The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss

Surviving- Sibling Loss, Transracial Adoption, and Losing Safety: Karen / Kevin

May 31, 2023 Dr. Angela Dean / Karen Thomas Season 2 Episode 2
The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss
Surviving- Sibling Loss, Transracial Adoption, and Losing Safety: Karen / Kevin
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Surviving: Sibling Loss, Transracial Adoption, and Losing Safety

In this powerful episode of The Broken Pack: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss, a podcast, host Dr. Angela Dean delves into the profound impact of sibling loss with guest speaker Karen Thomas. Karen shares her unique experiences as a transracial adoptee who lost her brother, Kevin, to an overdose.

For Karen Thomas, surviving sibling loss is complicated by multiple circumstances.  She shares  what it was like to be transracially adopted and how that connection with her brother, adopted from another family into their shared family, has helped and also deepened her grief of him as well as how connecting to him and her ancestors has helped her.

Content Warning:
Information presented in this episode may be upsetting to some people. It contains talk of drug use, addiction, and overdose. If you believe you are witnessing an overdose, call 911 or your country’s emergency number immediately even if you are administering Narcan. If you are in the US and would like support for yourself or someone else with substance use, suicidal thoughts, or other topics discussed in this episode, please call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or Text your 5-digit ZIP Code to 435748 (HELP4U) or call a warmline. For more immediate crisis call 911, 988, or go to the nearest emergency room.

In the USA an updated directory of warmlines by state can be found at https://warmline.org/warmdir.html

A warmline directory for trained peer supports in over 20 countries can be found at https://www.supportiv.com/tools/international-resources-crisis-and-warmlines (some of these may be hotlines)

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If you would like more information or to share your own adult sibling loss story, please contact me, Dr. Angela Dean, at contact@thebrokenpack.com or go to our website, thebrokenpack.com.

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Thank you!

Angela M. Dean, PsyD, FT

Credits:

The Broken Pack™ Podcast is produced by 27 Elephants Media

"If Tomorrow Starts Without Me" © ℗ 2023, 2024
Written by Joe Mylward and Brian Dean
Performed by Fuji Sounds (feat. MYLWD.)
Licensed for use by The Broken Pack™
Now available on all streaming platforms including Apple Music & Spotify: https://tinyurl.com/3vx3kk46

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 this episode, I spoke with Karen about the loss of her brother, Kevin, and so much more including how being transracially adopted into their family from separate families of origin impacted the relationship connection and her grief and loss. We also discussed changing family dynamics and how her connection to her ancestors has helped her in her grief and in connecting with her brother. Please note that there is talk of overdose and substance use in this conversation. Related resources are in the show notes. I've been looking forward to this interview for some time, I was wondering what you wanna say about yourself, and then we'll go from there.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah. So I guess I'll say, hi everyone. I'm Karen. And let's see, what do I wanna say about myself? I'm a mother, I'm an educator and I currently am not in the classroom. I made that transition maybe four years ago, and now I work at a diversity equity inclusion firm. So still teaching, just adults and in a little bit of a different capacity. I am a runner. I literally just ran from LA to Las Vegas with a group of people, so that was very fun and in the desert. and I also bake, so I make people cupcakes. I turn them into a cupcake. But yeah, I think that's it. You

Dr. Dean:

turn people into cupcakes. I'm curious, what does that mean?

Karen Thomas:

Yeah. So I, ask you a bunch of questions about your likes, dislikes, like favorite season, favorite color, and then I craft a cupcake based around all of those things. And that is you in a cupcake.

Dr. Dean:

I love this idea and wish we were closer cuz I'd really love to see these cupcakes in action.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

interesting. so before we get started talking about the loss of your brother, what do you want me or the listeners to know about Kevin?

Karen Thomas:

I think I want you to know that he was actually the kindest soul that I think I've ever met thus far on this planet. which is quite interesting because he's a fairly larger black man, so I. When you see him, that's not probably what people think. but when you get to meet him, I think you realize very quickly how naturally humble and kind and intuitive he is. and it showed up in funny things like he loved watching"Dirty Dancing" and other things that we would call chick flicks, but just have a romantic vibe to them. Loved them. He also loved the History channel. And as we talk more about Kevin, you'll see why these things are maybe more unique. but yeah, I think that's what I want everyone to know is that super kind, super humble, super intuitive, which also I think led to his addiction. I think he was such a soft soul for this world, that it was very hard.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. What was your relationship like with him?

