Season 4, Episode 2

Heather Mercer / Melissa

Surviving Sibling Loss Secondary Losses, & Ambiguous Grief

In this episode, of The Broken Pack: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss, hear how Heather Mercer’s world was shattered when her beloved sister, Melissa, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 31. As the surviving sibling, Heather found herself navigating a complex web of challenges, including a custody battle, childcare issues, estate probate matters, and the overwhelming grief that came with losing a beloved sister for whom she was long a caregiver.

Heather’s sibling loss experience sheds light on the unique experiences and challenges faced by surviving siblings. She shares the intense emotions, the practical difficulties, and the search for meaning in the aftermath of loss. Through her story, listeners will gain a deeper understanding of the profound impact sibling loss can have on an individual and a family.

Key Points:

  • Ambiguous Loss: Heather experienced the trauma of losing Melissa and then the ambiguous loss of her nephew as a result of Melissa’s death.
  • Through therapy, Heather learned to manage her sibling loss trauma and find ways to cope with the compound losses of Melissa and her mother.
  • Practical difficulties, such as childcare arrangements, custody battles, and probate matters, can exacerbate the emotional burden and delay the processing of grief.

    Surviving Sibling Heather and sister Melissa
    Transcript

    Dr. Dean: 

    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. In today’s episode, you’ll hear Heather’s devastating story of losing her sister, Melissa, following complications after her pregnancy. You’ll also hear how family dynamics have changed and some secondary losses and ambiguous losses that she discussed. Take a listen. All right. welcome Heather. I was wondering how you wanted to introduce yourself to our listeners?

    Heather Mercer: 

    Ahh yes Heather Mercer and, my husband and I just celebrated our 21st anniversary, last week. And we have four boys, three that are biological. And, I also have my sister’s oldest son. and a kinship arrangement. I homeschool all the boys. I’ve homeschooled my children since my oldest was in kindergarten. He’s now 14. And so I guess I should say the kids are ages ranges between 6 and 14. and then my sister had moved in with us, in 2021 and I started homeschooling her son, shortly before she passed away. I have a degree in psychology, but I ended up working in financial services, in the past. brokerage area. It was a complete, deviation from what my degree was. and I describe my family as a family of tinkerers. We’re always working on something or messing with something. I do a lot of, colored pencil art and jewelry making. And, my husband and I were working on restoring an Airstream, a vintage Airstream. We started that back in 2016. before we had our youngest, and we had planned to travel on it for a while, and find a plot of land to do some homesteading, which we do a little bit here. We’ve got it just under two acres, so I do a little bit of homesteading, no animals though, much to my children’s disappointment. We don’t have chickens.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah. Are you in a rural area? It sounds like.

    Heather Mercer: 

    we’re actually in a village, but, we’re like on the edge of the township. And then, as soon as you hit the township, there’s farmland. And so the, at the end of the school year, they have a tractor parade for the high school that goes right past

    Dr. Dean: 

    wow. Okay. thank you for sharing all that. I’m just curious, like what state are you?

    Heather Mercer: 

    We’re in Ohio, so we’re in Northeast Ohio and, but we thought we were done with the snow and today we look like a little snow globe.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah, we did too. Thank you for all of that. Before we talk about losing Melissa, what would you like our listeners to know about her?

    Heather Mercer: 

    okay. she was a single mom of two boys. their ages were 10 and she had a newborn, at the time of her passing in 2021. the newborn was premature by 13 weeks, he was four months out from his birthday, but, he was premature by 13 weeks, he should have. Only just been born. she was a nurse, in a nursing home and it was a dream of hers. I just remember her being in first grade, you had to write out what you wanted and,

    Dr. Dean: 

    Mm hmm.

    Heather Mercer: 

    wanted to be when you grew up and she wrote out that she wanted to be a nurse. And then when she got into high school, she actually trained to become an automechanic and did that for a few years until she had her oldest son.

    Dr. Dean: 

    You said auto mechanic?

