Season 4, Episode 6

Randye Sundel /

Mitch

Sibling Loss & Love Beyond Death, An Enduring Bond: Randye / Mitch

This episode, of The Broken Pack: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss,  Dr. Dean speaks with Randye, a surviving sibling, who shares her deeply personal story of losing her brother Mitch to cancer over 45 years ago. Her experience challenges the notion that grief fades with time, highlighting the enduring nature of sibling loss and its profound lifelong impact on surviving siblings.

Randye speaks to the ways loss transforms us while emphasizing the unbreakable bond that persists between siblings, even beyond death. This episode offers a unique perspective on grief, resilience, and the transformative power of love, making it essential listening for surviving siblings, young adult cancer support networks, and anyone seeking understanding about the complexities of grief – especially the disenfranchised loss of a sibling and anticipatory grief that Randye experienced with many of her losses including her brother, parents, and husband.

Key Points about Sibling Loss from this episode: 

  • The profound impact of sibling loss endures for a lifetime. Randye’s experience of losing Mitch over four decades ago highlights the devastating and life-altering nature of sibling loss.
  • Even after death, siblings continue to shape our lives, values, and perspectives through the memories and bonds we shared with them.
  • Randye found little sibling loss specific support over the years. However, she was able to find and promote community in her caregiving and grief.  Additionally, she stresses the need for support and community when grieving  both in her many anticipated losses and in her grief.

To learn more about Randye, her book, her writing, and other work, or to contact her, please visit her website: https://randyesundelwrites.com/.

Her Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/randye.sundel/
On instagram, Randye is found at @randyesundel

 

Randye & Mitch
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 I spoke with author, actress, and lyricist Randyee Sundel. Randyee has experienced much loss in her life, including the loss of her brother Mitch from cancer nearly 45 years ago. We discussed how grief has shaped her and how she navigated her parents illnesses and loss alone without her brother. This is a concern so many grieving siblings have and anticipate. Randye has been writing a memoir of living, loving, and loss, and we also discussed how the project has been a way to continue her process and live with her grief of many losses, including the loss of her brother Mitch. Our conversation inspired me, and I hope it does you as well. All right. welcome to the show, Randye. I was wondering how you want to introduce yourself to myself and our listeners.

Randye Sundel: 

Thank you, Angela. I am Randye Sundel. I am an author, an actress, a lyricist, and I have been a New Yorker most of my life. I am currently living in Connecticut. I have been a sister, a daughter, and a wife, and my only sibling, my parents, and my husband are all gone. And I was a caregiver to all of them, either directly or indirectly, starting with my brother Mitch. Mitch died of Hodgkin’s disease 45 years ago next month,

Dr. Dean: 

oh,wow

Randye Sundel: 

at the age of 26.

Dr. Dean: 

mm hmm

Randye Sundel: 

And I am writing my memoir. Sibling grief and the impact of it is really at the core of the book, which is called Role of a Lifetime.

Dr. Dean: 

Oh, I love the title.

Randye Sundel: 

Thank you.

Dr. Dean: 

And you’ve had quite a bit of loss. I’m sorry that you’ve had that much loss and that much caregiving. It sounds like what you’re examining in your book is how it’s affected you overall.

Randye Sundel: 

Absolutely, because it really does impact every aspect of your life. It has to, because

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah,

Randye Sundel: 

you change of necessity,

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah. So what would you like us to know about Mitch?

Randye Sundel: 

Mitch. Mitch was probably the most alive person I’ve ever known. He was the whole package. He was good looking. He was super smart, especially in math, which was my nemesis. He was an exceptional athlete. He was funny. He was caring. And he In his 26 short years, he really lived life to the fullest. He was the cool kid in high school. I still have a relationship with some of his friends from those days and they describe him as a lightning rod. My brother brought disparate people together, people who would never have connected on any level,

Dr. Dean: 

hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

But, he brought them together and I think Mitch was always finding worthiness in people that sometimes didn’t find it in themselves. And I think, in his short life, I think he made a huge contribution to helping people. After his funeral, there was a colleague who came up to me and said that she was struggling with drugs. And that my brother said to her,”You’re better than this, you deserve better than this.” She said,”And the fact that he showed me that concern and told me I was better than the life I was living,”she said,”I turned my life around and I owe that. And I can’t believe he’s gone

Dr. Dean: 

hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

because it might have been me.” So that tells you who he was.

Dr. Dean: 

hmm. Mm hmm. Sounds like he cared deeply about other people.

Randye Sundel: 

Yes, he did. That’s how we grew up. We grew up in a family where, we were taught to take care of each other.

Dr. Dean: 

mmhmm

Randye Sundel: 

That was the value. And I think sometimes it got a little muddied because we were so busy trying to protect each other that we didn’t always get what we needed.

Dr. Dean: 

What do you mean?

Randye Sundel: 

Because we made assumptions as to what, the other one in the family needed, and we acted on that, as opposed to asking what we needed

Dr. Dean: 

Mm hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

and telling others. what we needed. And so that was a long journey for me, being able to validate my needs because I was so busy taking care of all my family members

Dr. Dean: 

mmmhmm

Randye Sundel: 

and what I thought they needed from me.

Dr. Dean: 

That is so common with caregivers for sure, that they put everyone else’s needs ahead of themselves, which you have to do in the caregiving role, but then somehow it sounds like you’ve learned to do that for the other parts of your life too.