Karen Thomas:

So when he was living, we weren't that close actually. so we're both adopted, we're both transracially adopted. our parents are white. We are both, biracial and brown presenting. and we're both black and white. We are not related by blood. We had different families and were adopted by the same one. People always ask that. but so we had that connection and I didn't realize until he was gone how actually deep that went and how much we actually supported each other. But while he was here, I would not have called us super close. he was a bit older than me. He's about. I dunno, like five years older than me. so there's an age gap. and you know, he was off doing his own thing for a large chunk of time and then I also kind of followed that path and did my own thing. So we weren't super close. We didn't call each other all the time. We didn't really hang out. yeah.

Dr. Dean:

He sounds like in some ways the way that you described him as a gentle, kind soul from what I know about you, very similar in that aspect.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah, I think we were similar in that aspect and I think, I think I looked up to him a lot,

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

in our situation. Not only did we have a white family, we were also in a very white community. And so in the eighties and nineties, we experienced a lot of racial trauma. And so I think on top of adoption also comes with a lot of trauma. So we had adoption trauma and then we had this racial trauma on top of that. And I think since he was one of the only brown people that I knew, I looked up to him a lot. and. yeah, I think I might get some of that from him.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. were you adopted around the same time?

Karen Thomas:

So now around the same time. But he was a baby and I was also a baby, so I was three days old. I actually don't know how old he was. I know he was an infant though, so I would imagine three days as well, after moms left the hospital.

Dr. Dean:

So he was there as long as you can remember.

Karen Thomas:

Yep.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing all of that. it sounds like you feel upset that you weren't closer with him.

Karen Thomas:

I do, I think I hold a lot of guilt and that came after the fact, and I think that's why it's guilt because there's like no resolution. I might cry at this point. Sorry.

Dr. Dean:

please don't apologize.

Karen Thomas:

But I thought I would get further though. so I think when he passed, oh, I know when he passed, I realized how close we actually were. and not a traditional sense, like not in a calling sense hanging out since, but when he left, there was a huge void and almost. My comfort, like in my family was gone

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

because I think what was happening was we gave each other comfort in that we both understood exactly what we were going through when no one in our family could,

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

and also when harmful things would happen in the family microaggressions. just our parents not being able to understand. Like what it was like to be adopted and black in a white family.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

think there's a lot of unspoken support. that I really took for granted, and also he passed away of an overdose. he struggled with for a very, very long time. Which also goes into like why I think the unspoken support was so important because my family does not talk about these issues. We didn't talk about adoption, we didn't talk about race. We didnt' talk about having an addiction. things that I felt really all went together.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

And so think our unspoken love and understanding is what the base of relationship was when he was here.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, it sounds like you were able to connect on things that your family couldn't possibly understand, but also on not having a safe space to otherwise explore that even with them.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah, and I think like our paths were very similar. we both struggled in school. That manifested in different ways. for me, I was sent away to school at a certain age cuz I think my parents were fearful that I would like, follow the same path as Kevin. So they like interrupted it right away and sent me away. So I was actually gone from age 13, middle of eighth grade until I was 18. and so. Again, why- maybe we weren't as close either, and so we both also had that understanding of like being alienated in the sense that we necessarily weren't doing what we were supposed to do. And I'm using quotes for folks I can't see me, air quotes. right. We took different paths and, you know, we weren't excelling in school and all of these things that our other siblings were. So we have two other siblings that I should mention, that are actually biological to our parents. So they had two children and they adopted two children. So I have an older brother, and. He's biological. They adopted Kevin, they adopted me, and then they had, my sister.

Dr. Dean:

Okay, so you two were in the middle.

Karen Thomas:

We were in the middle. Yep.

Dr. Dean:

how was it growing up, realizing that he had a, difficulty with addiction or at what point did you even realize that?

Karen Thomas:

That's a good question. I don't know when I realized it. I feel like at this point it's always been in my memory, as part of him and in part of our lives. I. Yeah. That's just kind of how I

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

him

Dr. Dean:

How long ago did he die?

