Season 1, Episode 11

Dr. Angela Dean / Tony

 Sibling Loss, A Psychologist, and the Birth of The Broken Pack™
In this episode, our podcast host and surviving sibling, Dr. Dean, takes the guest role to share her story of sibling loss that prompted the founding of The Broken Pack™. Our guest host is Ankur Shah Delight.

  • Dr. Dean shares how mourning her brother, Tony,  just prior to the pandemic, into the start of it, and grieving since then revealed that few sibling loss resources or supports existed. She describes how her grief was exacerbated by the isolation.
  • She shares how losing her only sibling challenged her identity.
  • Dr. Dean describes that despite her familiarity with grief and loss of both death and non-death losses, how unprepared she was for the lived experience of sibling loss.

Additional key points:

  • Dr. Dean explains that she strives to break the silence surrounding sibling loss and ensure that those who have experienced it feel less alone and more connected to others who understand their pain.
  • Together, Dr. Dean and Ankur explore community, purpose, and overall support in the face of disenfranchised loss.

    dr dean, sibling loss survivor and founder of the broken pack, and her brother at her wedding
    Transcript

    Dr. Dean: 0:12

    Hello and welcome to the Broken Pack, a podcast focused on giving adult survivors of sibling loss, a platform to share their stories and to be heard. Something that many sibling loss survivors state that they never have had. Sibling loss is misunderstood. The broken Pack exists to change that and to support survivors. I’m your host, Dr. Angela Dean.

    Ankur: 1:04

    I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. I love the project you’re doing. I love the podcast. So could we start out by talking about the broken pack?

    Dr. Dean: 1:14

    Absolutely.

    Ankur: 1:16

    Okay. Because that’s something that I am continually inspired by and amazed by, and it helps me, it, I find it really reinvigorating when telling this story or engaging with the idea of purpose of this. It can’t always be like this, but the relationship between personal tragedy and personal fulfillment and purpose.

    Dr. Dean: 1:39

    Mm-hmm.

    Ankur: 1:41

    I’d love to maybe start out with that and then we could lead into your brother.

    Dr. Dean: 1:47

    Yeah, for sure. one wouldn’t exist without the other, and I think it’s an important point to say it doesn’t always have to come from tragedy. People shouldn’t feel the pressure to have a meaning making process out of their loss. but for me, this is part of the healing process for sure. so the Broken Pack is an organization to help adult survivors of sibling loss through grieving it’s a misunderstood and, not well supported loss, although so many of us have siblings that, it’s inevitable at some point that. There will be a lot more adult sibling loss survivors. We’re just not talking about it. and it’s based on my own story and that is what I’m hoping to share. And what inspired this journey.

    Ankur: 2:39

    I just love to know, If everything goes the way you’d like it to go, which we all know it won’t, but it’s important to have the vision anyways. what, how would things be How would things be different in this country, and specifically for people who experienced this adult sibling loss in 20 years?

    Dr. Dean: 3:00

    in 20 years, I think people will definitely be understood, in their loss, specifically sibling loss. we as a society tend to compare losses, which it doesn’t. That’s not helpful to anyone. And that said, sibling loss will be understood, people will feel supported and asked about how they’re doing with their loss. so that’s the large vision, is that not only will people feel support from their loved ones, but they will also have that support and the resources to heal in whatever way that looks for them. So mental health professionals and medical professionals and friends and family, and just pretty much everyone will understand it in the same way that, someone loses a pet oftentimes that’s supported and understood and in a very different way than even just losing a sibling. I, I just said not comparing losses, but I do think that there are some losses that are definitely more understood than others. And, and this one, hopefully, Through the work of the Broken Pack and myself will, will be understood.

    Ankur: 4:15

    Yeah, so you’ve, you’ve really like pinpointed. There’s this mismatch between the amount of sibling loss, which is basically everyone who has a sibling. Unless you have this tragically bizarre mutual, I guess it’s maybe not that rare, die in a plane crash or a car crash together, but most of the time you wouldn’t die the same time as your sibling.

    Dr. Dean: 4:37

    correct. And at least, I mean, one sibling is probably not going to experience that My brother didn’t experience sibling loss and won’t. so at least half of siblings are, going to experience this

    Ankur: 4:53

    Yeah.

    Dr. Dean: 4:54

    probably more. Cuz most people have one or more sibling. my brother was born on my parents’ first anniversary, so happy anniversary. You’re never gonna have an anniversary without being a parent. and it’s in May, May 20th and last year around that time was my parents’ 50th anniversary, which was bizarre cuz he’ll be, he would’ve been 50 this year. and so I was driving and it, it was just, I was in this weird head space around I wanna celebrate their 50th and I had this big thing that we did for them, but also it comes with Tony’s not here on their anniversary. I had known since he died that I wanted to do something in this mental health space around healing and grieving and sibling loss since I couldn’t find those things when I needed them. and I was driving down the road and there was a billboard with wolves and there were a couple other things that reminded me of my brother. I was like, okay, I think I’m ready. I think I’m ready to do something. And then over the next month or two, like I really developed what I was gonna do and so when I came up with a name Tony used to draw wolves, he loved wolves. there was statues in his room and like figurines and he just always loved wolves. And wolves are big in Italian culture as well. He liked gray wolves. I don’t really understand why. I never really asked. and so then I started reading about wolves and I read a couple things that said wolves’, pack structures are usually two parents and then the sibling mates in that pack. and they’ve been observed both in captivity and in the wild that when a pack mate dies, there’s a period of time from weeks to months, in which the pack mates mourn them. They go back and they visit. If they know where the, the wolf died, they’ll go back to that place. Their howls changed? They stop howling so much as., I think, if I recall correctly, as a unit. And they go off and they’re howling on their own, but the tone of the cry is different. It has a very grief feeling. They’re trying to reach out to the lost pack mate. but the structure of the pack is never the same. So in essence, it’s broken. And so I’ve been asked if this means that I’m suggesting that grieving siblings are broken, and I’m not suggesting that cuz in some ways yes, but in a lot of ways we can heal. There will always be a part that feels broken, but that’s not what the broken part is referring to. In the broken pack, it’s referring to the structure of the family has now been broken, so the pack itself is broken. And because Tony loved wolves just felt like the right thing to honor him and name it in that way.

