Season 1, Episode 9

Preston Zeller / Colin

Episode summary: Sibling Loss and The Art of Grieving
A conversation with sibling loss survivor, Preston Zeller, about losing his brother Colin to a fentanyl overdose

  • Preston shares that Colin was a decorated veteran who was suffering from unresolved grief and experiences in the military.
  • He describes that the process of painting helped him to process his emotional response to sibling loss.
  • Preston shares how surprising others’ reactions to his documentary and project impacted him.

Additional key points:

  • Preston shares that there were few sibling loss resources for him when he searched at the time of Colin’s death.
  • For more information on Preston’s Documentary, The Art of Grieving:Turn Grief Into Greatness, click here.

Content Warning: Topics discussed in this episode do include substance use, addiction, and overdose and may be upsetting to some people.

  • If you believe you are witnessing an overdose, call 911 or your country’s emergency number immediately even if you are administering Narcan. 
  • If you are in the US and need support for yourself or someone else with suicidal thoughts or other topics discussed in this episode, please call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or Text your 5-digit ZIP Code to 435748 (HELP4U) or call a warmline. For more immediate crisis call 911, 988, or go to the nearest emergency room.
  • In the USA an updated directory of warmlines by state can be found at
  • A warmline directory for trained peer supports in over 20 countries can be found at (some of these may be hotlines)

Preston Zeller and brother, Colin

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.

Dr. Dean : 0:36

In today’s episode, I spoke with Preston Zeller about his loss of his brother Colin, as well as his documentary and meaning making project where he is now in his grief and healing as well as things to come. Content Warning, the following program contains discussions of substance use, overdose, and addiction. So today we’re joined by Preston and I want to thank you for coming on.

Preston: 1:13

Yeah. Thank you for having me on. I super appreciate it.

Dr. Dean : 1:16

you’re welcome. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. before we jump into all of the difficult things, what would you like myself and our listeners to know about you?

Preston: 1:26

yeah, I think one of the biggest things to take away is that, I’m someone who found really my, my own way of working through, particularly the early parts of my grief. But, but that it’s, it could, it’s something that I did it in a very extreme fashion, but it’s something that could be applied to many people. And I’ll just say the other kind of outlier here is that I’m a guy, and this isn’t talked about in the world of men. It’s talked. In so many other regards, and I think women are more intrinsically, inclined to talk about emotions. but men are stoic and, I’m, uh, one of those people who’s a talker. So

Dr. Dean : 2:03


Preston: 2:03

hoping the other guys out there can learn just about how I, how I’ve moved through this and, yeah.

Dr. Dean : 2:11

Yeah, that’s a, a valid point. And grief as it talked about as a whole. So then you’re a subset of those of us that talk about it,

Preston: 2:20


Dr. Dean : 2:21

even smaller so what do you want to share about your brother before we get to the difficult story about losing him and, and your process of grief?

Preston: 2:32

my brothers was four years older than me, so I’ve actually outlived him at this point, which is kind of a strange thing. He was a decorated military vet. And, before that he was involved in kind of a, subculture of Southern California that was, cars and drugs and that kind of thing. And as I’ve actually reflected more on his story, I came to realize that a lot of what he had was pretty much unresolved grief. I know he, he actually experienced a death, from a, drive-by shooting at a restaurant. Like it was super random. It wasn’t, like they were hanging out in a known gang banger neighborhood and he wasn’t a gang banger himself. So he, but he was, with people who, there was some kind of thing there and had a guy fall die in his arms, that he tried to save. And so that was prior going into the military. he did two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Army, and, saw people die there. didn’t really talk about it, but I know that happened and. So, there again, I’m, I kind of mentioned this more recently, but I’ve felt like, I’ve done, I’m doing like grieving for the both of us in a way, knowing just some of what he went through, but, very loyal guy, intense, and, we had a close relationship going up. strong sibling relationship and very competitive. so for him, especially being an older brother, me being his younger brother, a lot of, like, you’re always putting that person in their place, as that happens with, whatever, wherever you’re at in the pecking order. But, I think he was someone who had so much more potential in his life outside of, of course, dying. But then also, just drug usage. which is, part of that was fentanyl related, which is just so you know, rampant today.

Dr. Dean : 4:25

yeah, for sure. so in the pecking order, you have other siblings too,

Preston: 4:30

Yeah. I’ve a younger sister, so she’s a little over three years younger than me, so, yeah. So I was middle of three.

Dr. Dean : 4:39

like kind of smack in the middle almost,

Preston: 4:42

yeah. for sure. Yeah. I don’t, I don’t know if they really, my parents really planned out any of that . It was just, you know, gonna happen that way. Yeah.

Dr. Dean : 4:52

yeah. what parts of, I, I know that you’ve told a lot of this story publicly already, and I I really have valued that and I think that we’re probably gonna talk more about that today. But what did you wanna share about the story of losing Colin?