Karen Thomas:

five years now.

Dr. Dean:

Five years.

Karen Thomas:

Yep. And he was 38.

Dr. Dean:

You don't have to tell us how old you are. so,

Karen Thomas:

old am I now? I am 37.

Dr. Dean:

oh, so you have not had that birthday yet where you're older than him? Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

No, I haven't even thought about that. Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. It's been a theme. I know it was a problem for me, but it's been a theme that has come up with people that I've talked to. I think we don't think about that until it happens oftentimes.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

So your relationship, you said you weren't really close to him as adults. Was it different when you were younger?

Karen Thomas:

From what I remember when we were like really young, maybe he was like 8, 9, 10 area. and I was like, toddler. we have tons of pictures where I. He's hugging me or my siblings. And, and this is where that super sensitive piece comes out to, taking care of us, like wanting to play with us. and so, yeah, so then I think we were closer in the sense like younger sister, older brother, kind of caretaker situation. not necessarily like. Hanging out together, cuz again, they age difference. yeah. And then when we hit our teens and I hit my teens, we were very much separated. and then when we were adults again, I think it's just that support within the family. Like if I'm going to Thanksgiving, he's there, we can handle this family,

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

and make it through.

Dr. Dean:

So really safety and security and surviving is almost what I'm hearing

Karen Thomas:

Yeah. Thank you for putting that into words.

Dr. Dean:

You're welcome.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah. I think he held our family together, because my parents found faith, a really strong faith, through the struggles with my brother and with me. and I think that has really supported them through these years. and I think. That, through those struggles, it actually did hold us together a little bit more than I think we realized. yeah, we will, we don't talk about much, but that was a topic we would talk about. Not necessarily to solve anything, but it would come up cuz it had to come up when he was living.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. I always wonder if when you say you're not, you weren't close, it wasn't maybe close in what we consider traditional, but it was you had this closeness that was kind of unspoken versus, oh, you're calling and chatting every day and then, well, there's nothing wrong with that either. Right? But I wonder if it's just re-identifying what closeness means.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah, I feel that. that resonates. And I think you said it really well when you said, I'm gonna mess the three words up, but like, safety, understanding, like protective, like that was, that was a relationship. Surviving. That's what you said. Surviving. Like that was our relationship and yeah. Me making sure he was there at things and reaching out and checking in, was enough and what we needed.

Dr. Dean:

Right. And so your role was to keep him roped in on some level

Karen Thomas:

Mm-hmm. And I think his was too, because clearly when he was around, I did feel safer

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Karen Thomas:

or more safe. Yeah. Do

Dr. Dean:

you want to dive into what happened with him passing?

Karen Thomas:

We can, yeah, I think it adds a bit of complexity, so, I guess I'll start two weeks prior, because it's like a pivotal point and also half the reason why this probably happened, but two weeks before my brother passing, he got like completely clean, on his own. and so we like had a celebration for him and I remember, so we're eating Lou Malnati's pizza cause that's always what we do when we celebrate.

Dr. Dean:

Chicago Pizza.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah. Yes. Chicago Deep Dish pizza, is a little controversial. Like some people were like, Giordano's over Lou Minalti's is this thing. You're either one or the other. and so, so we're eating pizza and I'm looking at him, I'm like, Hey, how are you feeling? And he was like, laughing. First of all, he had this really distinctive laugh, which is awesome. he was laughing and he was like, I don't even know why we're doing this. He's like, it's not this big of a deal, like, what's happening? I'm like, I don't know, you know, and we're just laughing eating pizza. So like, that's the last thing I remember. And then two weeks after that, it's my mom's birthday, which is today. We got a call like later this evening. It would be like three in the morning or something. a call that he had overdosed in his car, in a fast food parking lot. I like don't even remember what fast food it is. and so, you know, they found Fentanyl in his system. So it was like either that or typically. when folks are clean for a bit and then they relapse, overdose is likely to happen just because their body is not used to the amount that they're previously used to taking and, the body kind of just can't handle it. So that's what happened. and yeah, I remember we were going to do waffles and fried chicken for my mom's birthday. And I had text like, Hey, like you should come, you're invited. And I actually don't remember now or probably should have thought of this before I came on. Sorry. All the details are blurry, but I remember, I think we hadn't heard from him in a bit and we were just like concerned. And so I remember reaching out me like, you should come. Like definitely come. So my wondering is always like, I hope you saw that text before. Cause I'm not sure, we don't know like how long the car was sitting there and, you know, before people called and, so, but yeah, but that's what happened. we all still came together though, and did the chicken and waffles.