Randye Sundel: 

Yes. it’s been a journey. I’m still on it, but I’m still learning. With my brother, The reason I became his caregiver initially was that my parents had retired to Florida. They had been living in New York. And when my brother was diagnosed, I was with him doing all of that because, One of his friend’s fathers, who was a pharmacist, had called to my attention that Mitch was lethargic, which was never a word you’d use to describe him. He said he was going to take Mitch to have a biopsy done. I was newly married. I was married less than two years. And I took it from there. When we got the diagnosis, which took some time, Mitch said,”I need you to not tell mom and dad. Not now

Dr. Dean: 

Hmm. Mm

Randye Sundel: 

“not now.” And I said,”How can I do that?” And he said, They just retired. This is their time. And this will devastate them. And frankly, I need time to come to terms with what’s happening to me.” He was all of 23. And I was three and a half years older. I didn’t realize, my choice was either to protect him and lie to my parents. Or betray him and tell my parents the truth, which is an impossible decision.

Dr. Dean: 

Right.

Randye Sundel: 

I decided he was the one who was ill and I would protect him. And I didn’t realize all the implications of that because that meant that I was in charge of his care. I was in charge of dealing with the doctors and paying his medical bills. He was one month shy of having coverage at his job. He was, not quite a year out of college. it was very difficult. I was just keeping everything to myself. I went down to visit my parents with my husband, because we had planned that, and I couldn’t tell them. I had to look at them. I had to smile at them. And not tell them what was going on with their son.

Dr. Dean: 

I wonder if you felt put on the spot if they asked how he was doing.

Randye Sundel: 

Well, you know, in those years, there were no cell phones or anything. And my brother was very clever. And he would call my parents from a landline, which is all we had. And he would say, I’ll give you a call. Don’t call me because I’m going skiing this weekend with my friends. And when I finally did tell them, months later. I flew down to tell them because the oncologist was concerned that it had spread, and I said to Mitch,”I’ve done everything I could do for you, but I can’t let Mom and Dad know the first thing that they learn is that you’re gone,” because he was going to have to start chemo and he was really weak. And Mitch said,”No, thank you. Thank you.” And I just went down there and I had to tell them what had been going on. And my mother’s going, no, he’s been skiing. I said, no, Mom. he’s been telling you that and, and I brought them up and I said, you can respond any way you want outside his hospital room, but in that room, you have got to hold it together because his worst fear was not that he had cancer. His worst fear is what his cancer would do to you. And they were amazing. And I was so relieved to know that I wasn’t alone.

Dr. Dean: 

He had their support through it. Yeah. So that was the late 70s, early 80s?

Randye Sundel: 

That was, it was 76 when he was diagnosed. He died in 79. And, I had suffered a miscarriage during his illness. And, my brother blamed himself.

Dr. Dean: 

For your miscarriage?

Randye Sundel: 

From a miscarriage, which was preposterous, but that’s how he felt, and what he did in response, sadly, was he pushed me away. When I became pregnant again, and so there was a period when I just didn’t see him, and my parents were with him. and it was really hard. It was really hard to not be with him and I regret that so much. I understand that he did that because he was protecting me and, and my fetus. That’s what I mean about protecting without having a conversation about what I needed, which was to spend time with him.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah. What was your relationship like with him before all of that?

Randye Sundel: 

We shared a bedroom from the time he was able to sleep in a bed. We were in a two bedroom apartment. My parents had the master bedroom and we shared a bedroom until, the day I turned 13 and we moved. into a house. As I got older, I changed to the living room and we had one bathroom. My brother was very energetic. He was one of the younger kids and he wanted to do what everybody else was doing and he probably was able to do it better. than most of us. And so he, he would just barge his way in. And I remember my parents had a really hard time getting a babysitter who would come back a second time because we were all over each other. And ultimately my cousin who was a few years older and lived in the neighborhood, she just had no choice. She was coerced into being our sitter. And so That’s what she did. But we loved each other. We were so clear about that. And, we used to dress up. I got him dressing up. We were, Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, making, making our own with brooms, running around the living room and doing all of that. And we went to summer camp together. And, I remember the camp director saying, Why aren’t you watching your brother? He’s playing in a championship tennis tournament, and he was, maybe all of 12, in his division. I said, my brother doesn’t play tennis. I had no idea. Not only did he play, he was amazing at it. He ended up, head of the tennis team in college and, he was really a talented athlete and had a roommate who had been living with bone cancer, had lost a leg to the cancer. And somehow my brother got him up playing tennis. I have no idea how he did that, but he did that. and. Mitch and I, we would just, we’d laugh, we’d laugh at our parents. they wouldn’t wait till visiting day to come see us. And when we got the call, somebody came to get us off a field or whatever, because my parents decided to come up, they just had to see us. All the other parents were delighted to have, eight weeks without their children, our parents came up and so we go to the chain link fence and we’d look at each other like, Oh my God, this is so embarrassing.

Dr. Dean: 

Was it this, at college?

Randye Sundel: 

No, this was summer back to summer camp, when, yeah, and, I’m jumping from venue to venue, but I’m just thinking about all these memories are rushing back. It’s 45 years. since he’s gone. and so it gets a little muddy sometimes.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah, I wonder what that’ss been like for you to have these different memories. Do you find that they cluster together or there’s a theme or how has that been for you over the years?