Preston: 5:10

Well, and as you mentioned, a lot of, a lot of this is pretty public in, in the documentary. But, I, I think one thing for, for me in terms of sibling grief, which I don’t really talk about, there’s a lot of different topics I could have gone into, into the documentary, and that we, we contemplated as we were, thinking about what that narrative was. But one of them I didn’t really get far into was sibling loss in particular, because, I remember thinking, why, why does, I lost my grandpa? of course, you know, grandparents are kind of an interesting one because they’re so much older than you. It’s, it’s a very different relationship. But, having. My brother die and having a sibling die, you feel like there’s something missing from you in a much more distinct way. And as I started, looking things up as we do for , a lot of things we don’t understand. so looking up sibling loss, I start finding all these people writing about sibling loss. And, immediately I read about others how their grief was kind of discounted. So in the case where the person was married, which my brother was, people default to the spouse, they default to the parent and don’t really give much credence to the sibling loss factor. And I remember reading that, I think it was the same night, reading that and going, that’s, that’s silly. I actually grew up with like 13 cousins. And so I expected to hear from most of them cuz they all knew my brother, pretty well at different periods. And, I think I only heard from two and they were calling my mom though, and I was actually closer to them all personally as again, growing up, like I had spent more time with them. So, yeah, I think that was, and it took me a while to kind of reconcile why that might be. part of it is we’re all in this like age range of maybe never having dealt with a loss like this. So they don’t know, like they’re not gonna empathize with it. And it’s, it just all went back to that common theme of, people not wanting to talk about it or not knowing how to approach it. And that’s understandable. I, I look back on times I had heard about other people sharing. A brother dying or whatever. And I remember in college, actually, a guy I like loosely knew, well, I had lost a brother and I didn’t know anything. I was pretty clueless about how to talk about it. So it really took me, going through that firsthand and saying, huh, well if I can, share my experiences and, and this particular way, I’m, I’m working through it, then great. What do I have to lose?

Dr. Dean : 8:07

Absolutely. It’s interesting that you, you found a lot of people writing about it because one of the reasons that I started this is there’s not a lot written. I mean, there’s, there’s a decent amount on the internet, but there’s not a lot. Written in a helpful way. There’s some, a few books that are, are good

Preston: 8:29

Well, and I think the other piece there real quick is the stages of grief, which is such a misnomer too. Um, I, I actually, I think when I’m blanking on her name, but when she originally came up with the stages of grief, I, I believe it was for like terminally ill patients.

Dr. Dean : 8:46

Absolutely. The Kubler Ross,

Preston: 8:48

yeah. Kubler ross.

Dr. Dean : 8:50

proven to not be the most, accurate view of, of grieving.

Preston: 8:54

I think people look at grief like re uh, addiction recovery or something. And so I think that’s one of those first things that come to mind. I think because my brother was an addict and I had been to, support group stuff with him where, it was like the family supporting him and, you’re talking through stages like, it’s just, we, there’s certainly maybe, on a human level and, and also on a, just a, a need to understand structure and assign structure to processes saying, okay, well this is gonna go in this. Nice, tidy, you know, way of, after 12 steps or five steps or whatever, how many steps it is, I’ll be done so my like background, my faith is like a hit break Christianity. And, so part of that’s understanding like Hebrew culture and, and Jewish culture is like sitting Shiva or, I forget how to pronounce it, but this whole idea of okay, seven or eight days, and then you’re like done, you’re done creeping. And I tried to, have that mentality and I’m like, well, this is goofy. You know, I there’s, they’re, uh, you know, that didn’t really work. So, um, I, I’m, you know, kind of very in, in the, in the mode of reflecting, going inward and really trying to go, huh, if I can just figure out a way that works for me and not. Follow some guidebook per se, gets inspiration from places. maybe, maybe that could be something.

Dr. Dean : 10:33

And, and that makes much more sense than trying to fit it into a forced model that that generally doesn’t work. But I think what is key, you said earlier that sibling loss is a lot about losing the sense of identity, that you’ve lost a sense of who you were. Have you been able to process that, like how your identity has changed?

Preston: 10:57

Yeah. And I, I think to be fair, I did do some like actual formal grief, therapy, grief counseling. That was one-on-one. I tried going to group counseling and found that more depressing,. Cause it was like 13 or 14 people. I remember the one time I went. You know, we open it up and everyone’s going around sharing bits of their story and I’m like, I just, I have, I can’t feel anything for anyone else right now cause I’m so, I, I, you know, I don’t even know how to feel for myself.

Dr. Dean : 11:29


Preston: 11:29

thought that would work cuz I’m, extroverted. But in going through not, the combination of the painting and then helping someone actually kind of like be this objective look of my life, I eventually realized that, early in life I made these vows. And as I think everyone does, as you go through, especially your family experiences of what you’re for and what you’re against and what you’re going, how you’re gonna like, sort of justify your existence in some ways. So I made two vows and one of them was related to my brother and this vow was. Associated around proving my brother wrong and being more successful than him because I, I had, anytime my brother got into, something he shouldn’t have been, or especially when he started doing drugs, I remember him that was pretty judgey at the time. I’m like, okay, why are you doing cocaine? Or whatever it was. he go, just wait till you get my age. you’re gonna do it. Like, like, it was this inevitable thing that everyone goes through. And it drove me that much more to say, no, in fact, I’m gonna prove you so wrong that, it’s, it’s, you’re gonna look silly. You’re gonna feel stupid about this. So anyways, I, I realized that was one of these vows because, my driving purpose in life just evaporated. Once he left. And it took me a while to realize that was part of what that was like. Yeah, of course it would evaporate because there was no source there to keep my motivation in tow. And really, I mean, that led to partially burning out in my work too and really, coming around full circle to, the impact of what my painting could do in, in that process. But that was a huge revelation for me to, to understand that that was part of the impact that he, that he had.