    Ankur: 8:00

    yeah. I think it works really well. It feels right.

    Dr. Dean: 8:05

    Thanks.

    Ankur: 8:05

    It really, really captures, captures the loss there Yeah. And when did you, when did you lose your brother?

    Dr. Dean: 8:13

    so it was February 22nd, 2020, so just before the pandemic hit the US was a Saturday morning. three years ago.

    Ankur: 8:23

    Yeah. Wow. You know, I didn’t realize that as much as we’ve talked about this journey of yours, I thought it was much, much further in the past.

    Dr. Dean: 8:33

    Mm-hmm. Yeah. The uniqueness of it happening right before the pandemic was we were able to have a funeral, but then grieving occurred mostly during the pandemic and during isolation. So that also was a process for sure. Yeah.

    Ankur: 8:55

    Yeah. Would you like to, I’m thinking about the broken pack and I’m wondering if you’d like to start talking about your experience of grief or, the holes in our society’s grief support infrastructure that you discovered firsthand,

    Dr. Dean: 9:10

    Yeah, for sure. So I think to go back to grief it, no, and my dad’s an Italian immigrant, and my mom’s Italian American. And grief in our family was something that I was very familiar with. And I’m, this is an important part of the story, and I can talk about this as the society too, but for my own story, and as a psychologist, this really influenced me in a way that I hadn’t really realized until I reflected on it recently. so my first memory of death and grieving was my mother sitting down and telling me that my great-uncle John had died. And I remember the devastation that I felt. I, I don’t know how old I was. I, I meant to ask my mom that, but I think I maybe was six or something, probably a little bit younger. and I know if I got that wrong, she’ll listen to this and totally correct me. But, going to funerals, seeing people dying, that was such a culture in our family. And my own father’s brother, was killed murdered before they came to the us. and so there was this shrine. His name was Antonio. My, my brother was named after him. there was this big dresser at my grandmother’s house with his picture and all of these pictures and the statue of, St. Francis, they’re, Catholic. Actually, St. Francis, I think St. Anthony was there too. I don’t remember all the details, but candles were lit. And this had a larger than life presence in my grandmother’s, living room. She always wore black. She had a lot of death in her family.

    Ankur: 10:43

    She always wore.

    Dr. Dean: 10:45

    always wore black from her parents died when she was very young, and so she always wore black. and certainly after her son died, always wore black to the point that, we tried to buy her pajamas in color and I don’t know if she ever wore them, but, she made her own dresses. Everything was black, head to toe. and so death was something that we were comfortable with, just talked about. And it was not uncommon to go to a funeral, very traditional Italian funerals., there were even hired mourners at some of the funerals that I’ve been to. it’s a very unique culture. and so I thought I was comfortable with that. And as you know, I’m a psychologist. I work, a lot with cancer patients, chronic illness. There’s a lot of anticipatory grief, a lot of death and dying caregivers that I work with, survivors. And then their, survivors once they pass, So I thought I was comfortable with grief. My brother definitely was not. And then we realized that about a year before he died, I was actually joking about this with my husband the other day. My parents, had told us, Hey, we need to sit down and show you where everything is now. All of those important conversations about here’s where we want to be buried. We bought the plot, here’s where the paperwork is. And I remember distinctly, my brother couldn’t tolerate it. He was getting up from the table. he couldn’t, he was like, no. Like I’m just, yeah. I’m just not, I’m not having this conversation. and ironically for reasons I probably won’t go into in this conversation, he is buried there. He’s buried

    Ankur: 12:21

    in the, in the plot that they bought and

    Dr. Dean: 12:23

    Yes. Yeah. Yeah. So I’m like, well, I guess he found out where it is, right? you know, that he was a very funny guy. So this would’ve kind of been irony that he would’ve probably enjoyed post post-mortem. Yeah,

    Ankur: 12:40

    Wow. Do you, do you think these early experiences being exposed to death and funerals and being comfortable with that led to you being willing to work in an area that’s just so grief heavy, see a connection there?

    Dr. Dean: 12:56

    I think yes, the connection with the chronic illness has more to do with, I guess it does have to do with that grief and that death, but I, I think it also has to do with, I have a cousin that died in her mid thirties from a terminal illness that she has that is a genetic, it runs on her father’s side of the, the family also, I guess on our side, cuz both jeans, and my brother had the, the gene, but he didn’t have the disease. There was always like talk, like even my grandmother that I just mentioned, she would always talk about, you know, it should be me. Like it shouldn’t be her. Or every time somebody died, it should be me. It shouldn’t be them. she had cancer for a very, very long time but there was this big connection to chronic illness and the grief in that way. And so I think I’m comfortable with it, but definitely was still very surprised by it when it was my brother when Tony died, I was like totally shocked in a way that, I didn’t expect.

    Ankur: 13:55

    Yeah. Can we talk a little bit more about your brother?

    Dr. Dean: 13:58

    Yeah, for sure.

    Ankur: 13:59

    I’d love to hear just like what your relationship. Was like with him growing up. I’m an only child, so

    Dr. Dean: 14:06

    Yeah, I know. I thought about that this morning. I

    Ankur: 14:08

    little bit voyeuristic for me to get, like how, how close were you and what does that mean?