Randye Sundel: 

I think the one theme since he’s gone, is my questioning who I am. Because I was a sister for 26 years. I was honing my skills as a sister. I loved being a sister. And I asked myself, am I still a sister if I don’t have a sibling who’s alive? And I didn’t know how to be a single child because that’s not who I was. And I wasn’t sure what to make of that. And a few weeks after my brother died, I gave birth to a son, I just, I was not prepared to take care of a baby. I was just reeling from everything that had happened, and that’s what I mean about impacting every aspect of my life. And it was really difficult. When he was in the hospital, my husband, I made so many demands on him. I said, you have to come after work. You have to meet me at the hospital. And he goes, but I’m exhausted. I’m tired. I’m putting in a full day. And I’d say, yeah, but my brother has cancer. My whole life became my brother. And it was not fair to my husband. It just was so important to me. It was the most important thing in my life. I’ll tell you a little funny story. When I was at college and he was in high school and he was going to come up to visit me. And, I was dating somebody who was not treating me all that well. And I finally worked up the nerve to break up with him. And when I told him we were through, I said, And you’re never going to meet my brother. And to me, that was the worst punishment that I could give him because To me, my brother was the most precious gift, I was going to deprive him of that. That’s the feeling, that we had for each other.

Dr. Dean: 

That’s beautiful. I love how you’ve described your relationship with him. I feel like I have a little bit of a sense of who he is or was. So you took on this caregiving role for him and it sounds like it lasted for a few years.

Randye Sundel: 

Well, the caregiving lasted with me exclusively, for, months. because then I got too nervous, and, And I was fighting bureaucracy. I was, I had to get money to pay his bills and the system just kept letting me down and I kept thinking, who’s going to help me, who’s going to help me. And I think that one of the reasons that I’m writing my story and one of the reasons that I want to talk to you and add my voice to yours and a growing group of voices is that as a society, we have to do better. We have to do better. We have to figure out how we help each other because sooner or later, we’re all going to be in a position. We’re either, we’re caregiving, or we need a caregiver, or we’re grieving, or we want to help somebody through the mourning process. I think about it as, we’ve got to all get more comfortable being uncomfortable.

Dr. Dean: 

That wording is so perfect. Yes, we definitely have to become more comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Randye Sundel: 

Because we can’t help each other if we stay away because we don’t know what to say. I think, when people saw me as this young woman with this young child who had lost her brother, maybe they thought that could be me. I think that’s a natural way to think, and nobody wants to think that,

Dr. Dean: 

Right. So, I don’t know if you know the history of how the Industrial Revolution impacted caregiving and death and dying.

Randye Sundel: 

Tell me,

Dr. Dean: 

Before that people died at home. People were sick at home. There was a comfort with that. People from young ages, children and all the way up, knew people that had died at home. They watched that. They were part of the caregiving process, bringing water and, all of the things that they needed to do to make someone comfortable in the process of dying and in death. But then it moved to hospitals and we have separated ourselves from that idea. And so as a society, this is reflected because we don’t talk about death. We’re not comfortable with it. And so we don’t see it. We’re afraid of it. And then when people are caregiving or grieving or mourning, we’re also afraid of that because it’s, like you said, uncomfortable.

Randye Sundel: 

In the. Late 1970s, early 80s, there was nothing in place, to, support me, you didn’t have home computers, you didn’t have online groups, you didn’t have support groups. One of the things I did, and this was key to my making my way forward to whatever extent was, I had an opportunity to work setting up a Gilda’s club

Dr. Dean: 

Oh, that’s lovely.

Randye Sundel: 

near, near where I lived. I had friends who were involved. And. I had a company, I had been working for a marketing agency, closed its doors, and I just took this on pro bono. I did all the public relations and media relations, and I worked so hard. My husband would say, come to bed, it’s midnight, and I’d say, no, this is really important to me, because I would have given anything to have had that kind of infrastructure, to support me. And it was really interesting, Angela, because when people knew that my brother was ill way back when and, if somebody said to me, how’s your brother doing? I was naive. I thought they really wanted to know. And I told them chapter and verse: every surgery, every chemo, every radiation treatment. I quickly got the idea that, they were being polite. And so then I would, if I got the question, I would say, not so good or a little stronger or whatever it was. And I had such a need to talk. And then I’d feel guilty because I’m thinking, I’m healthy. What do I have to complain about?

Dr. Dean: 

So I know this from book knowledge, not from having lived it from my past. I still work with a lot of cancer patients, but that used to be exclusively what I did. So the history of psychologists and psychiatrists and social workers in, cancer centers starts around the same time that your brother, was ill. And my understanding, and maybe you can confirm or deny this, is that there was a stigma around cancer. at the time too.

Randye Sundel: 

Very much so.

Dr. Dean: 

How did that impact you as far as being a caregiver for him and then grieving him?

Randye Sundel: 

Yeah, it was hard to say the word cancer. It did set off all kinds of bells and whistles in people’s minds. Almost like you could catch it. like it was contagious. Even saying the word seemed dangerous in those years. I hadn’t remembered that until you started to talk about this. And the guilt that I felt, Why was I spared? Why did he die? and would I be healthy? Would my child be healthy? Is this genetic?

Dr. Dean: 

Mm

Randye Sundel: 

And it was difficult to find people who wanted to engage with me, to talk about it. My saving grace was my dear friend, Joe, who was my vocal coach and my music collaborator. He was comfortable listening

Dr. Dean: 

Mm

Randye Sundel: 

and I found that through the music, I could get my needs met. I could be real. I could tell the truth of what I was feeling.

Dr. Dean: 

mmhmm

Randye Sundel: 

Because I really couldn’t do that around people. I think, and you’ve experienced this with your brother Tony, and I think when you’re in that position, you don’t want to turn people away. You need people in your life. And so you’re very cautious. I was. About what I said because I didn’t want anybody heading for the hills because this was too heavy for them to deal with. And so I never really had those kinds of conversations with almost anybody.