    Heather Mercer: 

    auto mechanic, yep. she was trained to work on cars and did that for a little while. she loved animals, especially cats. We had a cat, Patches, growing up that she was particularly, attached to. she was a drummer in high school and, At her funeral, a lot of friends from high school came and talked about her and that she was the only one that was able to teach them how to do the cadence, which is like a special song that introduces the marching band. When you hear the cadence, the marching band’s coming out onto the field. and lastly, she was a type one diabetic. She was diagnosed at eight years old. so that was back in 93. And, expectations of life expectancy for a type 1 diabetic at that time, the expectations for quality of life is a lot different than it is now.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Hmm.

    Heather Mercer: 

    and that we’ll get into later on. so because she was type 1 diabetic, she was afraid to live alone and she lived with my parents. like I said, she was a single mom. I’m going to sound like the Reba. She was a single mom. She worked two jobs. She also went to college, cause she. Was an LPN and she was going to become an RN. and after 2020, she, had said, I’m 35 years old. I still live at home with my parents. I want to go out on my own and I, I want to become an adult. And so in 2021, she was pregnant with her youngest. she started looking for a place and it was really hard to find apartment. and We have in our home and in law suite and they moved in, her and her boyfriend and her oldest and his son, and then expecting that the baby would move in, soon, they moved into the in law suite, so at least she had some independence, but, wasn’t completely alone and she wasn’t alone, with her boyfriend there either, but, with someone that really understood her struggle with diabetes.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah. Were you older or younger?

    Heather Mercer: 

    I’m older by four years.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Okay, So, you had an understanding of what her medical needs were and as a child, were you involved with her care, making sure,

    Heather Mercer: 

    Yes. so I was 12 when she was diagnosed. And, I remember late high school, college. You had to call in your, her blood sugar numbers to the nurse practitioner. And so I was, on the phone with the nurse practitioner, giving her what Melissa’s blood sugar numbers were, and then they make adjustments to, her medication. She, attended a camp out here in Northeast Ohio, Camp Home, Minnesota, which, has a very special place for both of us. so right after she was diagnosed, they found, a campership for her to be able to attend right away. and it’s great for kids to attend there to learn, how to manage their diabetes and how to do the finger pricks and see that there’s other kids that, have type one diabetes as well. She attended there and loved it. And it’s just this really special place. And then when I was in high school, I Had gone out with her to drop her off and was approached by the Camp director and he said hey, we had a kitchen staff member quit and you’re 15 We’re curious. Would you like to come in? You And so I worked there for the next three summers. And, it, like I said, it was just a really special place for both of us. So a place that, you know, even now as an adult, like I gone back and supported them and, they had

    Dr. Dean: 

    Mm hmm.

    Heather Mercer: 

    a, inspector come in and so I came out and I mopped floors and I, clean toilets and, did all those things and,

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah. If you send me the link to that, I’ll put it in the show notes.

    Heather Mercer: 

    okay. Yeah.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Listeners can support that or find out more What was your relationship like with her?

    Heather Mercer: 

    so I’ll take it back a little bit. my parents were married for 13 years before they had kids. So they were in their mid 30s and in the 80s to be in your mid 30s and had kids. that was just really unusual. my dad was a Vietnam vet, so that contributed to it. And then my mom ended up, struggling with infertility and had a couple miscarriages. And so I was born when she was 35 and then, I remember being, three, four years old and praying with my mom for a little brother or sister. And, Melissa was born when I was four and I was really proud of her and really excited and that little mama, thing. One of the pictures I sent you where I was taking a nap with her, that was, pretty consistent. and then when we got into school age, especially when she got into school age, I don’t have a whole lot of memories other than, us dressing up for Easter or Christmas and going to meet uncles, big thing. But it was really like once she was in high school that, I have more memories and especially, high school through adulthood. When we were in high school, my mom, got a job outside the home for the first time, years, and I was a college student and, because she was type one diabetic, and my mom was working as she worked in a factory. So it was like, she could just take a phone call. So that laid in my lap to, carry a cell phone around with me. Melissa tried skipping school and I got a call on the cell phone. And of course this is, like early two thousands and. Cell phones weren’t very popular. And I just remember my teacher being really upset that I took this call and got up and walked out of class, and I had to come back and explain to her, I’m really sorry, I’ve got a younger sister that I’m responsible for. And, I can’t skip this call. So, yeah, a protector, an overseer, a little mama thing. I much, I respected that she was, Her own person and that I wasn’t her mother, but, I was definitely always looking out for her.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah, it sounds like that carried through with her living with you as well.