    Dr. Dean: 14:13

    Yeah. as our listeners may know, your wife was, the second guest on the show. I definitely wasn’t as close with my brother as she was with hers. we were close in our own way though. he was 22 months older than me. he was like my first friend, but also I joked about this at the funeral, and then my mother got upset, I think, with me for saying this, but he was like my first friend. First enemy. it was more of sibling or rivalry. We weren’t really enemies. We would just fight over toys or attention or whatever siblings fight over. we were definitely closer when we were younger, high school, a little bit I encroached on his activities more than probably he wanted to. but I think he also enjoyed it. I recently learned from a mutual friend of ours that he just always gushed and talked about his little sister. so that was reassuring to hear. I went to his senior prom with a friend of his, not cuz I, I wasn’t dating the guy or anything, , but I just wanted to be at the dance with my brother. which is a little weird to say out loud. but yeah, we spent a lot of time together cuz we spent a lot of time at my grandma’s store. My mom’s mom, not the one I was just talking about. and that was our playground. and because of how we grew up, we often spent much of our time growing up in my grandma’s store, or going between my grandma’s store and my other grandparents’ house. so we didn’t have a ton of time in the neighborhood to play with kids. We did that, we certainly did that, but we spent a lot of time together at my grandma’s store and my extended cousins were there, but it was always us, the two of us together. And so we. play together, we talked together and then in adulthood we both had some difficult relationships and circumstances. so we were, off and on close. We were definitely getting a lot closer the couple months before he died, for reasons that probably not terribly comfortable saying publicly. But we were definitely starting to have more conversations. And the week before he died, I think we talked probably almost every day, or texted or interacted on social media. definitely the last two weeks he died. He was happy. It was great to hear, he had a lot of plans for the future that he was looking forward to. he was in the process of getting divorced, when he died. he was living alone at that point. his wife had moved out and we were talking or texting every day and he was at his, my parents a lot more as well. and so we would talk through that way, and Facebook and, so there was a lot more communication and he actually sounded like it was very happy. There was one other piece that also separated and made things difficult, and that was, he had a pretty bad accident. it was 2008. he fell off of a ladder for work and he landed on his face and his hands and was hospitalized. surprisingly survived it, but had a lot of fractures and all of the bones in his arms and his face. And for a long time I thought he wasn’t himself because of that fall. But in the last few weeks of his life, His personality was back. He was just happy and he was worried about his kids for sure, and he was worried about how he would see them and those things. But he was looking forward to so much that year that he died. Ironically things that probably wouldn’t have happened because he died just before the pandemic in 2020. But he was definitely looking forward to family gatherings and things that we had planned. And so that gives me comfort that he was finally in a place where he was looking forward to things He always had my back. he could pick on me, right? But wouldn’t tolerate other people.

    Ankur: 17:56

    Hmm

    Dr. Dean: 17:57

    picking on me in the same way. so in a lot of ways we were close as children and as adults for various reasons that changed over time. we were still close, but we didn’t communicate as often, until the last few weeks of his life. and so there As adults. It was up and down. but he was always there. I always knew he was there.

    Ankur: 18:20

    And what kind of role did that play for you? if you weren’t communicating every day, but you had this knowledge of his fairness, his closeness, what would you say his role like? Like did his existence allow your life to be different or allow you to. Who you were.

    Dr. Dean: 18:44

    It’s interesting because it, if I think about how his role and who he was influenced who I was, I was the younger sibling, and yet a lot of people didn’t know that unless they knew us growing because there was this pressure to do well and exceed. he was the social, he was the fun, loving, friendly kind of guy that was very outward and, easily loved, to laugh. And people connected with him on that level. And I was the shy one. but part of that was also me trying to do well and succeed and exceed. And so as kids, that meant my parents would say, why can’t you do better in school? Be better like your sister. And I was younger, so there was this pressure, like, oh, seeing how he got punished for grades or, reprimanded for whatnot, moved me to try to exceed and gain. attention or love, if you will. and so he always played that role of a little bit of a comparison for me. Like how can I be like him from a social, fun-loving, just kind of carefree way. Like I, I wish I was a little bit more carefree like my brother. but also how can I be different? How can I do the things that I want to do?

    Ankur: 20:12

    Mm-hmm. And so I, didn’t grow up with siblings. I only have one

    Dr. Dean: 20:16

    I know, which is strange that you’re interviewing me this way,

    Ankur: 20:21

    so I don’t have a lot of experience with this. But I’m curious hearing, why can’t you be born like your sister to me? I, I would think that might drive a wedge between the two of you and make your relationship more difficult. Did it have that effect at all?

    Dr. Dean: 20:38

    I think at times it probably did. Yeah. there was a little, probably a little bit of resentment on both of our parts. Like here I have to, I have to try to do better cuz now I have this thing to uphold. And I felt bad for him. I learned after he died from someone that was very close to him, that he felt badly about that pressure on me. He told them about that all through high school. He knew this person from high school and onward. and so it, it probably did have a wedge in that way, especially when report cards came out and, we’re old enough that report cards didn’t come out electronically. So it was like we would trying to protect each other. okay, what grades are you gonna get? What’s the conversation gonna be like at dinner? so in some ways it also brought us together,

    Ankur: 21:19

    Hmm.

    Dr. Dean: 21:20

    but not in a, I don’t think it was so divisive that we didn’t talk or anything like that. We definitely had a lot of fun and support. I wouldn’t say that we weren’t emotionally close. We definitely were emotionally close and when we were together, we were, we’d joke around and laugh and have a great time and. in fact, he was super supportive when I got divorced from my first husband. He and his wife were actually both very supportive, in that process. so I wouldn’t say we weren’t emotionally close. I think it was just contact was a lot less, if that

    Ankur: 21:52

    Mm-hmm., yeah.

    Dr. Dean: 21:53

    no, we didn’t miss a beat. Well, if we were gathered around the, the dinner table or on vacation, the, one vacation we went to as adults together. so it wasn’t that, it was just that we didn’t have as much contact.

    Ankur: 22:08

    Mm-hmm.. But when there was the need and the opportunity to have more contact, like after he separated, then you guys were just like right back there. And then what happened?.

    Dr. Dean: 22:22

    With,

    Ankur: 22:24

    With your brother.

    Dr. Dean: 22:25

    I mean, how did he die or.

    Ankur: 22:28

    Yeah.