Dr. Dean: 

mmhmm

Randye Sundel: 

And even my parents, we all responded differently to my brother’s death. My father did not utter my brother’s name until months before he died. 18 years

Dr. Dean: 

Mm hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

When we heard him say, Mitch, we were just stunned. And what my father tried to do, his response was to go to his place of worship and I think try to bury his grief. My mother felt betrayed and she didn’t set foot. into a synagogue until my son was bar mitzvahed. That was 13 years later. And with me, I had tried to strike a deal with God when I knew I was likely to miscarry.

Dr. Dean: 

hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

And Mitch was so sick. And I said, if you have to take this fetus, let my brother live. let my brother live. I can’t lose both. And I lost both

Dr. Dean: 

mm

Randye Sundel: 

and I had to figure out what I was going to do with that. And I read Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss, a psychiatrist. And when I read it, I just thought, I don’t have enough information to know what goes on and whether I can judge God.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

And, I decided to give him a mulligan or her a mulligan, and I thought I don’t have all the information I need, but I believed that there was an answer somewhere in the universe. I just wouldn’t be able to access it until it was my time. And, that was enough to let me put one foot in front of the other. So that was helpful to me. But my mother and I would talk about my brother. My father could not do it. And he developed Parkinson’s disease. I don’t know if there was a correlation. My mother, who was the shy one, my father was the big personality, and as he withdrew, she came forward. And suddenly my mother was talking to people who were in situations like the ones we had been in. And she was trying to help them. She was comforting them, and she was talking about Mitch and family and all the rest of this. For me, working with Gilda’s Club, I find that when you’re in a bad place, one of the best ways to try to lift yourself up is to help other people,

Dr. Dean: 

mmhmm

Randye Sundel: 

is to focus on other people and what you can do for them. That’s what I’m hoping my book will do, will help people or these kinds of conversations that you’re having. just having you say, tell me about your brother is so wonderful because we don’t hear that from people.

Dr. Dean: 

Right, and I imagine you hear it less and less

Randye Sundel: 

over time Of course. And there are fewer people who knew him, who were around. and, so that was a gift you gave me to just say, tell me about Mitch.

Dr. Dean: 

I’m glad that, and I will listen to you whenever you want to talk about him.

Randye Sundel: 

Yeah.

Dr. Dean: 

So I know what Gilda’s Club is. Our listeners may not. I know the one here in Pittsburgh the name has changed and merged with another organization.

Randye Sundel: 

They’ve changed it to Cancer Community of Greater, by me it was Greater New York and Connecticut. And they did that, Gilda’s Club was named for Gilda Radner, who was a fabulous comedian and actress and famous for Saturday Night Live. Gilda died sadly too early of ovarian cancer, but Gilda’s Club was not about medical things. Gilda’s Club was all about community. It was an emotional and social support community where people could come and talk, and there were, comedy, sessions. There were people who would come in, and help you set up your day so that you could function better. and, what I loved about Gilda’s Club and what I used to tell the media who would cover Gilda’s Club is that don’t say people are battling cancer or cancer. People are living with cancer because once you start putting it in those terms and somebody dies, it’s like they didn’t fight hard enough.

Dr. Dean: 

Exactly. Yes. I say this all the time with my patients.

Randye Sundel: 

Right? And I thought that’s really so smart. So thank you for letting me explain. I should have explained what Gilda’s Club was all about. And now I guess as younger people are coming to it. They may not be familiar with Gilda Radner. And I guess that was the reason for the name change. That’s my understanding. That’s what they did. but what a wonderful, I would urge anybody who either has a family member or a friend and they even had Noogie land for kids. So if you had, a sibling who was living with cancer, there was a place for you where people knew how to talk to you. This is, this is really what we need. We need more of that. We need more of that.

Dr. Dean: 

There are some resources out there for siblings whose siblings are sick or have died. but they’re young. What you and I have both experienced and many of our listeners is that once you’re an adult, there’s not that support either

Randye Sundel: 

It’s not top of mind, right? That’s what you say. It’s not top of mind.

Dr. Dean: 

Exactly.

Randye Sundel: 

People ask how your parents are doing, and they just don’t think about it. Whenever I’m in a situation where people I know have lost, a child, and there is a sibling. I always say, I am happy to talk to your daughter who was the sister. I am happy to do that because she needs attention and she needs different kind of attention. And, I make it a point to always ask, even with caregivers, everybody asks how the patient is. I ask how the caregiver is doing.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah. I love that so much.

Randye Sundel: 

It means so much.

Dr. Dean: 

mmhmm

Randye Sundel: 

I say that my brother’s absence has had a huge presence in my life. And I say that, Angela, because I went through my parents’ illnesses alone, and I wanted to talk to him and I wanted his advice. Mitch always knew, I don’t know, maybe he was here before. I don’t know, but he just seemed to have so much wisdom for a young man. I half joke saying that when it came to caregiving for my parents, the good news was that I could make all decisions unilaterally. I didn’t have a sibling who was saying, no, don’t do it that way. And the bad news was that I had to make every decision unilaterally. It was a very lonely place to be. And after my brother died, I had been a very self confident person, and for a long time, I just didn’t trust myself. I didn’t trust myself to raise my son. I didn’t trust myself to make decisions. about what to do about my parents and their care. I just questioned everything.

Dr. Dean: 

hmm

Randye Sundel: 

Because I was so sure that I could save him. I jumped through hoops. I did my research in libraries. There was no Google.

Dr. Dean: 

Right.

Randye Sundel: 

I found, trials in Wiesbaden, Germany. And my brother said, I’m not leaving. I want to be here with my family and friends. So I got him to this renowned Hodgkin’s expert at Sloan Kettering, who was not taking on new patients. And I wrote him a letter and then he took my brother on. But it was a bad fit

Dr. Dean: 

Mm.