Dr. Dean:

Did you know before you got to the restaurant for the chicken and

Karen Thomas:

I actually made'em, it was like homemade.

Dr. Dean:

oh gosh, sorry.

Karen Thomas:

no, that's fine. And yeah, we did, we decided that we'd still do it.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

To be together and figure it out.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. So today's I mean, the day that we're recording is that anniversary. and also your mom's birthday, so I wanna check in, like, how is that for you? This is the fifth anniversary of that.

Karen Thomas:

it's hard. I think that's conversation a little bit hard anyway.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

I don't get a lot of opportunities to talk about it, so this is good. cause like I said, is also my mom's birthday, so processing it, processing it as a family is really hard. so we typically. Have started to like celebrate my mom's birthday. We celebrated it yesterday cuz it's also my fiance's birthday yesterday. So we celebrated them together and then we typically try to save this for Kevin cuz we used to try to do both one year we did, one in the morning and like one in the evening too much.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

so yeah, and, and I think we all have different grieving processes, which makes sense. Where I am really connected to like my ancestral side. like I have an altar, I have candles, I make a meal for'em. Every time our family's together, light a candle, put it to the side. my family is not necessarily into that. they mourn differently. And so that was also becoming a little bit, I think, tension

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

until now. I think we kind of just do it on our own. and celebrate my mom. Either before or after.

Dr. Dean:

That makes sense. Is that the, that's the altar behind you?

Karen Thomas:

Part of it. Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Dr. Dean:

it's really pretty.

Karen Thomas:

Thank you.

Dr. Dean:

so have you found each year to be different in the passing of these anniversaries.

Karen Thomas:

That's a really good question. I feel each year has been different in how we deal with it as a family and has been a little bit easier. I don't know if it's different for me, and I think that is because, I think about him often.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

and I think the way that I use meditating and how I think about the ancestral realm and all of that, I think helps with that. So I'm using conversation or communication or thinking, about him. Like I feel him very much with me, now. And so, I don't know if it's different year to year.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

It, it's interesting too because you mentioned earlier how during difficult family gatherings he was there and the person that helped you through that, and so now this difficult family gathering where he's not physically present, I wonder what that's like for you.

Karen Thomas:

It's hard. for a while I didn't go to like family Thanksgiving.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Karen Thomas:

was like, yeah, we're not going. when we got together with extended family, we don't really do that anymore now'cause like people have babies now and it's just too many people kind of stick with their, now they're like more home unit. yeah, I didn't go for a few years. pandemic happened. I started going with like my immediate family now. but it's hard and I think. This is why I make plates for him. I'll light a candle, and try to include him as much as possible. I brought Cake home yesterday. We didn't have Lou Malnati's yesterday, so I'm gonna order Lou Malnati's tonight and make a plate for him. But, you know, to celebrate in that so he can be a part of celebrating my mom too. I don't know if they answered your question.

Dr. Dean:

It did. It absolutely did. when you got the news of his passing, do you remember what that was like for you?

Karen Thomas:

Yes. it was two or three in the morning and my dad called and literally just said it as soon as I picked up, he was like, they found Kevin, he's gone. that's all I really remember. And then it was something like, we'll talk more in the morning, but I feel like I need to let you know. And then, I just remember being like, well, how am I gonna go back to sleep now? So I was like, oh. So I got up, I don't even know what I did. Maybe watched Junk TV and I remember just being up until the morning and then we made the decision to still do chicken and waffles and have everyone come over so we could figure it out. I don't even remember. I don't remember anything else after that.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, it's sounds like it was pretty shocking.

Karen Thomas:

Yes. And I knew this is how we would always leave this world. Like I inherently knew that in my soul. I did not know it would be then and so soon. but I did, I knew that this would be the way, so I think I was always waiting.

Dr. Dean:

So you mean so soon because you had just had that celebration two weeks prior?