    Dr. Dean: 22:28

    so he had a heart attack in his sleep, the night before he died. I I go to this place of should I have done this? could I have done this? Would they still be alive? And this is the moment that I go back to when I do that, which I know is completely unhealthy. And I, know, can’t change that. You can’t go back. And yet I find myself going back to this, it was Friday night. he had, he just bought a new car. he had been working,

    Ankur: 22:53

    Yeah. I, I have to, I have to ask what kind of car

    Dr. Dean: 22:57

    Oh gosh. Ankur. I don’t

    Ankur: 22:59

    can’t just say that and

    Dr. Dean: 23:02

    I don’t remember. It was black. It was, I don’t, I don’t remember. some s u V, it wasn’t new. It was new to him, but he hadn’t had a car in a while. so he had bought it. He posted a picture of it on Facebook. I could look that up if you really wanna know what kind of car it was, I could let you know. he posted a picture of it and, my brother didn’t have the best driving record ever. this is, this is a little bit of a sidetracking from how he died. But, we were in high school. He was a senior, I was a sophomore. We went to some dance and the thing around here was after the dance you would go all night bowling. And so we went all night bowling, like this huge group of us that had all gone to the dance and our dates and and whatnot. And then we went to McDonald’s, and for breakfast or something after. I have no idea. a lot of us were standing along the side of McDonald’s, like waiting to get in and, he was still in the car and he decided to do a donut in the parking lot of McDonald’s. Well, McDonald’s parking lots aren’t large. And I was standing there and thankfully the person beside me had faster reaction times. Otherwise we might not be having this conversation cuz he yanked me and then my brother’s car hit the side of McDonald’s. So

    Ankur: 24:26

    Oh wow.

    Dr. Dean: 24:27

    this, there wasn’t a lot of damage done to the building or the car. There might have been to his butt after my mother was done with him, but, my parents aren’t abusive. I should clarify that. he, so this became a joke at some point. It became oh, you mean the time that you tried to drive through McDonald’s? Not the drive through, but I tried through the McDonald’s. Right.. So he didn’t have the great driving record. And the night that he posted about the car, the day before he died, actually, it’s likely that he died that night. And I’ll tell you like his official time of death was Saturday morning. and I’ll tell you why in a second, but that night he had posted this and there was this banter on Facebook that I had engaged with him on this photo. It was probably like 10 30 at night. a couple of his friends had posted, oh, that’s great. cuz he was starting. A new job and he was hoping to become a realtor and do all of these things leave the three part-time jobs he had and do something else. so he needed a car to do that. And in fact, he had bought this car and had just taken, his first Uber trip was incredibly I was like, that doesn’t make sense. Why would you drive 40 minutes to pick up an Uber, client? Like you’re, you’re on gas and everything, you’re, by the time you’re done, you’re not making any money on this. But I was a little bit more of the practical one and thinking through those things. So then he posted this picture and I remember making the comment on there, well make sure you don’t drive this one through the McDonald’s, or something along the lines referring back to the, the incident. And he didn’t respond. And that was very unlike him like, and so I go back to this place of what if I had just picked up the phone and be like, why didn’t you respond to my message? would he have been like able to answer the phone? Would he have could I have called 9 1 1 for him? cuz he was alone.

    Ankur: 26:12

    so you think he was having a heart attack at that moment instead

    Dr. Dean: 26:16

    I have no idea. Like we kn we know that he had a heart attack. It was determined that it was in his sleep. It could have been that he just didn’t feel well and fell asleep. He did have a little bit of cold that week. I also think, this is February 22nd, 2020 and the pandemic really came here in March. But we know that some people had it before then. So then I think, we did have an autopsy done, because he died so unexpectedly. and they did say it was a heart attack and there was nothing that I recall on there about his lungs. which at the time was how they were determining., that strain of covid. I think I, I don’t remember all of the details. yeah, so I go back to that point, possibly was he, would he still have been alive if I had called we’ll never know. And nothing would’ve really probably changed. But yeah. So the next morning, I was getting my hair done actually, and I had all these missed calls from my mom. Oh, my dad was out of town that weekend too. He was at a men’s retreat with his church. and so I had all of these calls from my mom, a couple missed calls from my husband, a bunch of texts from my husband saying I needed to call him. Well, I was getting my hair done, so my phone was like down and whenever I was checking out to pay, and I was like, why, why are these, and, so I called my husband. or he called me, I don’t remember, but I remember standing in the lobby and I thought something must have happened to dad, right? cuz he’s away, he’s older. there are no calls from dad. So that was my first immediate thought, something happened to dad. And so my husband called and said are you sitting? And I was like, no, I’m standing in the lobby, what’s going on? And, I’m about to check out, or I just checked out or something. He’s well, I think, I think you probably need to sit down. I’m like, no. Just what’s going on?. And it was like something happened to dad and he said, no, Tony. I was like, what? Wait, what had, he said, your brother, your brother died. And I, I remember just collapsing in the lobby of where I was getting my hair done and my hairstylist just put her arms around me. I’m I’m like shoving the credit card at the, the people at the front, like here, just pay, like I, I probably almost walked out without it. I was just like, I don’t know what to do, and call my mom. I, like I didn’t believe it, but also believed it, right? Because what else do you do in that moment? and then I got in the car. I was crying. It’s the hair salon was closer to my parents’ house than when it was mine. So I knew I had to go there. So I, I called my kiddo and I told them that, uncle Tony died and, Hey mom, are you okay? Do you want me to come there? They were compassionate and kind I was like, no, I need to go be there for my parents. I didn’t have space at the moment. Like I was upset, but I knew I had to go be with my parents. My dad was on his way from the retreat center to my parents’ house. somewhere in that whole process, I think it was the call from my husband that I learned that, my niece, who had just turned 13. had gone into the house to pick up a check for an event for something she’s involved in. And she found my brother, which is just horrifying, finding her own parent dead. he was living alone at that point. His marriage was almost done. so he was living alone in the house and so he died alone. And that’s a hard thing to think about too. and so then I went to my parents’ house and my parents’ neighbors were there. Two sets of the neighbors. My uncle was there and my cousin, which is key because my dad had lost his brother before they came to the US but he also lost a sister, I think she was like 52 ish or somewhere around there. and in the year that she died, two of her three children had also died. So my poor uncle, buried two of his three kids and his wife within 18 months of one another. So yeah, a lot of death in our family. And my living cousin was there. that had lost two siblings and we’re not close, but he was an incredible support for me through that. my uncle softened towards me as well, but even in my dad’s own grief, through this process, not only that day, but the days since then and the almost three years, , A lot of people I’ve talked to have not been able to get support from their parents cuz they see their parents just change. and they’re grieving the loss of their children. And that is true for my parents. I think they’re definitely depressed and grieving as anyone would expect. But my dad has been able to be there for me in a way that I don’t know if he would have been able to, had he not lost two siblings as well. so in those moments, like just having that support from them was especially important. And then, I don’t remember if it was that day or the day after, like the time has blurred. I think it was that day, actually it was that Saturday. At some point my husband showed up at the house, at some point. And the timeline is so messy. I don’t remember it at all of it, my parents and I went to the cemetery to, figure out the, the burial plot. but because we had to wait an autopsy, the funeral wasn’t for a week or so. And I remember, my temperature was raising and my heart was beating faster. I remember sitting there and it was just this like bizarre experience to pick out these things and my parents are like signing and paying and. while they had told us about this place, I’d never actually been there. And it wasn’t completely paid for yet. So they had to finish that up a lot sooner than they had planned. and it was only a spot for two. So they had to decide to cremate my brother to put him in there. And they’re Catholic, which meant that the remains had to be cremated, but then also stored on a Catholic site. They believe that the body has to stay together. And so the only way to put him in the same plot was to cremate him so that there would be room for, caskets or whatever. so they’re making all these decisions and it was weird. I’m trying to comfort my parents and be there with them and, I didn’t go to the funeral home to make those arrangements. I think I took Monday off, maybe I took Monday. I know I went back to work on Tuesday cuz I was like, well the funeral’s not gonna be until the autopsy’s done. And well