Randye Sundel: 

because he thought my brother was not grateful enough. My brother said, I will trade quantity of years for quality of life. Put me in experimental treatments. They were using interferon at the time. And this oncologist, just thought, no, that’s not how you should do it. And my brother said, isn’t it my life? He said to me, and I said, yes. if you want to go elsewhere, we will find another doctor for you. And, he did ask for what he needed, my brother. He really did ask for what he needed. I talked about having him not be there. That is a hole. You know that. That is a hole you cannot fill. it’s like you’ve got this jigsaw puzzle of thousands of pieces. And there’s a piece that’s missing. And you just can’t put it back together the way it was. It’s just impossible. I couldn’t process my grief because I kept putting out fires for everybody.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

What I think the conclusion I came to was That if you don’t get grief out of your body, it will attack your body. And I went through a period where I had awful stomach pains. I went to see, a social worker. She said, Randye, you haven’t grieved. And I thought, No, I really haven’t. I’ve been trying to take care of my little one. And I went to the cemetery. My husband was going to come with me because he was alone. He was nervous. So Bob was going to come with me and I said, no, because if you come with me, I’m going to be worried about your response to how I am in that situation. So, I need to be without judgment and I’ll be okay. And I drove myself out there and I went to my brother’s grave and it was like a screen test. I just ran the gamut of emotions. I was angry at him for leaving me. I was so, so sad, the thought that he would never know his nephew, my son, because they would have gotten on famously. Oh, I see so much of Mitch. in my son, Greg. and some of Mitch’s friends who’ve met my son, tell me the same thing. There is just so much of his goodness in him and that makes me feel really wonderful. But being out in that cemetery, I just decided I was just going to be however I was. And I remember sitting on the grass. It was like the way we used to be when he was in my apartment. And I was feeding him a 24 hour a day, buffet, trying to fatten him up from his radiation treatments. And we would just talk. I’m just sitting there with him. I’m talking to him, and there was something really wonderful about that awful venue. but I was connecting with him, which is what I think I love so much about writing about him. It’s like reliving all of these painful moments, but it’s wonderful because I’m getting to spend time with my brother

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah.

Randye Sundel: 

and remembering the stuff when we were young and remembering the laughter and remembering all those things. I tell people, Write your memories. You don’t have to show it to anybody, but But it’s wonderful. That connection is absolutely wonderful. So that’s another way I think that I’ve tried to make myself whole again. I think I’ve learned that grief is really love. And in the beginning. I was so afraid to let it go It’s so scary.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah.

Randye Sundel: 

because you’re not sure you’re going to put yourself back together again if you really just let it go. And when I was at his grave, I just trusted that I could put myself back together again and I just bawled. it sounds so strange, but. When I woke up the following morning, my stomach didn’t hurt anymore.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah, I think, things we don’t talk about, in addition to grief in general, is that there is a physical impact. Everyone thinks it’s only emotional, but there are many other aspects to grief.

Randye Sundel: 

Yeah,

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah.

Randye Sundel: 

but you have to trust that and that’s a hard thing to do. It’s a hard thing to do because you’re not sure if, you’re already feeling so fragile. And you’re in such a fog. it’s a scary place to be. But There is no other way around grief. And I think what felt like a boulder initially, I’m 45 years out from his death. my dad died in 97, my mom in 2013, my husband in 2015. And So this has been part and parcel of my life, when I feel grief, because it never leaves you, right? what I’ve found is, it doesn’t scare me anymore. And when something reminds me, when I’m in that place, I just think, okay, I see you. I know you’re there. And I find by doing that, I take away a lot of its power because it’s going to keep poking at me until I acknowledge it. It’s going to find a way to get my attention. And so now I just, I, Think of it as a reminder of love that I shared with all of these people. And now it’s like this colorful tail on a kite that just lifts me up and lets me soar because they really are the wind beneath my wings. They really are.

Dr. Dean: 

It’s a very sad movie that was the theme song

Randye Sundel: 

yeah, but It’s that love that really is powerful. That’s what the grief is. Cause you wouldn’t feel so strongly if it was not built on love.

Dr. Dean: 

Exactly, right? I think the saying goes, grief is love with no place to go. And also, you lose people and you may not be affected by it, right? That you’re not, that you don’t love, like people we don’t know that are in the news or whatever. So I think that just highlights exactly what you’re saying. Grief is love.

Randye Sundel: 

Yeah. I think once you can make that connection, it’s not as frightening, it’s not

Dr. Dean: 

hmm. Mm hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

and when it happens, I, sometimes I think it’s that pesky mosquito. and sometimes that mosquito is going to bite you, it’s going to sting, and 45 years later, it will still sting me, and I just acknowledge it, and I think once you recognize that it’s on this trip with you forever, that grief, It’s not going anywhere, and sometimes it’ll rear its head in the, at the weirdest times. you’re standing in line to check out at a supermarket and something just hits you,

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah Oh, it’s always the grocery store.

Randye Sundel: 

right? It’s the grocery store is big. you’re just watching a movie and suddenly you’re just dissolving into a puddle. I remember right after Mitch died, I’d look around at people who were behaving in terrible ways to other people, and I would think, my wonderful brother is dead, and you get to live making people’s lives miserable. And I was so angry, because it just felt so unjust. The other thing that used to get to me, I guess it still does, is when I talk to people who are estranged from siblings, and for whatever reason they’ve chosen to have no contact. And that breaks my heart. Because I would give anything, to have my brother with me.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah. I think that’s a difficult one because sometimes there are good reasons for people to estrange themselves Yes

Randye Sundel: 

sometimes there are.