    Heather Mercer: 

    Yeah.

    Dr. Dean: 

    How did your relationship change after you were adults?

    Heather Mercer: 

    not a whole lot. I remember when she told me that she was pregnant with her oldest, I was really upset because, again, like I said, it, okay. The expectation, we were told always growing up, we’d be lucky if she saw it to be a teenager, we’d be lucky if she saw herself to adulthood, we’d be, absolutely amazed if she had a baby, and so when she told me that she had a baby, the movie Fried Green Tomatoes where Julia Roberts character passes away, that was running through my head and I was really upset and really, concerned for her, but she carried him full term and, Mostly everything was alright, and, once she had her oldest, we did a lot of life together because I had my 14 year old, so him and her son are two years apart. they were interested in each other, and, so we would do zoo trips and, get together, and go to the Lego store and then go see Santa at Christmas and, Because she lived with my parents, it was just always going to visit grandma and grandpa or they would come to our house for the holidays. And so we did a lot of life together, even though we live an hour and a half apart. And when she moved in with us, our expectation was that we were going to do a lot more life together.

    Dr. Dean: 

    How long before she died did she move in with you?

    Heather Mercer: 

    She moved in August 1, and she passed away September 25.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Oh, so not, so you weren’t able to do life together.

    Heather Mercer: 

    and most of that time, she had just returned to work, which I thought was really unfair. She had a C section, she had a baby in the NICU, and she went back to work at the eight week mark, I think, and had to fight with the system for, extended leave, and That was one of the phone calls that I handled after she passed away was talking to them because they, kept calling and leaving messages. a lot of that time that she was here, even in those two months, she was working, a full time job and, attending to a newborn in the NICU.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Right.

    Heather Mercer: 

    I will say here, that the father did not, wanna put in the effort of learning how to do some of the medical things. And so it created some issues.

    Dr. Dean: 

    For the, your nephew or for her

    Heather Mercer: 

    it created some issues with the nicu. they did not like that, and were hesitant to send the baby home.

    Dr. Dean: 

    That sounds challenging for everyone involved.

    Heather Mercer: 

    Yeah, so she passed away when he was four months old. they were just starting to talk about sending him home and, she passed away. And like I said, we had, had to cut off contact, for safety reasons with his father. And, I heard through the grapevine that the baby didn’t come home until January, which would be January. nine months, maybe my math’s wrong, seven months. and I don’t know a whole lot of people that have babies that are in NICU, but I know a couple and, extended stays are typical, especially if they see the slightest thing, but, the situation was especially extraordinary.

    Dr. Dean: 

    yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Sounds like it was a rough period for multiple reasons, obviously. What are you comfortable sharing about losing Melissa?

    Heather Mercer: 

    it was weird because, we, like I said, we were prepped throughout her entire life that, she was a walking miracle. so I’ll back up again when she was a baby, she was 15 months old and she was diagnosed with meningitis, and spent some time in the hospital. And that’s one of like my earliest memories is that. I was four and I went to stay with my grandparents and then with my aunt and uncle, my dad had a job that he traveled a couple of states away, pretty much weekly and well, and so my mom was with my sister at the hospital and, then she developed asthma and it was severe and then diabetes on top of that. And especially around the holidays, the excitement of Christmas seemed to kick off the excitement of Christmas. she always complained about the cinnamon pine cones at the grocery store. The cinnamon, the smell of the cinnamon pine cones, bringing the Christmas tree down, with all the dust and stuff, triggered an asthma attack in her. And then the asthma attack would trigger, the medicines would make her blood sugars run all over the place and then she’d end up at Christmas in the Children’s hospital. I

    Dr. Dean: 

    more than one

    Heather Mercer: 

    every year. Yeah, almost every year. we were prepped in a way, like you never expect a 36-year-old to just suddenly die, but we were prepped in a way. and then in 2018, so she would’ve been 33, she had a heart attack. she had been very sick and she. was trying to finish her finals and she actually went camping with us while she was sick and, came home from that and went to the hospital and they were like, you have pneumonia. And while she was at the hospital, she had a heart attack.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Oh,

    Heather Mercer: 

    so that led to, her having some discussions with me about, her oldest son and, if anything ever happened to her, it’s her desire that, he go into our care. And his father is living. but do not assume that just because a parent was living, that they’re a healthy individual or capable of caring for a child. especially, to have a parent say that this is my express desire as the legal guardian, she was the only one that had the legal, whatever, established. After

    Dr. Dean: 

    like she had decision making custody solely. Yeah. Okay.