    Ankur: 33:00

    Might as well make

    Dr. Dean: 33:01

    back to work.

    Ankur: 33:01

    get some work done.

    Dr. Dean: 33:03

    yeah, exactly. But also not thinking, I worked in a cancer center at the time, I was a psychologist in a cancer center. And so I went into work, whatever time that was. I think I saw maybe one patient or I was preparing for the patient.. And then I promptly walked into the, office manager’s office and said, please cancel the rest of my day. I’m going home and I’m not coming back this week. which I don’t know what they told patients. I’ve since learned from patients that some of them figured out something, big had happened. but my mind was like, no, I’m just gonna push through this, right? I’m just gonna plow through. And so I did until I couldn’t. And then the funeral, and there was definitely some drama around the funeral that kept us from fully grieving. but it was unreal. and I knew that I wouldn’t believe that it happened. And especially with the pandemic happening after that, sometimes it just didn’t seem real. Cause you weren’t seeing anyone. So not seeing my brother also just felt well, , I’ll just see him after the pandemic , which you know, was only gonna be a few weeks long.

    Ankur: 34:18

    do you know now what you would’ve needed in order to grieve in a way that you would consider full or proper, or to get resolution, or does that., does that question not even make sense?

    Dr. Dean: 34:36

    I think grief is never ending

    Ankur: 34:39

    yeah.

    Dr. Dean: 34:42

    and it comes back even now, sometimes just as strong as it was in those days. It’s different and it changes. this has been a theme of people I’ve talked to, but I think just slowing down and letting myself have that time and. definitely not throwing myself back

    Ankur: 34:58

    going into work, you realized that pretty quickly you went and saw one person, you’re like, oh, I need

    Dr. Dean: 35:03

    I think it was one, yeah,

    Ankur: 35:05

    But were you then able to slow down for the rest of that week or did you just do other things?

    Dr. Dean: 35:11

    I mean, I then threw myself,, this also won’t shock people that know me. I threw myself into a task of, okay, so now we have the funeral planned and we’re going to have the slideshow. and part of this was grieving, but it also went into my parents’ house and went through their many photos, to create a slideshow. So I, went through all the photos and figured out how to scan them and create the slideshow and look at them and, and whatnot. And so that became the project., but also spending time with my parents and calling them repeatedly for days on end. and remembering stories and looking at memories. I should say my brother’s memory for our childhood was a lot better . And so we had just started to talk about that in a, couple months before he died. And so he was sharing memories, but a lot of my memories ended up dying with him. So going through these photos was like a, I need to do this. I need to not forget him if I would,

    Ankur: 36:09

    Yeah, it, it had this kind of urgency to it that the photos for that slideshow.

    Dr. Dean: 36:14

    Yeah, well it was a project, right? That’s what I do. I just, that, people that don’t know me wouldn’t know that, but I, throw myself into things and just keep doing, cuz if I slow down and. stop then the pain and the vulnerability is gonna hit me. And I think that’s what I needed in the moment, was to just allow myself to be vulnerable. And I did, there were times I found myself just sitting on the couch and just crying, and that was okay.

    Ankur: 36:46

    Is that, throwing yourself into the project? Is that what you’re doing right

    Dr. Dean: 36:51

    No, no, no.

    Ankur: 36:53

    how, yeah. Tell me how is it different?

    Dr. Dean: 36:55

    Well, it feels different, although some people, including my husband might disagree, but, I wasn’t ready. I would, I could not have done this three years ago. there’s a value in making meaning of things, but I’m not doing this because it’s about me. So even this podcast was, . Well, I had the idea of just recording interviews from like a qualitative perspective. it wasn’t my intent to release a podcast. And then maybe I was speaking to, I don’t know, Ankur Shah Delight and you said to me, why didn’t you make it a podcast? And I was like, well, what’s the value in that? And it was sharing the story, which is part of the healing process. And I was like, okay, I can do that. But this part of the project is, and was intended, just so that I know what is needed. Because in those days and weeks and months after Tony died, I was looking for resources that would be helpful. And of course nothing’s gonna be like, here’s step A, here’s step B, and here’s step C. And now you’ve grieved and you’re done with it. I didn’t need something that formulaic but I was looking for anything. I looked at scientific literature, I looked at books that are out there and there were some good books, but a lot of the books on sibling loss weren’t what I needed or weren’t. what was helpful in that moment? there was very little scientific literature or psychosocial literature on the topic. there wasn’t a lot of training for mental health professionals. My own therapist didn’t really know how to help me, And I ended up firing two therapists throughout this grief process cuz it just it wasn’t helpful. and no, this isn’t a project for my grief, it’s a project because I. definitely know that there’s a lot of people hurting and not a lot of great resources, and I’m not in competition with anyone to make this the thing. I just want to provide as much help in the way people need it. sharing stories is what people, people want to be heard and they want to hear other stories so that they don’t feel so isolated and alone. Cuz at some point people stop asking about your loss. Stop people. sharing. And I know people in my life love me, but I also know that they got sick of hearing about Tony or they got sick of hearing about my grief and loss. as many siblings say, that the first question is always, how are your parents? And I’m happy to answer that question. I wish the answer was better than it is. but it’s understandable. And then the question is, how are the kids or how, if there’s a partner, how’s the partner? Very rarely does it get to how are you? And so you’re the keeper of everybody else’s emotions and support. and ironically as a sibling, I spent more time with my brother than I did with my parents, we were outside playing in the empty lot next door or the soccer games, or him playing with my Barbies video games and which I absolutely hated playing, but I would play them with him anyway. Or at our grandparents’ houses. And there were just the two of us. So like we spent more time in childhood together than I did with anyone else. vacations together, like all of those things. In some ways that meant I knew him better than a lot of