Dr. Dean: 

And yet, I talked to Brandi and I think it was the second season of this podcast. She was estranged from her twin. when he died. I know that she’s still struggling with her grief, and will always, right, like all of us, and has found ways to reconcile the estrangement after his death. So I think that it’s complicated, but I also hear that, right? We lost our siblings and then envy that other people still have them

Randye Sundel: 

Yes.

Dr. Dean: 

and may not have a relationship with them. I think that’s a challenge

Randye Sundel: 

Yeah,

Dr. Dean: 

only looking at it from our perspective.

Randye Sundel: 

Yeah,

Dr. Dean: 

You also had anticipatory grief with, it sounds like all of your losses.

Randye Sundel: 

yes. Oh my gosh.

Dr. Dean: 

Do you want to say more about that?

Randye Sundel: 

Yeah. Ah, it is so Frustrating seeing this car coming right at you and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. your life shrinks so much, it’s a slow, it’s a slow death for the person watching. with my husband, my life got smaller and smaller because he was ill, throughout our marriage. But at the end, I knew it was critical. And You change because you don’t have the same relationship with that loved one, because you can’t,

Dr. Dean: 

hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

you can’t, you’re trying to be there for them, and in doing so, you’re not taking care of Your own needs it’s a very lonely place to be because again, who are you sharing this with? You can’t share it with the person who’s dying. I could share with my parents what I needed as it related with my brother as a matter of fact. My parents were with my brother, when he died. I was not because I had gone to see my brother, but my parents called and remember I was eight months pregnant and told me he was gone and told me he had been coding and when they, he coded this last time, they had told the medical staff the next time he codes, let him go. Cause I said, why didn’t they bring him back? And my mother said, cause we told him to let him go. He was ready to go. And I said, but I didn’t give permission. I didn’t give permission to let him go. And then I felt so much guilt. Because they had just lost their son, and I was directing my anger, my sadness at them. And then I just said, I’m so sorry, Mom and Dad, I’m so sorry. And they said, it’s okay, we’ll see you tomorrow. And they said, Randye you knew how sick he was. And I did, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. And denial is such a powerful feeling that we have, so you expect it. And it’s still a shock. It’s still a shock. and that in between time is so difficult to navigate anticipating what’s going to be not knowing how it’s going To impact your life when it eventually happens.

Dr. Dean: 

hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

but I think when the grieving starts before somebody is gone. I think it’s different than when it’s a shock. they both stink.

Dr. Dean: 

Of course.

Randye Sundel: 

It doesn’t matter. I don’t compare. everybody’s grief is valid. And every way that someone chooses to grieve is valid. but it’s different. It’s different when you have, been processing that this is going to occur. And for me, for every one of my loved ones, I had anticipatory grief. Because they all had lengthy illnesses. Nobody just went like that. And yet you’re shocked it

Dr. Dean: 

course. Yeah. I was just actually thinking about this. I don’t know if I actually said it out loud to my husband the other day, but they released the theme song for this podcast as a single that you can download. And, I was thinking very much about this concept too, because. If Tomorrow Starts Without Me is the name of the song. And even though you’re anticipating it, you still, unless it’s medical aid and dying, which is not legal in most places, you still don’t know exactly when that time or that day will be. You might know within a short period of time before it happens, but you generally don’t know. Oh, in three months on this date, this person even in anticipatory grief, you have no idea. So thank you for sharing that because I, it validated what I was thinking about the other day. Not that I need validation, but thank you. And it’s all painful.

Randye Sundel: 

Yeah. life is everything, right? It’s every emotion. and nobody Gets off scott free. Gets through this life without paying

Dr. Dean: 

Right. Or dying.

Randye Sundel: 

nobody or dying. Yeah, nobody. I will tell you that my brother told my parents that he had the best life. That he had the best family and the best friends. And I thought, how at this time, knowing he was staring death in the face, he found gratitude. And I try to find gratitude. I really do in everything. I try to find gratitude. That grounds me. and he also asked my parents if they had seen the movie Heaven Can Wait, which was a remake with Warren Beatty where, this athlete is taken with a motorcycle accident and he wasn’t supposed to die. And so they keep putting him back into other bodies, and, finding a place. And he tells his love interest, I may not look like me, but if you ever come across somebody and you just have that sense that this person is familiar in some way, that might be me. and so I have looked for these signs and I have seen some of these signs where things that were preposterous, it didn’t make sense other than somehow that was, my brother letting me know. When my son was bar mitzvahed, this huge snapper turtle came. And, a Jamaican friend said, in folklore, that’s, that means something. That’s the spirit coming back. and she said, and how amazing, because my whole family was gathered. My parents were up from Florida. We were all together. That was the week. And he was with us. Through this turtle and turtles followed my son throughout his life. Turtle was there when he, got his acceptance in college. My son wore a vineyard vine tie for his wedding that had turtles. Never having met my brother, he brought my brother to his wedding for my mother and for me. That is a big regret I have that they never were here, not for a moment. And it was like my brother left and my son arrived. Sometimes I’d confuse them, I’d call my son Greg Mitch, I would be pitching to him on the driveway or something and he just morphed into my brother. I hope I didn’t put too much pressure on, on, on my son to live for himself and my brother. Because I know I put a lot of pressure on myself to live both our lives.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm.