Dr. Dean : 13:45

That’s interesting because the, it sounds like your purpose was based, well almost controlled by his actions, and so then he’s gone and your purpose is also just tied to him being gone.

Preston: 14:02

Yeah, for sure.

Dr. Dean : 14:05

Was that part of the driving factor in, in how you, you started to heal and process?

Preston: 14:14

it certainly helped. part of that was so that, you know, I’m realizing that while I’m going through my own, painting process, but then I’m also realizing that as I’m, trying to understand why I do anything I do, it’s not necessarily why I like chose to get married or have kids I always knew I wanted to, to do that.

Dr. Dean : 14:35


Preston: 14:36

You know, you think about as for, for me as a provider in my family and, and what I’m doing day in, day out, what does that mean? Why am I motivated by or driven to do any of this stuff? And, I think that’s, I think a lot of people probably experience that. Like, why is this work I’m doing and fulfilling?

Dr. Dean : 14:58


Preston: 14:59

and it, I think maybe because whatever you choose to pour your energy into isn’t really aligned with something that you, find value in. And you, it’s like being process oriented versus outcome oriented. And, if, if you’re just so focused on the outcome, you can kind of trick yourself into doing all sorts of things that you would never normally do to get you to that, to that end goal. So,

Dr. Dean : 15:27

Yeah, absolutely. And for our listeners, and we’ll, we’ll talk about this more, like, I know that you made the documentary on your painting process and in there you mentioned that you had traveled to see him the week that he had died. Do you wanna talk about, what happened or, or anything around the story of finding out that he died?

Preston: 15:51

Well, I, you know, I think some additional context there. So I, I was, I was, I wasn’t traveling to see him per se, but I remember like maybe a month prior to that, it was just, it was as simple as friends who had a house saying, come down, come down and hang out and, some really cool house in Palm Springs. And we’re like, yeah, let’s, let’s do it. Kids were like super young at the time. So that’s, sounds like paradise is to get away for a couple days and, um, And yeah, so I, it was, I remember though, again, that month prior telling him, I think we were, we were, no, they, I think they were, they were in Christmas. My, my brother and his wife were at like a Christmas dinner and we were in, Washington at the time. And, and they were actually in Phoenix, oddly enough. And I, I had said, oh, I’m gonna be down in Palm Springs area in, in a month. And he just right away was like, well, thanks for telling me, just, just very

Dr. Dean : 16:58


Preston: 16:59

I don’t know, being a jerk about it. Well, I’m telling you now kind of thing, but, um, made me not really want to go see him cuz it, it just, and then, we, we had a couple conversations I think since that point where it was just um, Friction for no real apparent reason other than being brothers. So, but when I got there, we were, we were doing stuff with our friends. We were going out to restaurant or hanging out, it’s just had a really cool pool where we were and hanging around that pool a lot. And actually I thought that it would be more enjoyable for him to come over to where we were. Cause I, he knew he lived in a pretty modest house and, and this was some fancy vacation house. And, uh, it, it just, we couldn’t make that really work. And I remember actually reflecting with a friend of mine, we were there with talking about what a jerky was, that he just didn’t just the way the conversation was going that he, I, I had traveled that far. He couldn’t travel, whatever it was, 15 minutes. To come see me. And it, it just seemed like, okay, this is par for the course, so whatever, I’ll, maybe catch you next time. I’m anywhere near you. And, and that was kind of it. I, yeah, and I think it was maybe the next day, or I can’t remember when, when his wife had told me, but that when he got these texts, I kind of, I talk about it a little bit in the documentary, but, yeah, he was bummed. He didn’t, uh, that I didn’t go see him. But also when she was there with him, he was really stewing and, and wanted to send me some really kind of heated text message back, telling me I, whatever he thought of me at the time, because I wouldn’t go see him. And he kinda had the text message open, contemplating what to say back to me. And I, I did think, I did think like maybe that pushed his mood so much over the edge that he went and medicated even more the night before he passed. I don’t know, I’ll never know that. But it’s a thought that crossed my mind. Uh, cuz he, he had a particular, like, he had more stuff in his system than he, I mean, typically he was just like taking Xanax and stuff like that and other things to, I think maybe Adderall too, but it wasn’t like doing hard drugs and he had some other hard drugs. I’m like, I don’t know if this was, maybe related, maybe not. Maybe he just brushed it off. It’s kinda hard to tell how much he, he really. stewed on our engagements when, when they weren’t great. But

Dr. Dean : 20:06

Are you saying that you felt somewhat guilty or responsible?

Preston: 20:14

no, I, I had, I had been through so many times with him where it was like, in fact, the first time he did, this was kind of wild. I don’t, I don’t really talk about this in, uh, much in the doc either. But the very first time he OD’ed, he wrote this letter to me talking about, essentially, it, it was some, it, it was, came off as like a suicide letter almost, he was, he went to some hotel and was taking all this stuff and that he, he was basically gonna blame me for all the, the bad interactions or whatever they. And I don’t even quite remember like really what he said in there. That’s just what I remember the sentiment. And I remember my, mom at the time as well, meaning as she was said, something that I still to this day am like, whoa. Where it was like if you, if you don’t go down there and he dies, it’s on your, it’s your fault.