    Ankur: 40:38

    mm-hmm.

    Dr. Dean: 40:39

    and he was always supposed to be there. He was the one supposed to be there. When my parents get older and we have to clean out their house or. Arrange their funerals or, but he won’t, he’s leaving me with that mess.

    Ankur: 40:54

    Yeah, so it it, it’s also a little, a little surprising to me that someone is gonna come up to you and they’re gonna ask you these questions about the other people impacted by the death, but they’re not gonna ask about how the person who’s in front of them is doing like it. It seems like it’s more than, to me in this moment, it seems like it’s more than just, oh, we forgot about the sibling. But there’s also some just discomfort with

    Dr. Dean: 41:23

    Mm-hmm.

    Ankur: 41:23

    to have a real conversation about death. You know, it’s like easier, oh, how are these other people dealing with it? Rather than, if I hear what you think ab, how you’re impacted by death, then I’m impacted by it and maybe I don’t want that.

    Dr. Dean: 41:35

    Exactly. Grief is not something we talk about in our culture. very much. And I mean, our culture is like the US. Anderson Cooper has an amazing podcast on grief. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s called All There Is. And he does this conversation with Steve and Colbert. Both of them lost siblings. Both of them lost their dads at very young ages. They’ve both had a lot of grief, and I think one or both of them reference how they went off to cultures. Oh, Anderson Cooper for sure talked about how he went off to, to become a wartime reporter because he needed to be in a place that was comfortable with loss and grief. What better place, I guess, than a war zone? But, people don’t want to hear that. It’s the, after the funeral, it’s a few weeks and then you’re expected to be okay.

    Ankur: 42:34

    so from what you’ve learned so far, what wisdom can you.

    Dr. Dean: 42:39

    just asking people how they’re doing but also for the grieving people, whether they’re siblings or they’re grieving somebody else. accepting, where you are and slowing down and, and the immediate grief of being okay to get support and help wherever it feels. Right. Just being able to not try to take care of the person that’s asking you, if you ask me how I’m doing and I’m not doing okay, I’m gonna tell you and if that is uncomfortable for you, there’s nothing I can do about that. But you asked, you open the door it’s not that I don’t care about you, I don’t need to filter how I’m doing because I want to protect the people asking. That’s not healthy.

    Ankur: 43:27

    Are, are you saying that often that’s what happens? if I asked you about your grief, you would, before answering, honestly, you would run, you would run some sort of screen and be like, oh, is he gonna be able to handle this?

    Dr. Dean: 43:37

    Sometimes it’s, it depends on the person. When I went back to work, fortunately I worked with psychologists and so my colleagues were understanding, but some of my patients were trying to figure out like where I was or what I was doing. I don’t disclose personal information with patients, which is also part of this vulnerability with this project that if any of them hear at or see it that I’m out there now. but also people I didn’t know Well, like if it’s a curiosity thing more so than a genuine care, I’m less likely to tell you how, how I’m doing, if it feels disingenuous, especially if you’ve asked about everybody else before you got to me. I’m like, okay, I might answer it, but it might be brief.

    Ankur: 44:21

    Yeah, I’ve been in a number of those situations, just grief in my own life, where we know, we have some knowledge that the right thing is to ask, how are you doing? And then, I might say something when somebody asked me that, I’ll be oh, it’s really hard. And then the person doesn’t. Know the right thing to say at that point,

    Dr. Dean: 44:46

    Mm-hmm.

    Ankur: 44:47

    and often the answer is just some, some version of okay, bye . You know, it’s just um hmm. Can’t handle that .Peace out.

    Dr. Dean: 44:55

    Yeah. It’s, it’s almost like the, how are you doing? People don’t actually wanna hear

    Ankur: 45:03

    Yeah.

    Dr. Dean: 45:04

    the answer to that. Oftentimes, it’s just a formality kind of almost wish we could change that to just, just say hi. if you don’t actually wanna know how somebody’s doing, just Just say hi.

    Ankur: 45:14

    Yeah. Or the British thing where they say like, how do you do? And the answer is, how do you do?

    Dr. Dean: 45:21

    Yeah. My husband told me about this too. It’s

    Ankur: 45:23

    There’s just great, it’s, it’s great

    Dr. Dean: 45:24

    word.

    Ankur: 45:25

    paradox there,

    Dr. Dean: 45:26

    Yeah. You all right?

    Ankur: 45:29

    all right, we’re not gonna go through the theater of it. It’s just

    Dr. Dean: 45:31

    They say You’re all right.. Yeah. Yeah. The first time you’re asked that, you answer the question, don’t ask it. It’s funny. I think we worry about our siblings or people we’ve lost being forgotten. And so wanting to talk about them allows them to be alive in a way, but also our identity is wrapped up in that. you said earlier, you’re an only sibling. I mean, I realize this is impossible, but if, you know, your parents had plopped today and said, oh, here’s your brother. Your identity would change in some level,

    Ankur: 46:08

    Mm-hmm.