Randye Sundel: 

Because I was here for a reason. I was here for a reason and he was shortchanged. So I had to be even better. I was all my parents had until they had their grandson. You talk about the fog of grief.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm

Randye Sundel: 

A few weeks after my brother died, I had my son, and I had said to my parents, if you don’t want to come to the hospital if you’re not able to be in a hospital setting again. I won’t be upset with you. You could come visit me and the baby at home. My mother said, No, we will be there. And my parents came. And when I saw the look on their face, looking at their grandchild, I thought, What was I thinking?

Dr. Dean: 

Mm.

Randye Sundel: 

I was trying to protect them. from what I thought, would be a traumatic experience to walk into a hospital so soon.

Dr. Dean: 

Was it traumatic for you, to walk into the hospital?

Randye Sundel: 

No, I don’t think I felt trauma. I think I just felt cheated. I just felt cheated. Here was a case where the exact remedy for my parents was coming to the hospital and seeing their grandchild. that’s what gave us all this new life, a chance you. He was the hope. He was the great hope,

Dr. Dean: 

mmhmm

Randye Sundel: 

but I saw it as they needed my protection and they, they needed the opposite. They needed the opposite. It

Dr. Dean: 

Would you mind saying more about what it was like to be the only person taking care of your parents? I think that is something so many of the people I’ve talked to, and myself included, are dreading. And I’m just wondering what that was like for you.

Randye Sundel: 

It is a very lonely place to be because you are second guessing yourself all over the place. I don’t have all the answers. I’m trying to figure out, where they should be. With my dad, we had him in a nursing home. He escaped from one. We had him in another one. But before we had him in the nursing home, my mother was taking care of him at home, and he would cut himself, not intentionally, he just I didn’t know what he was doing and he was shaking and I’d say, Mom, how long has this been going on? She says, it’s okay. I call EMS. I said, no, we’re not doing this anymore. And I flew them up to New York. I met with a neurologist at a major New York hospital. And when I saw the condition my father was in and what my mother was dealing with, I said, no, no more. Cause I was worried about my mother. Because I’m thinking, she cannot be doing this. And so I flew down there and we went around and we found a place for him. But my mother lived in darkness during that time. She got up in the morning, she didn’t open the shades. She went right to the nursing home and she stayed there the entire day until he had his dinner. And then she went home in darkness. And that was her life and she did this every day and people at the nursing home would say, go home, it’s, he’s okay, go home. And she didn’t do that. And I was terribly worried about her. Ultimately she developed Alzheimer’s. Before I even was willing to admit that’s. was happening to her. I kept rationalizing her behavior because it was unthinkable. My father was gone. My brother was gone. My husband never did well with difficult subjects. there was so much, just so much I could talk to him about it. I did join support groups at that point. I am such a believer in all of that. It was really helpful, but I was now trying to figure out what to do with mom and I wanted her to have socialization because she was having none. And I wanted her to be in a safe place, because there had been a hurricane and I couldn’t get to her. She couldn’t get to me. She couldn’t get food. She was eating crap. So I said, okay, mom, here’s the deal. I said, if you want to stay in Florida, you can stay in Florida, but you must be somewhere where I know you’re safe. And I will fly back and forth to see you. And, I put her in initially as, independent living. And then I quickly saw that my mother used to do crossword puzzles in ink. The Sunday New York Times in ink.. And suddenly she couldn’t wrap her head around this little abstract concept.

Dr. Dean: 

Mm

Randye Sundel: 

And I thought, oh no, we got a bigger problem here. And so we went to address all that. I had my cousins. My cousin Lonnie, who babysat Mitch and me when we were kids. She was living near mom, and she was my eyes and ears when I wasn’t in Florida. And my husband was in and out of hospital. So I was trying to clone myself, and I just couldn’t do it. but I tried. These were momentous decisions. These were life and death and quality of life decisions. And I made them by myself. And I would try, to talk to people who had healthcare companies providing aids and doing all of that. to please just give me suggestions. What do they think? Because I knew I didn’t have the answers, and I remember talking to my mother’s doctor and said, if she has Alzheimer’s, what should I expect? And he said to me, Do you have a computer? Google it.

Dr. Dean: 

That’s horrible.

Randye Sundel: 

That was horrible. That was horrible. Because this was a doctor who had cared for my mom for three or more decades. She and my dad were one of his first patients, and as soon as her mind was declining, he didn’t want to deal with it. and she thought he was a god. My

Dr. Dean: 

hmm.

Randye Sundel: 

adored him, and I was terribly disappointed, so he was not anybody I could turn to. As I said, I had to make all these decisions unilaterally, and the hardest decision I had to make for mom was after she was falling a lot. I watched her in rehab, and they said you have to decide where she’s going to live when we release her. We can’t tell you when we’re going to release her, but we have to decide, and I thought, could I send my mom back to the place that she had lived for five years with people who had watched her decline? and might judge her and if she had a lucid moment, how would that make her feel I was going to have to get so much more help for her and I decided to move her into memory care unit and she didn’t live there very long. My cousin said, Oh, she’s going to be the most high functioning person there. No. My mom knew me almost to the end. And I remember the day she said, What was your brother’s name again?

Dr. Dean: 

Oh.

Randye Sundel: 

And that just ripped me apart. And then she didn’t know my name. she knew I was somebody who, was nice to her. I actually had a talk with my grown son after my mom passed to let him know that, should that be my fate? Cause I don’t know, should Alzheimer’s be my fate, what my wishes were and that they were not for him to beat himself up the way I beat myself up. I wrote it in a funny way, because obviously he did not want to have this conversation with me. But, that was my way of taking control of the situation while I had the wherewithal to have it. It was a piece I had written that I think helped people and engage in those kinds of conversations. These are the kinds of conversations. that we all need to be having and it destigmatizes things that illnesses and grieving and everything that we don’t talk about that.