Dr. Dean : 21:17

Oh wow,

Preston: 21:17

And, and yeah. And I, I don’t, you know, it’s not, not really like characteristic of my mom would say something like that, but we had just seen him do so much kind of damage to, burdening everyone with, his, the, the things he had taken and, being around an addict, I mean, I shared a room with him for years, into, through the middle, all high school. And so he, in that, in instance, like they, he didn’t check out so they went to go, be like, okay, where’s this guy? He hasn’t checked out and they found him basically just borderline dead. So that was the first time and I really kind of developed a like, you know, I’m not, no one’s feed, I’m not feeding him this, these drugs that’s his own doing. And if that’s the path he takes, then that’s the path he takes. So, not to answer your question, I didn’t feel guilty about it, but I mean, I think that’s part of the rational rationalization part too, of going, oh, could, is there something I could have done to prevent this?

Dr. Dean : 22:24


Preston: 22:25

You know, maybe, but I don’t, I’m so, something about me is I’m not really like a, um, I don’t dwell on the past like it really at all in terms of I could have done this cuz that’s, that’s easy. Anyone can do that. And, And, and, some people fixate on that, right? Like, ah, if I were to just, um, I mean that’s, that’s why life is life, right? It’s, you just, you make all these decisions and you live with it one way or the other. So

Dr. Dean : 22:55

right? And going back, just trying to solve what you could have done just keeps you from actually being in the present and coping with the difficult emotions and the grief that you’re having.

Preston: 23:06

yeah. And, and that’s why I mentioned too in the doc that having the opportunity to see family, friends, whoever it is, and especially when it is like a close relationship and you just, you, you don’t do it cuz you’re stubborn or or lazy or whatever. Like, okay, well that’s kind of a learning lesson. Like, just enjoy it. And I, it’s certainly shifted my mindset with, Maybe people were, I may be like, uh, I don’t really , maybe they don’t really wanna see this person. Or, there’s some, there’s something I’m nitpicking about why, I, I would prefer just to, to pass, take a pass on it. And then I’m like, maybe I can get over that too. And there’s, there’s a reason that I’m in this person’s life and maybe I haven’t, I could have an impact there.

Dr. Dean : 23:57

Mm-hmm.. So it sounds like you were closer when you were children than those adults.

Preston: 24:07

Yeah. we, we went through more ebbs and flows as adults. I’d say. growing up, him, him being just about four years older. It’s close enough when you’re young to be in the same circles for a while. And then you get into like, if he’s in eighth grade, I’m in fourth grade, that’s

Dr. Dean : 24:31


Preston: 24:32

totally different. Totally different world. Same thing into high school. But I, so I, I think particularly in adolescence, it was

Dr. Dean : 24:45


Preston: 24:46

miles apart so, so different. And so when, I was in freshman year of, uh, high school. He’s a freshman in college and he’s, he eventually moves out, but as, uh, so he went in the military when I was midway through college and I, once he went in the military and I got to see him, I actually flew out to Fort Knox in Kentucky, saw him graduate. Hung out with him. There was some clarity left there. Cause that basic is really gnarly if, you really can’t, you can’t try to sneak really anything. Otherwise you’re, you’re pretty screwed in that context. So, we had, we had a, it was, I remember that particular time going, oh, it feels like I got some of my brother back versus prior, he had just been, he had hit a rock bottom, so

Dr. Dean : 25:48

So without the substance use, he was able to be himself. what was he like at that point for you?

Preston: 25:58

like not using substances.

Dr. Dean : 26:00


Preston: 26:02

I think it was just, and, and most, I think, second or third siblings will attribute, or will, confirm this right. But, You’re always in this weird pressure cooker as a young, younger sibling cuz right, they, they want to have their thumb on you. There’s a whole joke about older siblings being narcissist too or the first, first children. But, now it, he was pushing me to be better in some instances, like maybe intentionally or unintentionally. I also got to see him do great things. he when, when he was, uh, in high school, high school and junior high, he was like a fantastic athlete and took it really, really seriously too. but this is, this all comes back to, I think the, the whole thing about the eyes and that last painting being an eye is because of that, particularly, I mean, someone’s sad or someone’s, tired, whatever it is. you look at someone’s eyes, you go, you can just tell a lot the eye itself and then the part around the eyes. And so. Same thing for when someone’s on drugs, And that was, it, it was just always became this constant theme for us. So, you could see kind of how clear he was or not and, and there was a period of his . Life, whereas I, I was starting my family, got married, started having kids, and I just wasn’t around him as much. I think he was, in a mixture of Hawaii and, and then Southern California again. But, certainly when he was, more sober, that was a more enjoyable experience.

Dr. Dean : 27:42


Preston: 27:43

but there’d be times we’d go visit him and he’d be sleeping half the time. like, well, this is a total waste. So that kind of sucked. And just not, cause you’re sleeping and you’re, you’re on all these different things that are augmenting your brain. You’re, you’re not normal. In fact, when I was going through therapy, I remember, uh, my therapist at the time and said, for, for all intents and purposes, the brother who grew up with like died a while ago, once all the other chemicals kicked in, became a different person. Which is very true in, in many regards. Uh, which I think is part partially what made that kind of relationship so difficult. Cause you go, wait a second, you’re, I’ve known you in one way, but then, you take these pills or whatever it may be, and yeah, you become a foreign, I don’t really enjoy.

