for Grieving Children; a safe space where I could find a few answers, do my own grief work, and eventually help others do theirs. In one of the day long training sessions, we were led through a guided imagery meditation and treaded back in time when our loved ones hearts still beat.

I landed in my childhood, sitting at the kitchen table, inhaling the scent of eggs, American cheese and fried spam, stacked atop each other between two halves of an English muffin—my mom’s famous breakfast sandwiches that she made for us on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  I heard myself ask my brother for a bite. He laughed, rolled his eyes, and handed me the sandwich.  “Why can’t you just get your own,” he’d always ask. “Because they’re too fattening,” I’d say. “I just want one bite.”

breakfast sandwich

During that guided tour into the past where my brother shared his breakfast sandwiches and hot dogs and meatballs and French fries, I felt the loss in the marrow of my bones, because to “feel is to heal,” which is the whole point of the guided imagery, to feel the loss with all the senses.

But still, no one stood at the front of the room and said, Let me tell you how to balance along those thin fragile cracks; let me show you how to fill the hole in what used be the wholeness.

holeI’m not talking about someone reminding me of how our faith will and can and does carry us through loss, like a beacon guiding ships safely into the harbor. Check. I’ve got that one covered. I believe in the beauty, and goodness of the afterlife. I believe our spirits live on.  I’m talking about those of us whose souls are still contained inside our skin and bone and blood. Inside bodies that feel loss, and love, and joy, and sadness, and anger, and all that comes with being human before we make that everlasting transition over to the other side.

And no one talked about the untalkable (this isn’t a word, but it should be), the unspeakable truth that stung my skin like frostnip; the truth that a sudden loss will change everything and everyone in your family in that millisecond for good; the truth that if I can lose one sibling, I can lose another and will. It’s not a question of if, but a matter of when.  The truth of how in those early months I’d clasp my hands together  and pray to God to reach down and take me next, because I never want to feel that heart-searing  pain again— that depth of loss. I still don’t, but I no longer pray for God to snatch my soul anytime soon, because here’s also what no one ever told me but what I’ve learned since my brother’s death.

After I crawled through the tunnel of shock, and waded through the neck-high water of acute grief, I found myself standing on the cracked foundation of my new and altered reality. A place where the sun’s lost some of its shine; the clouds are a few shades grayer, more ominous; the rain falls a bit harder, lasts a bit longer, and carries with it a deeper meaning, because my own heart weeps, without warning, in that same way as I bend my head and stare into the hole my brother’s left behind.


I feel the coolness rise from the earthy depths and know I have a choice, we all do: to climb down, curl up tight inside a hardened heart with each loss we endure like a periwinkle snail, or climb up, spread arms and hearts wide to joy, to heartache, like a parched seedling welcomes the rain, the sun, because it needs both to grow.

Here, nine months later, I tip my head to my dimmer sun, open my arms wide to love, to life itself. Gratitude swells and rises up through my body as I maneuver my way along those cracks because I had time with a brother who has given me the courage to say yes to joy, to heartache.   Without you, Rocky, I would not know the full depth of one without the other.

arms open wide


Note: originally published on on 11/24/14



Beauty in the Pain

One sleepless night, I tiptoed down the stairs, slipped outside and stared up at the low-hanging moon, so close to me it looked as if it had been pinned against the black canvas with a thumbtack.


I reached out a hand to snatch if from the sky, tuck it inside my heart, feel its warm steady glow burn through my body, filling the empty places my brother’s death left behind. Perhaps I’d be able to float, or fly into the midnight sky, join him there in the crook of a star, swing our legs and whisper all that he gave to me in his short life. How he inspired me. Expanded me. I’d tell him my favorite parts about being his sister and the infinite ways he changed my life and is changing it still.

I’d tell him how he taught me about love by giving me the gift to love and lose him in this lifetime.