    Heather Mercer: 

    yeah, they never went to an official capacity with that, but in the state of Ohio, she, because she was single, she was solely the decision maker, unless father filed for something, that never happened until she passed away. she had that discussion with me. you always knew it was on the horizon. You didn’t expect it to happen when she was 36. we had the discussion, my parents again are aging, they’re middle to late 70s. And, because she was a nurse, she talked about that she would take a caregiving role for them. And, I would support her in however way, I could. that was, a really, scary thing that, she’s no longer there. And, I just lost my mom, in May and

    Dr. Dean: 

    sorry.

    Heather Mercer: 

    that was, that was one of those situations where, I wish I would have had the medical knowledge that was the day. and been able to ask questions about things, because it was a really intense six weeks going from my mom thinking she was having a gallbladder attack to just stage four pancreatic cancer. And, she was delusional in the end. it was hard to watch to do alone. Yeah, but the actual losing Melissa, like you said, I felt prepped for it. It was obviously, devastating at first. now two years out, it’s, there are so many things that she left behind that need to be tended to that are a big mess, and very stressful and the custody, situation with her oldest is definitely number one. and that was two years of court stuff, and very intense. And, now I have her son who’s going to be a preteen and, is dealing with some, trauma stuff himself, and rightly so for losing his mother. and. Probate because she was an auto mechanic. She had tons of vehicles in her name and because she has two children and she was never married, everything goes with the kids. And even though we’re doing probate, we can’t make a whole lot of decisions, without the court direction. my dad kept talking about when his dad died, it was just so easy. He just went down to the courthouse and he did this and he filled out this form. Now, we’re two years in with probate and, it’s just really slow going and really frustrating. yeah,

    Dr. Dean: 

    It sounds like with her children being minors too. It’s not just they can go down to the courthouse because they’re minors.

    Heather Mercer: 

    she had a lot of stuff and she held on to a lot of stuff and Kind of pockets of time throughout the house, and my parents looked back and said, you know How did we end up with all this stuff in the house? you don’t realize it until the person’s gone, but We were filling our cars by the carload And, making donations to women’s centers and, donating stuffed animals to the sheriff for, children. And I’m not sure if it was for children that were in CPS or child protective services, and there’s still just a lot more, I think a lot about, they talk about when you passed away, somebody’s eventually going to have to go through your underwear drawer and, through things and, how much do you want to really leave for them to have to go through? And, I was more on the minimalist side even before she passed away. And, more so since she passed away. just simplify as much as I can.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah. Do you want to share how she died?

    Heather Mercer: 

    So the day she died, it was September. End of the season for our garden. And I was out working on that. And, pulling stuff up and, I remember sitting down and her boyfriend, came flying around the house and screaming and he said, I think she’s dead. And, we were like, who? And he was like, Melissa, I think she’s dead. he was like, I already called, the emergency team. And so my husband went down, to just, confirm and he came back and he was like, yeah, I think so. I just remember it was like the longest wait of my life, waiting for the EMS team to go in and assess and actually officially tell me, that she had passed away. And that it was just some, misunderstanding that maybe she was, in a coma or, something, her blood sugar was low or whatever. I remember watching the paramedic come out and go into the truck. And I walked over to her and I was like, please, she’s my sister. And she’s I just needed my job. And understand that, but she’s my sister. I’m not just nobody, please just tell me. And, of course she just very patiently told me that, I need to go sit down, which sucked. but. And then they came over and they talked to me and, they asked about her medical history and just confirmed that she had passed away. that point it was really hard to tell. they could make some suggestions, but of course there needed to be an autopsy if you really wanted to know. and at this point after they confirmed, I was trying to call my parents, and. I called my parents house a number of times, and they hadn’t answered my nephew actually was at their house, for the weekend and, he said he, he saw my number come up and my dad was just like, we’ll deal with it later. They were in the middle of doing something. And, so finally my mom had a cell phone. My dad doesn’t, but my mom had a cell phone. I kept trying to call her on that. I couldn’t get ahold of her. So I knew she was supposed to be with her church group and I ended up calling her pastor. And I was like, Hey, Melissa died. I couldn’t even

    Dr. Dean: 

    Couldn’t soften that.