Dr. Dean : 28:44

So in some ways, his substance use forced you to grieve who he was, and now you’re grieving both who he was as a child and as an adult.

Preston: 29:00

Yeah, I think, I think there’s some amount of grieving to, the, the experiences that my children will never have. Like they really know, they know my brother through the lens of the work I’ve done, which is, I’m actually curious to see how to, what this does for them as they grow up. Cuz they’ve been so surrounded by these, by art and these conversations, around grief and, and we talk about this stuff a regular, on a regular basis. There’s six, eight, and nine now

Dr. Dean : 29:34

I was just about to ask your hold

Preston: 29:36

Yeah. 6, 8, 9. And so it’s . Sometimes my wife and I look at each other and I’m like, do other kids do this? Is this these normal topics to discuss? no, but when I look at pictures of us as kids, that’s what usually gets me, when I’ve done my crying in the closet, or if I really want to tap into, those thoughts. It’s for sure as kids, because you know, you’re innocent as kids for the most part. I mean, you don’t have all the, you’re, you’re not on drugs. It’s just purely your personalities and your differences and do you, but you have that shared bond of, at least one parent being the same, or both parents for us and,

Dr. Dean : 30:20


Preston: 30:21

and trying to navigate that. But one, one, actually, funny thing, my brother, Taught me and w was this whole notion of he never wanted me to use his stuff, which like every sibling was like that. And we had, we had a game console, but he had certain games. I don’t really remember if he bought him or what, but it was like, don’t touch his stuff ever. I became like professional going and using his games and playing them and then putting him back at exactly how they were and like, he never knew so,

Dr. Dean : 30:57

didn’t save the game. I guess.

Preston: 31:00

no, no. Yeah. Oh yeah. For, yeah. Cartridge, uh, games, uh, I think we had like a, whatever, maybe a V1 PlayStation at this point, but,

Dr. Dean : 31:09


Preston: 31:10

uh, yeah.

Dr. Dean : 31:15

So getting the call and then finding out. that he died. What was that like for you?

Preston: 31:26

Uh, it’s just like a realization of the, a lot of fears that you maybe stored away somewhere and, you know, when you’re at work, you’re in, work, work mode. As my wife says, that filing cabinet was open for me, so I’m just like, okay, I have a call from my, like multiple calls and all, all this communication from my mom. Okay, some, something happened. it is very awkward in a way because I want to get out of there as quickly as possible and don’t know, and I, I think I didn’t know for me to. If it was intentional or not. So that, that was a big question. And in some ways I’m like, if you do drugs that long enough, you’re, you’re, you’re really rolling the dice anyways. Um, it’s, it’s a, it’s kind of gray. but not knowing like I, it, one of the things in that, in environment as well is going, okay, well I know I have and I’m going to have some incredible amount of emotion and yet I’m not feeling it yet. So where is that gonna come from? And always, cuz you know, again, I’m always being in this, I, I’m, I’m the rock for everyone. So how, how am I gonna allow this to throw me off kilter or not? And knowing the road ahead is gonna be just really, really tough and rough. In all these, uh, situations, there’s no real good playbook for,

Dr. Dean : 33:11


Preston: 33:12

or at least you’re not, no one’s like, you know, for the most part, casually reading grief books, it’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s a need space subject, unless you’re maybe

Dr. Dean : 33:24

psychologist, so I have a stack of them that casually read for, I don’t know, fun. But yeah,

Preston: 33:32

yeah, Well,

Dr. Dean : 33:33

You’re correct.

Preston: 33:34

no, yeah, I mean, goodness, today it’s even worse in some regard cuz it’s just people want quick answers to their problems too. and and that’s part of the, the challenge of it is, like I said, I even, I’m, I’m, looking up on Google or whatever, just sibling loss.

Dr. Dean : 33:57


Preston: 33:58

I just, I, I, I think I maybe laughed while I was doing it too, cuz in, in that motion you’re also, yeah, you’re looking for some quick, quick answer and that, that’s, I think one of the biggest takeaways for me, in this whole process and part of setting out to say, I’m going to paint the way I did and do a documentary and whatnot, and continuing to have these kinds of discussions is, patience was not like this thing that came naturally to me where I said, okay, I’m, I’m okay with this long horizon. And I, I said I need, I, I have to challenge myself in ways that I never have because this is, this is in and of itself, of course, this is a challenge. I have to somehow work through it. at least, at least learn to grow from it. And, yeah. So. Knowing there is no, and this is where the stages of grief, I think, come into play. That, that, attempts to fit everything in this nice bucket for people. And, you, you can graduate from grief and, uh,

Dr. Dean : 35:03

Be nice.

Preston: 35:05

yeah. And actually, you know, there’s another, great grief counselor. I was kinda, uh, we were commenting on her post the other day, but she was talking about the word recovery and bringing up like the Oxford definition of it and saying that grief recovery isn’t a thing and it should be grief, journey. I think something like that. And I thought it was an interesting statement because I use, uh, I use part of that verbiage in opening titles just as a journey of grief recovery and, and the intent there isn’t to be like, I’m back to where I was before.