Love, the lightest and heaviest four-letter word that keeps  artists sweating and panting as they attempt to capture this elusive emotion in words, in brush strokes, in haunting notes strummed on an acoustic guitar.

guitarTo open the chambers of our hearts to real intimate love—love for our children, our parents, our best friends, our lovers and our siblings requires courage. The courage to be vulnerable. The courage to allow another human being to tread into our shadow side, that sacred, secret space where our fears, our hurts, our unrealized dreams curl up and cower. Many of us let our loved ones halfway in, or three quarters of the way in, but protect the lady-slipper fragile parts that belong only to us. The last quarter of who we are as reassurance we’ll remain whole and standing and alive when we inevitably lose someone we love.

At least this is the way I lived my life, I just wasn’t aware of it until my brother Rocky died. Grief lit up those dark protected corners like someone shot a flare through my heart.

heart on fireThose fears, past hurts, unrealized dreams surrendered with their hands in the air. There was no more hiding. There was only me and my cracked-open heart, gazing bleary-eyed at the pieces of me I’d shooed into the shadows, said, “Keep quiet. I will keep you safe.”

Three months after Rocky died, after my travels to Asia, after watching his ashes glint under the Balinese sun and drift away from me and his beloved wife and daughter and brother, after the memorial service in the states, after there was nothing left to distract me, nothing left to keep my mind from re-living that nanosecond when my life blew apart as if I’d swallowed a hand grenade, I offered up a gift to my brother. I offered up a gift to me: to allow myself to dive into the deep river of grief.

deep river

I was terrified I’d drift away to some remote semblance of myself, but I was sure if I wanted to arrive somewhere new, it was necessary.  I’ve known my sibling for forty three years. I remember when my parents brought him home swaddled in a blanket. I want to feel the loss. I want to because it honors what we had. It honors the sister-brother bond we shared. It honors the love we had between us. It honors my brother’s spirit.

Moving through grief is a choice. I’m not talking about the aftershock, or the endless days, clutching photographs to our chest or breathing in the scent of our loved ones clothes or the desperate dire need to join them on the other side. I’m not talking about remaining stuck in the stages of grief. I’m talking about being present in the process, moving with it and through it so we can rejoin the living and hear the sound of our own laughter. Real laughter. Guttural laughter.

I’m talking about giving ourselves the space, the time to feel into the murky depths of our grief without the numerous assistants eager to numb the edges of our emotional discomfort: valium, anti-depressants (when it’s grief, not depression), street drugs, alcohol and busyness.

pillsWhy is it we want to numb our pain? Where do we think it goes when we don’t allow ourselves to feel it, breathe into it? I’ve witnessed it over and over as a therapist, the “assistants” and “distractions” that keep us from feeling love and losses fully. We would not know one without the other.

Only a few months into my own grieving process my doctor wanted to put me on anti-depressants. I said, “But I’m not depressed.”

He said, “Well it’s situational depression.”

I said, “No. It’s grief.”

We don’t, as a culture, want to feel the depth of emotion that sears through the heart like a fire through a parched field. We want to slap some salve on the rising blisters, cool the hot, raging ache. But those blisters need to rise. They need to pop, scab over, and scar. I don’t believe we ever “heal” from profound loss or that grieving has an end point. Overtime, our grief transforms into something new. Something different when we allow ourselves to feel our way all the way through it.

And even if it’s not our pain, but that of a friend, a loved one, it’s no easier. A human being in suffering bleeds an energy that is thick, and palpable. It cups its mouth over yours and siphons your breath. We don’t want to suffer and we don’t want others, too either. It hurts because we, me, you are powerless to transform those blisters into scabs.

As I stood motionless that night, just as my brother had done in a photograph where he and his two college pals tilted heads toward the sky, mesmerized by stars or the moon, maybe both, I thought about how that picture captured his spirit, the way he lived his life one moment at a time, immersed in the wonder of it all.

my brother

My brother taught me about love, about loss. He showed me there’s beauty in both. My blisters are not scars yet, I’m not even sure they’ve scabbed over, but I welcome them because the beauty in the pain is that I had the chance to love him in this lifetime. And that I’d choose over and over and over again.




If I’ve not said this enough, I want you all to know how grateful I am that you take the time to read the posts. When I started this blog, I did so with the intention to write inspirational pieces. I realize it’s taken on a different form since Rocky’s passing. I cannot express my depth of gratitude that you’ve continued to “follow” this site and travel with me on this journey.

With love, light and gratitude,