    Heather Mercer: 

    Yeah, couldn’t soften it. I was like, I’m trying to get ahold of my parents. She’s my mom’s supposed to be there with you guys. I just, I can’t get ahold of her. And. She’s she didn’t come today. I’ll send one of the members over to your parents house. And so she sent one of the members over and he met my dad at the door and, informed him that my sister had passed away. And then my dad called me and he was like, what is he telling me? And I was like, she passed away. and, they found her. in the bathroom. We found her in the bathroom. We thought she’d gotten up to go to take a shower and actually, the boyfriend’s little three year old found her. and then, because she was in my house, I’m dealing with the county, the examining, what is it, the medical examiner or the,

    Dr. Dean: 

    examiner, yeah.

    Heather Mercer: 

    yeah, dealing with them. They want to know where to send the, send her, who to call and, so at this point I made contact with my mom and I, because I had no idea even, who was out there by them. so called them, waited a long time because they, had to drive an hour and a half to come out. and then after that, I just remember trembling. Like I couldn’t stop shaking. definitely like in shock and I have my three sons and then her boyfriend’s, three year old there and, they need to be fed and they need, to be cared for and there’s phone calls to make. I ended up calling the NICU and telling them that, she had passed away because like you said, there were some issues, with, baby had a special tube for eating that they needed to be trained in and the boyfriend was hesitant so he just wasn’t comfortable in doing it or at least that’s what he said. He wasn’t comfortable in learning how to do that and so he was just hoping that the baby would age out of it, before he left the NICU so they, they were on watch with the NICU, and so I just wanted them to know that, if Melissa didn’t show up, this is why. not because she’s being negligent, but because, you know, she,

    Dr. Dean: 

    She can’t.

    Heather Mercer: 

    she can’t,

    Dr. Dean: 

    Mm

    Heather Mercer: 

    and that, that was the other thing, she wasn’t being negligent before she passed away. she worked and, worked full time and, that’s hard. I can’t imagine how hard that is. so after discussing with the medical examiner, her history and discussing with my parents about, do we do an autopsy or not? it was just determined that because she had a previous, heart attack and because she had, type one diabetes, which, just added, stacked on top of that. The reason she had the baby in the NICU, she had him 13 weeks early, was that she had, preeclampsia, and after she had him, it was not resolving well, and so it was just an assumed that it was a heart attack. again, we would have had to do some sort of autopsy to, to really determine that, and we just, we didn’t want to do that,

    Dr. Dean: 

    And that’s interesting that Ohio law wouldn’t require that. I know here, when my brother died, they required an autopsy given the age.

    Heather Mercer: 

    I know that the medical examiner. didn’t want to sign off on things at first. he said, we should contact her primary care physician and ask them, to sign off on it. because she was pregnant and because of the nature of her pregnancy was so high risk, her primary care physician hadn’t seen her within a certain, the allotted amount of time. And so I actually reached out to the OB, his high risk OB and manage her case. wonderfully. he was just a really fantastic doctor, and just, talked to him about what had happened and he confirmed that, if you, have a heart attack or you have heart issues or continue to have high blood pressure for a certain time postpartum, then it can contribute to a heart attack. considered pre eclampsia related.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Mm hmm. Thank you for sharing that. That sounds just awful. And you’re trying to take care of all the kids in process that you just lost your sister.

    Heather Mercer: 

    a couple things with the baby was that, we were still under COVID rules, with the hospital.

    Dr. Dean: 

    What year this?