Dr. Dean : 35:45


Preston: 35:46

Cause that’s obviously impossible, right? for me using that kind of terminology is very much, let’s say in the, because you hear recovery in, often in a medical sense again, right? Like, I recovered from cancer, I recovered from some illness or a broken leg or something like that. But, uh, you do see right in, in various capacities, grief being this very debilitating experience where people do have job loss, they do have relational loss, they do have all these other kinds of losses because that original loss is so intense and you’re not really able to work through it. And that to me is part of what that, um, term became about and why you even put in there is because there’s some amount of recovery that does. To me come when you can take another look at life and how you’re approaching it and be confident again to go, oh, I, I have integrated this thing into how I’m I’m living. And, all the, the things that crop up as a result of grief, I, I feel like equipped now to actually, handle it. And not that it’s all gonna be perfect and being okay with that as well. So all these, like, they’re, it is, they’re just journey growth. Recovery. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive terms. they come out in different ways in into your life is how I view.

Dr. Dean : 37:25

It sounds like what you’re talking about too is resilience and being able to get to that vulnerable space and then grow, and of course, you’re never the same, but being able to move forward in a different way.

Preston: 37:40

Yeah. Re I think resilience is a, a good way to put it, which is like, know, I, have you ever read, uh, grit from Angela Duckworth?

Dr. Dean : 37:52

I think a, a while ago. It’s

Preston: 37:54

Yeah. It’s, I, I’m sure it came across in, in, in your realm, but goes into that same idea of like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna figure this thing out, whatever it is. it’s like watching a child learn to walk is pretty much the epitome of that.

Dr. Dean : 38:09


Preston: 38:11

and there’s some amount of like, I think grit, resilience that you have to develop in grief, otherwise you kind of. Stay, you stay stagnated into maybe trying to be what you were before. But with this thing existing, it’s like, that ain’t gonna happen. You ,you’re gonna, there’s some shift that needs to occur. What that looks like for you. You have to figure out, like no one’s gonna come along and go, yes, this is the plan and it’s gonna take, a week or a year or whatever it is.

Dr. Dean : 38:48

So Google’s not gonna answer that for you.

Preston: 38:52

Yeah. One. And that’s I think seeing what other people have done can be helpful. And that’s, that’s was of course why I went the route I went because I’m like, well, I read all this stuff, never saw anything close to what I’m gonna do for myself. So we’ll maybe put it out there and. it could inspire someone to go, Hey, I’ve tried all this other stuff not working. may, maybe painting will, maybe whatever else they pick up.

Dr. Dean : 39:24

So I think that’s a great transition cuz I. When I watched her documentary, it was like motivating and in inspiring and were you an artist before you did that?

Preston: 39:34

Yeah, I’ve been an artist my whole life. Um, I’ve now in different mediums. from a painting standpoint, I did the most, like in-depth sort of, I guess, painting work, if you will, in, in, uh, high school. probably it was about like a year of fine art classes where I, I actually got into abstract at that time. I got into analytical cubism and, uh, Then it sort of transitioned more into film and have done graphic design for long time since high school. And then music is the other thing. So, but I picked up painting again in a more, I guess, formal manner. Something I did on a regular basis in 2018,

Dr. Dean : 40:24

Mm. And when did your brother die? Oh,

Preston: 40:28

uh, February, 2019. Yeah. So like basically for seven months I was painting on a regular basis.

Dr. Dean : 40:39

So do you wanna share with our listeners what your process was like and what the documentary was about?

Preston: 40:46

Yeah. so process wise, I, so I, I went to paint right when I lost my brother. I knew. I just knew because of all these other artistic practices that I’ve done, music in particular, cause I’ve done a lot of lyric writing in music. and of course like just songwriting in general. Well, that, that was in, in many regards. It, it actually, some of what I wrote was about my brother, but it was also just translating my, angst and all that stuff and reading about other musicians and in some cases living these like intentionally depressive lives because they’re, I’m, I’m the tortured artist type of thing. And so I knew, I knew because I was already painting. I’m like, hopefully I can translate this into something that will help me and I’m gonna tell a story through it. And I’ve always, I’ve always been, for the most part, a storyteller to some degree. So I, I go do these paintings and I’m doing, these mostly larger canvases, but finding some kind of difficulty still with the process. I’m like, yeah, I the large canvases are, are nice and, fun to paint, but they’re more process oriented in some ways because, if you’re looking at a four by five foot canvas or whatever it is, you’re probably gonna come back to that at least a couple times. And I’m like, no, I need, I, the pace at which I’m experience things. I need to do this on a more rapid basis. So I have this, confluence of events that make me realize that I could be doing this on a more regular, frequency and on smaller canvases and just know that. I’m not painting these for perfection. I’m painting these out of, out of really a true process of, wanting to understand myself better. So, I dedicate to doing, doing that for a year to do 365 and a lot of other thoughts in there. One of them though is that, okay, well if I’m really approaching this the right way, um, doing it, sort of intuitive, abstract, then I’m, I could take all these at the end of it and have this pieces to a puzzle that I will need to determine what that final image images and that’s, you know, was part of what happened there. And then of course, document this along the way, share it with people.

Dr. Dean : 43:37

It was interesting to see, like you, you put it together in a way. It wasn’t numerical

Preston: 43:44

Uhuh, it was not chronological.