    Dr. Dean: 46:09

    but for me it’s. the opposite. there was one time my dad referenced me as my only child. And I didn’t know what to do with that cuz I’m not an only child,

    Ankur: 46:20

    Mm-hmm.

    Dr. Dean: 46:21

    but I was always Tony’s little sister. we went to a very small elementary school and they tried their best to make sure we didn’t have the same teachers through the years. So I like, there were two teachers for one grade. I knew Tony had, Mr. Sandora, so I was gonna get Mrs. Pappert. I knew I would have the opposite teacher, but then at some point you switched classes a little bit and they were like, oh, you’re Tony’s little sister. And that becomes part of your identity, like you’re the sibling.

    Ankur: 46:49

    There’s something, so you have merch, which I was really surprised by and impressed by. And it’s, and some of it’s really beautiful. there’s this card that you have available that really moved me. So you have this merch and there’s stickers and cards, and there’s these three things that I really wanna highlight. Cause I think, I think they’re really beautiful. So with your permission, I’m just gonna read them right now.

    Dr. Dean: 47:13

    Okay. Okay.

    Ankur: 47:14

    Okay. So the first is it’s a sticker that just says, ask me about my sibling.

    Dr. Dean: 47:21

    Mm-hmm.

    Ankur: 47:24

    And that, I mean, that to me is at the core, it’s what your podcast is doing. But if that were just like, okay. To have a button or a sticker that says that, and then people could, they could just talk about it. I mean, I, I love

    Dr. Dean: 47:37

    Mm-hmm.

    Ankur: 47:38

    thank you. Thank you for doing that. The second one, it’s okay to ask about my parents. It’s also okay to ask how I’m doing. I mean, these are just so they’re, they’re so badass of like, all right, we have this way that we address grief that is very like behind closed doors in, in little boxes, and you’re just like, you’re just blowing that outta the water with these things. It’s really, it’s quite, it’s quite bold, of course. Not surprisingly. I like

    Dr. Dean: 48:05

    I mean, my brother’s sense of humor was like this. I like to hope that I’m honoring him both through the name of the thing and also this weird humored merch that I have.

    Ankur: 48:18

    It’s so, it’s so good. I mean, there’s one with a picture of a pie with this lattice crust and it says grief pie. Unlike your favorite pie, there’s too much to go around Okay. And then here, here’s the one that I always, I always think about. I promise to never tell you to stop talking about your sibling. So that is something that like for anyone who’s listening to this, get a bunch of that card. And then when somebody dies, and that’s not even sibling, right? It could just be like loved one in general. But if you to give someone that card, like usually when somebody dies and you’re like, Hey, what can I do?

    Dr. Dean: 49:05

    Mm-hmm.

    Ankur: 49:06

    And they’re like, I don’t know. I’m like, my, my mental thing is I’ll just check back in a week and I’ll just keep checking back and if they don’t know right now, maybe they’ll know later, but to, but to give someone that card, be like, Hey, everyone’s gonna ask you about this shit right now and no one’s gonna ask you about it in a year. So I just want you to know, you can always talk to me about this no matter how boring other people are or how bored other people are by it. I love that.

    Dr. Dean: 49:34

    Thanks. And now I know to just call you when I wanna talk about Tony. I’m just kidding.

    Ankur: 49:40

    Yeah. I’m serious. I mean, yeah, I mean, for real. Like I, I mean, maybe we should go through the theater and I should order the card from you and fill it out and then mail it to you. I could just tell you right now, I promise to never tell you to stop talking about Tony.

    Dr. Dean: 49:55

    Thank you. I I appreciate that.

    Ankur: 49:57

    and then you have this other card that I don’t quite get, so I’ll just ask you about it. And that’ll be the end of this, this merchandise section here, But it’s the, it’s, it’s your reaction to when someone says they’re in a better place. But what does that mean to you when someone says, oh, he’s in a better place.

    Dr. Dean: 50:13

    Well, I think a lot of these things that people say like they’re in a better place it feels like it discounts the fact that you’re in grief, It’s very invalidating to say they lived a long life, which, you know, in my case, my brother did not, but, or at least they’re not suffering anymore.

    Ankur: 50:35

    So when someone says something like that, you hear I shouldn’t feel the way I’m.

    Dr. Dean: 50:40

    yeah, I don’t think people, people don’t intend to cause harm or discredit what you’re feeling, but I like. to say to my patients that multiple things can be true at the same time. So I can be happy that somebody’s not suffering anymore and I can also be very sad that they’re not here or in my life anymore, if that’s the case. both of those things can be true and the grief part is very discounted. I think a lot of times individuals have these platitudes after grief because they don’t know what to say. And that’s something that I think we need to work on changing, which is, you know, I’m doing it through humor on the merch, but I think also it’s about the discomfort of the speaker. I don’t know what to say to you. So I’m gonna say this thing that I think is gonna make you feel better and then I feel better cuz I said the thing and then I’m gonna walk away. But the person grieving is feeling well you didn’t get the fact that I’m hurting and right now can you just sit here in the quiet and just be in this pain with me? And people are uncomfortable with the uncomfortable. We don’t know what to do about that.

    Ankur: 52:00

    Oh. That’s just the opposite of everything we’re normally trained to do.

    Dr. Dean: 52:05

    Exactly. Yeah. And so part of my 25 year vision is to change that.

    Ankur: 52:12

    I’m curious how his, his influence, like his positive influence in your life of what you learned from him or the directions he pulls you towards. How, how has that continued or how do you keep that?

    Dr. Dean: 52:28

    Tony always loved being around people or laughing or connecting with people and sharing stories, and his memory was really great for our childhood. So in the last few weeks of his death, he was telling me all before his death, he was telling me all of these stories about growing up that I had forgotten. and so, you know, in losing him, I lost all of those memories too, which is kind of sad. I’m like grieving him, but I’m also grieving the fact that I will never remember the story and keeping him alive and how his influence. it has affected some of this as a storytelling is part of the grief process. And, you know, healing and just wanting to ask people and share and listen. And he was a great listener for other people’s stories. We got that from our grandmother, both of us. but I think the platform of being able to do that, was partly the influence of the broken pack. and being able to talk about him and being able to, uh, talk about other people’s siblings. so I’m honoring him through just even the name of, of this, but his, his love for food, his love for those things, just, I, I try to find humor, and be a little bit more carefree, than I used to be. And so I feel like in some ways I have to live for him too, in those ways.