Dr. Dean: 

for sure Yeah. Thank you. Thanatology. It’s death, dying, bereavement, and just loss in general. The, goal there is also to make this a little bit more normal to talk about and support people with, What would you like to say about the book and when that’s coming out?

Randye Sundel: 

it’s been a process.

Dr. Dean: 

I’m sure it has.

Randye Sundel: 

I am in revisions right now because it was very important that my vulnerability be out on the page so that people could relate. What I realized was it was very What I thought was on the page was not on the page, because I basically put on a show for myself. The performer put on a show for herself in order

Dr. Dean: 

Mm

Randye Sundel: 

to function. And so what I’m doing in these revisions is I’m going to those dark places that I really felt but couldn’t put out there except through my music. and so I think once this is done, I will have the book that I intended to write, which was a book that would hopefully inspire people going through difficult times to feel that there is a way through it. But you really have to go through it. You can’t walk around it. There is no possible way, to leap over it, to push it down, because it’s gonna pop up. and I’ve found a way to finally choose me. I am living in a way that I could not live for many decades of my life. I joke to people. I say I’m living in a hurry because there’s so much I want to do. And I am throwing caution to the wind. You asked me what I liked. Absolutely. I would like to do and, have a conversation with you. I’m trying to make a difference. That’s important to me. this book is my legacy and it also honors my family, my loving family. because, I was one of the lucky ones. Not everybody has a family, that gives them unconditional love and mine did. It doesn’t spare you from heartbreak.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah.

Randye Sundel: 

That’s gonna find you. but I think it helps. If you’ve been reading books, there are so many authors now who are talking about grief in such positive and honest ways. Colin Campbell wrote, Finding the Words, and I’ve spoken with him. Colin, is saying to people, don’t be afraid to tell me about the person you knew who I loved, whether it’s my children or my brother, because You’re not going to make me sad. I’m already sad.

Dr. Dean: 

Exactly. We’re already thinking about them and sad. Yeah.

Randye Sundel: 

I know that they’re gone. Boy, it’s wonderful, as you said to me, tell me about your brother. It’s wonderful to ask people that question. Because we want to talk about them. You want to talk about Tony.

Dr. Dean: 

Yeah. for sure. On that vein, let’s switch to, and I know you’ve shared a lot already of these, but do you have any favorite memories that you want to share with us?

Randye Sundel: 

I told you Mitch was very wise. I was talking with him, telling him, this is when I had a college roommate who just abused me. and I was telling my father, I said, I just feel like she treats me like I’m the doormat and my dad. in his form said, turn the other cheek, Randye and I’m going, no dad, it doesn’t feel right. I shouldn’t have to put up with this. And I’m telling Mitch and Mitch says to me, Randye he says, what’s the matter with you? He said, why must you try to persuade dad that he’s wrong and you’re right. He says, you know what I do? I tell dad something. He tells me what I should do. I go, good idea, dad. And I do what I want. And I said, that’s brilliant. That’s brilliant. It would never have occurred to me to just not have to win this battle. Just do. what feels right to me. So that was just one of the wonderful memories and also Not a wonderful memory, but I hold on to it because it’s really the last one I had. I was able to visit my brother when I was eight months pregnant. It didn’t occur to me that he was saying, yes, come, because he knew he was dying. It didn’t occur to me. I was just so happy that I was going to get to see him. And he looked great. He had the nurses shave him. They prettied him up. He had a smile on his face. We were laughing and joking. And I thought, I know what my parents are telling me, but maybe it’s going to be all right. Maybe it’s going to be all right. And he hadn’t seen me so pregnant because he kept me away. And he goes, when’s the baby due? And I said, five weeks. And he goes. Oh, that’s a long time. And I said, what do you mean? I’ve got a million things to do. Not realizing he was saying, I’m not not going to be here. And all he wanted to know from my parents when they gave him permission to go was that I would be okay, my baby would be okay, my husband would be okay, and our parents would be okay. That’s what he needed. He needed permission, but he needed to know we were going to be okay. And my parents gave him permission, which is something I’ve done for a lot of people, friends and all, at the end, because I find people do need that. It gives them peace of mind to know that their loved ones will be okay. Not that we can know for certain, but we give that to them. And from my brother, when I wasn’t singing and he wanted to know why I wasn’t singing. And I said, I just don’t have the confidence. I’m tense about it. What if I bomb? And he goes, yeah, let’s say you go out on stage, Randye and you stink up the place. He said, is your husband, Bob going to leave you? Are your friends gonna walk the other way, cross the street, not to be And he got me laughing. And he said, What’s the worst thing that could happen? If you really did something and you failed, what’s the worst? And I hear his voice in my head every time I put myself in a position. should I try this? Should I take a risk and do this? Should I try, should I let myself maybe fall in love again? Which I did. I hear that voice in my head, What’s the worst thing that could happen? And It just lifts me up. It’s like a big hug. And when I think of my brother, that’s, just feel that big hug.

Dr. Dean: 

Thank you for sharing that. and sharing

Randye Sundel: 

you for giving me a chance to, the book is giving me time with him. You’ve given me more time with him, I’m very grateful

Dr. Dean: 

You’re welcome. And I want to say that you said earlier that you hope you make a difference in people’s lives And I can tell you already, this conversation has made a difference for me. So

Randye Sundel: 

Oh,

Dr. Dean: 

Thank you,

Randye Sundel: 

Thank you, Angela. That means everything. That means everything.

Dr. Dean: 

You’re welcome./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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