Dr. Dean : 43:47

So when you did that, and my background before I was a psychologist was artistic, but I’m just curious if, I know you chose the colors as you felt them. So you talked about that. Did you see a theme of those shift over.

Preston: 44:06

Yes. And that was actually the, so I’ll answer that, but the experience of going through the painting for the year is really a largely what informed what that final image would be. But, so I had, and there’s an image of this somewhere, uh, I think in my, Instagram profile, but I had a rolling, 30 days on. This one behind my, my computer monitor. So every day I would switch the next one out and that gave this sort of 30 day mirror of, oh, this happened a week ago, and my wife and I would talk about it or, or what happened yesterday or, usually the further away you got from it, you got a little bit more clarity. uh, certainly I saw shifts in, in colors that, made me realize that there was a predominant color I might go to. And then there was really the kind of secondary accent colors that I would just decide to spur the moment. I’m gonna throw this, this color in. So yeah. Definite shift in color. And, and, and some, sometimes, black and white to me would mean more like I’m drained and other times it would. For me, come off as more like I’m analytical about something.

Dr. Dean : 45:30

Yeah. I don’t want you to share everything about the documentary cause I do think everyone should go watch it. but it, it sounds like processing the emotions through all of those paintings was healing for you in a lot of ways.

Preston: 45:44

Well, yeah, and I, I think there’s, there’s two things to it, right? There’s, and probably more than that, but here’s two I’ll, I’ll mention is, let’s say, you’re listening to this and you, you go, oh, I’m gonna go paint. I don’t know what I’m gonna paint. But you don’t need to. That’s not the point of it. The point is, like, you, you go get these paints and, and, and pout, knife and brushes, whatever you’re gonna do, and you just paint. And you may or may not feel anything when you’re painting. But part of it is this mirror, it’s this emotional snapshot of where you were. And assuming you’re not sitting there saying, I need to make this look a certain way. Or at least not overly analytical about that. You can then look at it and that, that’s the, the pleasure in it in many regards, is I can go and look at this thing, this series, even if it’s a week, and start to understand myself better. that’s a huge kind of, uh, benefit to me in, in doing it on any kind of consistent basis.

Dr. Dean : 46:53

So when you got to the end, what were some of the bigger lessons you learned about yourself and sibling loss particularly, and your brother? Quick question, sorry. However you wanna answer.

Preston: 47:04

Yeah. Yeah. no, good, good question. So it’s, I, I’m, and I’m mentioned this recently, so in the, in the beginning, and this isn’t really give anything away, but I, I’d say this, like I’ve never done anything this big. And it’s, it’s not just about sort of in, in some ways the brandiose nature of it, in terms of it being, uh, of the artistic side of it. I’ve never done anything this big before on, from an emotional work standpoint to understand how, who I am and how I

Dr. Dean : 47:37


Preston: 47:39

And, part of having that actually, particularly my house, and I’m gonna, I’m getting a, a huge print reproduction made for a, a, a new house that we’re building. But, part of that was being able to just stop and stare at that at times and feel some part of that painting in a, in any given day. And it may not just be like, oh, I feel like I’m grief right now, I just, you know, how do I feel today? And, and identifying with some part of that around it. but also in a, in a way, uh, knowing that like there are, there’s terrible things happen all the time everywhere and, and there are good things that happen. And just thinking about how, what if I, what if I took these other things in my life who I may have, I may have deemed, uh, as, as being this really negative thing and I worked on it enough to transform me in a way. And, hoping one day I get to meet my brother and be like, Hey, I, I got to turn this your, your death into something really positive for a lot of people. and the other thing is just knowing there’s an actual, like, literal piece of him, from the cremation in. Is for sure, like, makes it way more personal.

Dr. Dean : 49:11


Preston: 49:11

So, yeah, there’s, there’s all sorts of other thoughts I have there. the one thing I’ll say too is that I made this sort of assumption that my family would get what I was doing and they’re very supportive, but I don’t think they get it. And, and I don’t, I don’t, like my wife gets it for sure, my kids get it, actually. But my sister, my parents, my sister-in-law,

Dr. Dean : 49:40


Preston: 49:41

and I don’t, I don’t expect them to. And, and the reason why I say that is because I would not expect, really don’t go into any process or growth process that you want to do expecting anyone to underst. Maybe the outcome is good and, and, and painting ha happens to be a, a visual medium that is easy to share and easy to consume. But whatever you choose to do and whatever growth youre you get, then fantastic. But don’t expect other people to say, wow, I understand why you’re gonna go on a, 200 mile run You know what, whatever that might be. I’m going to write a poem a day for a year. Uh, do it because you believe that it’s, it’s a, something that is gonna be like, beneficial for you and in a healthy wave, uh, working through your grief.

Dr. Dean : 50:38

Right. It, I think you, you said this and it, it actually really stuck with me cuz I always set a North Star goal, like for the year. And so you actually said it in the video, I was reminded of that today that none of these things are, you’re not going to continue and have the consistency and commitment to them if you’re just doing it. To do it. You have to have that bigger vision. And it sounds like for you, it was the process of healing and learning to be where you are and it, you didn’t have the connection through that, that initial group, grief therapy or grief, support group., but it sounds like in recent interactions you’ve been able to, and I’m just basing this on something, I saw you in an interview or something recently, so correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’ve been able to use this work to connect to other people and their grief and their loss as well. Mm-hmm.