    Heather Mercer: 

    2021,

    Dr. Dean: 

    Okay,

    Heather Mercer: 

    and because it was NICU related, the only people that were allowed. To go see the baby or mother and father. and then siblings, two weeks before she passed away, the siblings. So my nephew, my oldest nephew, and then the boyfriend’s three year old, went with them, but they were not able to actually hold him or do anything with him that a nurse actually came behind the glass window and held him up. And then took him back. the baby was just a complete mythological character to, you know, my nephew, which we’ve discussed a number of times. he knows he has a brother and yet he, he knows nothing of him, so that kind of contributed to some of the trauma stuff that we’ve dealt with him. when I called the NICU and informed them and also passed away. they granted me a one time pass that I could go and, see him and hold him. And I got to go up there and hold him. going back to my sister being in the hospital with meningitis. my mom talked a lot about, there were songs that she sang to Melissa to calm her, because she was just, hysterical and in pain in the hospital. so that’s been this tradition that’s been passed down with our children is that, you go and you see the baby in the hospital and you hold the baby and you sing them songs. Melissa had done that with my youngest. She actually showed up 10 minutes after he was born and then she stayed with me. My mom and my sister wanted to be there for the birth, but they showed up 10 minutes after. and That I got a chance to do that for her baby and sing to him and, they helped me give him a bath and, feed him a bottle. And, and then after that, his father, went from not being involved to, you’re not taking my baby, which was, never our intent, but that was in his mind what we were doing. so he, blocked all communication with the hospital, for us. yes. yes, it was very, chaotic and just, I don’t know if I said it, but for safety reasons, we stopped, all contact. Because it just escalated from there and, he lived in our house, he went back home out by my parents. His mom lived out there as well. he went back home and he would come back and, grab some things and then go back and so he was in and out. Melissa’s funeral was two weeks after she passed away. so after the funeral, he officially moved out. He talked to us about, staying longer and, He, he didn’t have a job and already, had a history of not paying rent where he was previously. And, you can stay, limited time, stay to get your feet, but we’re going to put a time limit on it. And, so he cut it short. he officially moved out after his,

    Dr. Dean: 

    So you have this ambiguous loss, too. You lost your sister, and then by ambiguous loss, you’re mourning someone that’s either physically present and psychologically absent or psychologically absent. and physically present. Basically, you’re grieving your nephew that you saw one time as well. And like you said, mythical creature,

    Heather Mercer: 

    I hope that, one day, and obviously I would assume he’s going to be an adult when that one day happened, but, that one day we will make a connection with him and that, his heart wouldn’t be hardened towards us. because I can just imagine, based off the interactions that we had with his dad. that there could be a lot of things that were said that were negative.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah.

    Heather Mercer: 

    and not true, Yeah I took pictures when I went to see him at the hospital. I had started to write in a journal. and it was just Too much. I still have the journal. Maybe i’ll fill it in,

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah.

    Heather Mercer: 

    but right now it’s too much to fathom

    Dr. Dean: 

    How are you doing with your grief now?

    Heather Mercer: 

    So Throughout the two years that I was in the custody battle, it was very much held on pause. I couldn’t attenuate to it because I had to attenuate to this very insane custody, arrangement and, fight, really. And, then, after the custody, Stuff was finally agreed upon. I did okay, and we’re mixing into this that I also lost my mom. I lost the two, key female figures in my life. my family of origin was just my parents and my sister and I, and so now it’s just me and my dad. About October. So when I came home from the custody thing is when I wrote in to you. because I had friends that were very supportive and I could talk to, but, I needed to tell the story a little bit in a more official capacity. And, I needed to say it that day I was like running on adrenaline and then that journaling crashed out. and so by October I crashed out and I was looking at, Thanksgiving and Christmas. So this would be the second Thanksgiving without Melissa, second Christmas without Melissa and the first without my mom. I burnt out. and I realized I was in a trauma mode, it was traumatizing, both the losses, and traumatizing, how Melissa died and, just how suddenly it happened. And, and so I spent a lot of the winter, working on that burnout and working on, my stress. Anxiety and trauma and, I’m starting to come out of it. starting to feel like I can go and do things I can, I can talk about stuff and not, completely break down. therapy has helped a lot with that, to be able to talk that. out loud. Um, my husband is amazing and he’s supportive and, But the great thing about talking to a therapist is you can say things that, and you don’t have to look at that person over the dining room table over dinner, and you say awful things and, they’re not like really meant, but you think them sometimes and that’s normal. And it doesn’t mean that you really feel that way about your person or, you But, there, there was a period of time where I didn’t have anything good to say, and I didn’t want to say those bad things and I didn’t want to, be angry and frustrated and, or let other people know that I was angry or frustrated with the situation. like I said, there was a big mess and, and we were, my dad and I were left to. it up. and my mom did a lot of work, two years in between. but it’s still a big mess.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah, I think, that is the benefit of therapy. People say things in here that they wouldn’t say elsewhere. it sounds to me like what you were also saying is You delayed your grief, and you had to be somewhat focused on how things ended for such a long period of time. How are you with that now? Are you able to think about her differently?