    Ankur: 53:55

    You know me, you know, I love hanging out in person. I love parties. I love communities. I love totally transformative experiences of being together. I’m imagining with this world you’re creating with a broken pack, there’d be so much benefit and strength in being able to share your stories together.

    Dr. Dean: 54:16

    Mm-hmm.

    Ankur: 54:18

    Is on the menu or on the docket or in the calendar?

    Dr. Dean: 54:23

    I’m working on something right now. I haven’t announced what it is, but in the next few weeks I will be about a way, a platform that people can share their own stories in addition to the podcast. and so that is still gonna be electronic, in nature, but it also opens the place for community to, to build community that way. And in the long term, I do plan. To build community in person as well, both locally and nationally. And we do have an international audience as well, so being able to bring people together and share stories is healing. that is something on my radar as well to do something of the sort, very specifically for adult sibling loss.

    Ankur: 55:05

    Yeah.

    Dr. Dean: 55:05

    yeah. I do think back to the 25 year vision that I have, that at some point that does include conferences and trainings in person as well on some level of group support or group work together. So the storytelling is obviously part of that. I think what’s been hard in my day-to-day and as the reason that we’re releasing this episode on the 27th of March is that’s my birthday. And birthdays are hard. My birthday’s hard. His birthday’s hard. Turning older than my older brother was hard. And each year I get older. That’s not supposed to be like that. Right? And he was the one person that never forgot my birthday, So I like to remember him on my birthday.

    Ankur: 56:02

    what are you gonna do besides release this episode?

    Dr. Dean: 56:07

    I’m getting a massage. I am not working, I’m not sure yet. I didn’t have a quiet. day.

    Ankur: 56:15

    What’s his favorite meal?

    Dr. Dean: 56:17

    Oh, any meal.. So

    Ankur: 56:20

    Some people would say about me,

    Dr. Dean: 56:24

    I think he, he definitely liked, I will not eat one of his favorite foods. No, I will not do that. he definitely liked pasta and meatballs and stuff, and lasagna and all of those things like, gnocchi and loved fish on Christmas Eve, which was one of the things he was looking forward to doing again. but he loved fish so much. One of the things he absolutely loved was mussels, and I just cannot eat them, and I will not eat them even in an attempt to remember him, but, he loved bread. He did love bread. So sometimes I do think of him when I’m making bread. Our nonna used to make bread so often and then the gas stove, she would put put chunks of bread in there from the day before to dry out. he would just go in and that was a snack. I, my dad hated it cuz that’s, I guess what they had to eat for breakfast if they didn’t have other food growing up. But my brother loved this dried out day, old Italian bread. Sometimes you would dunk, dunk it in sauce and sometimes you would just break your teeth and try to eat it and he preferred it that way. So maybe I’ll have some bread, I’ll have some, have some or make some bread on on my birthday for him.

    Ankur: 57:34

    So maybe before we close here, Angela, would you share a favorite memory of Tony with us?

    Dr. Dean: 57:40

    Yeah. I mean, there’s so many, I think the one that shows that he was just a caring big brother. I, I’ll share two memories. one’s a story and one’s just a general memory, but we went to Virginia Beach. I don’t know how old I was, , I was probably six or seven. And I was obsessed with fine filling my bucket up with seashells. So I walked down that beach with seashells, at least two lifeguard stations down the way, which for a little kid, that’s pretty far. And my family could not find me.. They lost track of me and I went and was crying to the lifeguard. and I’m sure my parents were there, but I don’t remember them finding me. I remember my brother giving me a big hug and telling me it was gonna be okay when they found me. so that was my big brother. the other thing he used to do was, this has been on my mind a lot cuz I have a frozen shoulder on the left side right now. He used to poke me repeatedly on my shoulder, right below my shoulder blade , or right below my shoulder, repeatedly to the point that I was like, stop, it’s gonna hurt. And then he’d get his little laugh and he’d pull me in for a hug. And I think he just wanted the hug, quite frankly. but he would do it over and over. In fact, the last time I saw him, he did that . So, I was like, you’re gonna hurt me. So now that I have a frozen shoulder, of course I think of him. But yeah, he just, he had a good sense of humor and. like to pick on me and he would say, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke. So it wasn’t just like a, like a silent thing. It was intentional and loud. Yeah.

    Ankur: 59:27

    Thank you.

    Dr. Dean: 59:29

    Thank you.

    Ankur: 59:30

    Yeah. I feel really, I guess grateful. I mean, you, you said you’re not doing this just for your own sense of meaning, but, I’m grateful that this process seems like there’s a component of it that’s healing for you

    Dr. Dean: 59:47

    Oh, absolutely.

    Ankur: 59:48

    and that we’re all gonna benefit from it. Cuz

    Dr. Dean: 59:52

    Yeah. I mean, it’s not the reason I’m doing it, but it’s definitely been a healing process and being able to hear people’s stories and hear the pain, but also the inspiration and, the learning and the community, it’s, it’s been good to know that I’m not alone. And people thanked me and I’m like, I’m, I want to quickly dismiss it, but it is actually, it’s been nice to hear that, that side of it too.

    Ankur: 1:00:20

    Yeah. Yeah. Take it in. Absorb it.

    Dr. Dean: 1:00:23

    Mm-hmm., thank you. Thanks for doing this for me.

    Ankur: 1:00:28

    You’re welcome

    Dr. Dean: 1:00:30

    Thank you so much for listening. Our theme song was written by Joe Mylward and Brian Dean, and was performed by Joe Mylward. If you would like more information on The Broken Pack™, go to our website, the broken pack.com. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter, Wild Grief™, to learn about opportunities and receive exclusive information and grieving tips for subscribers. Information on that, our social media and on our guests can be found in the show notes wherever you get your podcasts. Please like, follow, subscribe, and share. Thanks again

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