Preston: 51:36

Oh yeah, absolutely. Well, so there’s our therapy project who’s, their, their, their clinical director at the time. Uh, Lindsay Leaderman is in it. and she’s fantastic. So yeah, I didn’t know them. I approached them before. we started production on the documentary and yeah, I, we actually approached a number of organizations and some of them were like, ah, sounds interesting. We don’t have time. Others, it wasn’t a good fit.

Dr. Dean : 52:06


Preston: 52:07

and they, it really resonated with them. But, what, what this kind of really all, uh, morphed into partly was yeah, doing grief commissions for other people kind of strange, like a part of doing the, my own experience in grief and doing the year of painting and, and talking to different professionals and, but also, I, I’ve had years and years of experience in doing psychological wor work behind brands and consulting and I just put all that together and this, notion that I, people were watching what I was doing and found value in it. if I could take your own experiences and transform them in a way and you like abstract art, that’s gonna be helpful for you. Let’s do it . So I started putting that out there. And yeah, it’s, for people who I think find the value in it, and especially to watch the documentary, it’s, it’s, kind of a no-brainer for them, but

Dr. Dean : 53:15

Mm-hmm.. So where are you in the healing process now?

Preston: 53:23

Yeah. Good, good question. I, I think I, I always have a lot going on. I feel like, and I, one thing I’m getting better at is just saying no to things. and just like slowing myself down. And part of that is so I can, really enjoy time with my family and, my wife and kids. And, so I’m, Selective about, these kinds of things I do and whatnot because I, I just, I used to say yes to a lot more. and and part of that is, and, and why I bring that up is cuz it’s having enough time to slow down and understand how I’m feeling. And my wife and I are, have such a better, understanding now of like, okay, you need time to go paint or you need, want to go time to be by yourself or, I, like I told you just before I got on this, I was on a hike and that’s, that’s a huge thing as well. So I try to try to be a lot more intentional about just being reflective how I’m feeling and, and like processing that in some way, you know, not just painting but other things as well, working out. I you. I, I’ve created this kind of thing that continues to have life. And so it’s hard to distinguish to some degree, like where the separation is, because I talk about it a lot. And I, maybe, maybe that’s part of the, uh, sort of irony of it all is I’m keeping him alive by keeping this, this, idealistic project alive to, to further grief,

Dr. Dean : 55:06


Preston: 55:08

So in some ways I, I, I always have that, this kind of reminder, but, yeah, and I, I frankly, I try not to like overanalyze how I’m, or that kind of thing because I’m not trying to get into my own head. Psych myself out to say, and this is where the stages are. again, that pitfall cuz I don’t, I don’t have to be in any one place. Like I know, like my, the greatest reflection point for me is going, where am I at spiritually? Where am I at my relationships with my wife and my kids, and how do I feel about myself? And if, if I know those things are out of whack, it’s, it’s probably because my priorities are are off or I need to, address something I haven’t addressed. So that’s kind of more the mirror for me,

Dr. Dean : 56:05

sounds like a good guy. Post. Well, I really appreciate you saying yes to this interview, and I only have one last question. Unless there’s anything else you wanna share that we haven’t talked about.

Preston: 56:16

No, that’s, that’s good. Those are good question.

Dr. Dean : 56:18

well actually I have two questions. So the first one is, what is your, most favorite or few favorite memories of Colin?

Preston: 56:29

Oh man. there was . There’s one where, I was with my cousins in Hawaii and my brother was going to the bathroom, going to number two, if you will, and we decided to stuff the entire bathroom with mattresses and blankets so that he couldn’t get out and he was so mad about it. I think there’s another one I told this, in a, it is eulogy where we, we are picking berries and As kids and throwing berries at each other. They were like big, like hard cherries, they didn’t feel good to get hit with. And I chucked one at a kid when we had apparently stopped and this kid socked me in the face and my brother just chased him down immediately and just whipped his butt. Pretty good So, sticking up for me there. and then there’s another time I, my brother was like limo driving for someone really randomly, and I went along with him and it was just us goofing around and being silly. And that was of course, as adults, but, there’s so many, we used to go to Lakers games together and, yeah, put, or actually one of our best ones, and I, I forgot to mention this, is we used to play, FIFA soccer on Xbox. So for anyone who’s soccer fans, we’ll know that. But we playing those games, And talking on the phone at the same time. Literally we’d play for probably about two hours, on a regular basis. It was the only way to have like lucid conversation with him. So, um, yeah.

Dr. Dean : 58:13

Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing those. And where can people find you on the documentary and follow you?

Preston: 58:23

Yeah. So the best place for the documentary is just the art of grieving, and you can see all the places to watch it there. I’m on Instagram, just Preston Zeller, is the tag. And on Facebook as well. also on LinkedIn if you want to go to the, more professional route. but yeah. And then, I think, again, going to the film website’s the best way. Yeah.

Dr. Dean : 58:46

Fantastic. It’s definitely worth watching. Well, thanks for checking in with us and I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with us.

Preston: 58:55

Thank you very much, Angela. Appreciate you having me on.

Dr. Dean : 58:58

You’re welcome. I am floored and honored and humbled by all of the support that I’ve received for the broken pack, but also in general, you listeners are amazing and I love hearing from you,

Dr. Dean: 59:12

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 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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