    Heather Mercer: 

    there are things I absolutely miss. holidays are never going to be the same. Where I was talking about, every Christmas, she was in the children’s hospital. As an adult the way she handled Holidays and celebrations as she always made it big. So Christmas was always a big to do for her and Easter and she loved to dress up and you know for Halloween and she loved to do those things and I didn’t really feel like doing Christmas. I didn’t really feel like doing holidays. And, of course, I’ve got these kids. And I don’t want to ruin the magic of it for them. so we kept things very simplified. but it was really hard. And, to even think about, getting together with family. getting together with my dad. that, that felt awful that, he was alone on Christmas. And, But it was like, I couldn’t even get myself up, couldn’t, I could get dressed and I could get showered, and I can do those things now, but, I definitely couldn’t do it then. I think about, the things that she’s missing out with her son, like I said, he’s gonna, he’s a preteen now, he’s going to be a teenager this year. My oldest who’s 14 just asked me about driving and she’s never gonna get to teach him how to drive or,

    Dr. Dean: 

    Mm hmm.

    Heather Mercer: 

    And so there, there are those things that I miss. they don’t make me feel devastated anymore, definitely know that they’re missing. it’s like you keep looking, for, but. You know that she’s not there. she’s not showing up.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Yeah. Do you avoid that part of the house at all?

    Heather Mercer: 

    Oh no, I’m actually down here right now. after she passed, yes, absolutely. I did not want to, come downstairs. and it helped that her boyfriend was down here and that, he didn’t want us down here. her son, so, we’re a three bedroom house, one bathroom, and so you’ve got six people living in this one house, and there is a bathroom in the apartment, and so you know, sometimes you have to tell the kids, go downstairs, somebody else is in the bathroom, go downstairs, and he will not. he will not come down here. I’m

    Dr. Dean: 

    glad that you also said he’s getting help too.

    Heather Mercer: 

    Yeah.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Is there anything that you found surprising around sibling loss or support either right after she died or now?

    Heather Mercer: 

    I had a really great community. and I knew that going in. it was just crazy to me. My house was like a train station. I just had people constantly coming and going. And, then losing my mom, it’s been the complete opposite. I haven’t really seen anyone. and it, part of that was that we actually packed ourselves up in our camper and, went and lived out there, through the six weeks of the end of my mom’s life. and so some friends said they didn’t even realize that we were, back yet, or, And, I guess one of the surprising things is that I have reconnected with, some friends from high school that, they were good friends. Then I’m actually just really terrible at keeping in contact with people. and, they, keep reaching out and checking on me over the past two and a half years. because, I’m not living in the town where I grew up. Nobody really knew my sister. She wasn’t here long enough for them to know. so You know, I’d go into town and I knew I looked wrecked You know, we live in this little village and I would go into the butcher and I just look wrecked And somebody would say hey, you know what’s going on and i’d have to explain myself and explain, you know My sister just died Sometimes you hope that, the rumor meal is as close knit as it can be, but, sometimes there, there’d be someone where I’d have to talk about it. and that was, hard especially in the beginning. I, personally, I’ve had a lot of losses. I had two second trimester, miscarriages, my husband lost his dad. 10 years ago to cancer. And so I’ve always been really open. somebody asked me, I just told them, just there was no sense in trying to make myself look okay, or seem okay. I just found it was better, to be honest and say what happened.

    Dr. Dean: 

    think that’s great advice. I’m sorry for all of your loss. It’s interesting because in some ways you anticipated her death for a very long time and of course it was still very shocking and surprising.

    Heather Mercer: 

    Again, you don’t expect at 36, that somebody’s not going to be there anymore. And especially, 36 new baby. you expect that they’re going to be there and get to see their kids grow up.

    Dr. Dean: 

    So what are some of your favorite memories with Melissa?

    Heather Mercer: 

    we lived next door to our cousins, and growing up until I graduated high school, and The movie Annie, I think, had just come out and we would reenact Annie and Melissa was the youngest of the five of us and so she always got assigned the role of, Sandy the dog.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Oh, the dog. Sandy, the dog.

    Heather Mercer: 

    I was asking my kids and my husband, their memories too. So my kids always remember they, they brought up, going to the Lego store with her. And, this is, this was tied in with Christmas. And so it was a big thing. And, she always made sure that they got the mini figures and they always got to do the pick a brick. And they always, just everything, it was just this big to do for her. but. My husband, and I wrote this down myself and then laughed when I asked my husband what his number was, is early in our marriage. So my husband and I got married in our early 20s, and so Melissa was 17. She’s a junior in high school and she’d come over and hang out with us. And so I took her and my husband grocery shopping with the one day and they were walking around like Walmart or something, clucking like chickens. While I’m trying to grocery shop and so So I pretended I didn’t know them and I went out of my business But it this carried on for a very long time that they kept clucking like chicken and they Both her and my husband just really enjoy, making people laugh and So it was pretty par for course We shared trips to the zoo we would meet up there, it was a halfway point for us and she’d bring my mom and we just walk around with the kids. I realized that my youngest, because he was born in 2017, he was just too young to remember anything pre COVID, any of those trips pre COVID. And then, now, That’s just something I’m not interested in taking the kids and doing myself. and he looked at me and goes, Mom, I haven’t even seen a giraffe, I was like, yes, you did, but you were like six months old. we would do that. I mentioned she wanted to be there for the birth of my youngest child. it was very special. I had, advocated for myself to have a VBAC, which is the vaginal birth after C section. I actually had two C sections prior. so I had the same doctor that she had when she gave birth to her And, he was just fantastic in managing. I, Hard cases. it went from I was not laboring at all to I suddenly was matching a room over where the lady was like ready to give birth. It was so strange, like our charts were matching each other. And then, They had to call him in and, they, my mom and sister called my husband and they were like, Hey, we’re getting out in the parking lot. He said, the baby will be here by the time, you make it here. And that was pretty typical for my mom and my sister. They relate for everything. They’d call me, they’d say I’m on the way, it’s an hour and a half to my house and three hours later, they’re finally there because they had to make multiple stops to pick up things that they remembered on the way. We, all of our kids are May, June babies. So we just would do this big joint celebration. and we would never really do a big birthday party, but we, made sure we all had cake together and, open presents and stuff. those are the highlights. I remember getting her ready for, I believe prom. And, The dress that she wore to prom was the bridesmaid dress for my wedding. mentioned she was a drummer in high school, the marching band stuff and the uniforms. And, she went to the high school of our hometown. so it was a big to do for, her to be in band and the band, at least. Honorary people enjoyed, the band, where most places band got a bunch of geeks, or was

    Dr. Dean: 

    Do you find ways that you stay connected with her now? Obviously through the kids, but

    Heather Mercer: 

    she, loved clothes. And, I find that, where I was a little bit more. Not prints or not, loud colors or whatever. I’m adding those things a little bit more. my glasses, I picked a pair of ridiculous looking glasses that I wouldn’t have typically chosen.

    Dr. Dean: 

    The ones you have on?

    Heather Mercer: 

    yes, they have flowers in the frames, which before I would only get like a plain. and then my, I have driving glasses because I have really terrible night vision. and those are like, bright red and polka dots. And my kids said they look like Minnie Mouse. And I was like, but I wanted the most ridiculous pair.. her name, Melissa, means honeybee. And I’m just really drawn to things that have honeybees on them. my neighbors have bees, so we end up with honeybees in our yard all the time. I was look at you, and then the earrings that I’m wearing are, were hers. they’re honeybee earrings. and So I’ve just added things in the way that I dress that, I would have gone with plain hoops or, whatever. And now I’ve got little donut earrings in, letting that side of her, shine through me.

    Dr. Dean: 

    Thank you for that. Thank you for sharing so much about her and your loss and I really enjoyed our conversation as well today.

    Heather Mercer: 

    I appreciate appreciate what you do.

    Dr. Dean: 

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

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