Karen Thomas:

Yes, we had just had the celebration two weeks prior. which now looking back, I mean, it kind of all makes sense, but, yeah. Yeah, I guess I never entertained the thought of like being fearful of Waiting for it to happen. I don't know why I didn't do that. But I also knew he had this addiction. I knew this is how we leave this world. But I also wasn't mad at him and didn't judge him for it, which I know I think people have and do obviously. But I kind, it was kind of just a part of him.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Karen Thomas:

so I think I've accepted that a long time ago, and I think I understood now that I think back around it on a deeper level of like why, like the pain that we've gone through and deal with constantly daily basis and all of that. I can see, how that was necessary for him. Right. and so yeah, I think I've accepted that, which I think allowed me to accept the fact that this would be how he would leave. and he was very functional. He was a very functional person. while he was using, I mean, he had a really good job. you know, not typically what we would think of. he had a job. he has children. He cared for'em the best he could. you know, Obviously there's limits to that, but, so yeah, so I knew, I knew, I've seen him hit rock bottom a few times, and this was still a part of him, so I just knew, I, I mean, I just knew that this was how he was gonna go. And so that part didn't surprise me. I just wasn't ready.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, I, I mean, I wonder if you ever could be, even if you expected it.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah, probably not.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. Did you find support in those early days from anyone?

Karen Thomas:

So I was going to therapy and I was lucky to have a therapist that also understands communal ancestral practices, specifically from African ancestry. And so, she understood that and allowed me to have that space where maybe my family didn't understand it and provide the space not because maliciously, just cuz they, it's just not their way of operating. and so yes, I think I did have that space in therapy and did have that support, um, to navigate. But that would be the extent.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. So it sounds like your family, they were grieving but couldn't really support you in the same way, cuz they didn't really understand it. Did you have any friends or colleagues or,

Karen Thomas:

I have a, I have a friend that, lost her son, fairly recently that understood the loss and would check in at a different level than people just like checking in. But that would be, and then I have some good friends that also check in and understand and cried with me. and were there. So yeah, I, you know, I think I did feel supported. I think I was allowed to grieve how I wanted to, which maybe looks a little different than like our dominant culture, grieving way.

Dr. Dean:

You mean to avoid it?

Karen Thomas:

Yeah,

Dr. Dean:

Oh, okay.

Karen Thomas:

yeah. But, but, but then like also it's like I was sent away to these schools that were therapeutic. So I'm coming with all these therapeutic, like understanding the need to have to talk about it and process through it and work through it, but then coming back to people who don't do that, you know what I mean? It's like wild.

Dr. Dean:

you're like, let's unpack that.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah. And then I'm looking like the, like, excuse me. No. What are you doing? Or like throwing people into like nervous system breakdown because, you know, they just don't have the tools to cope. So, and I, I will say my parents are very religious and they have a support system through their church, which I'm sure they were grieving and got what they needed, I hope. but yeah, so I guess I did feel supported now that I think about it. Even from folks that maybe haven't lost anyone that just were there. And to go back to my programs or my therapeutic schools, the three friends that I had that supported me are from the school. So they do understand like the emotional level of support needed. so yeah, maybe I was really lucky, like in hindsight, those programs really were lucky,

Dr. Dean:

where are you with that support now?

Karen Thomas:

So I'm still seeing the same therapist,

Dr. Dean:

That's

Karen Thomas:

which is a blessing. I still have my practice, of communicating with my ancestors, and Kevin. and I still have those three friends that check in on me. I was crying with one earlier today. and she was crying with me, like, and that's the level of support. I mean, she sees I'm crying, I'm talking about it, it bri, you know, she feels the pain and we're like going through it together. And so, yeah, I would say it's the same. family support's the same. We still don't really talk about it,

Dr. Dean:

So you felt supported then and now, but interestingly not from the family.

Karen Thomas:

And I, and I worked hard to get that support.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. You

Karen Thomas:

Like I worked hard to find a therapist that worked for me. And keep it. And I, it did a lot of work. Like she got me through or supported me through doing some really intense adoption work. something called the Primal Wound, and a lot of racial issues. And then when this happened, we were ready. and then. You know, keeping the relationships with my friends from the programs, like I feel like it was a lot of work and very targeted, very intentional

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. finding that rapport and that relationship with the therapist is key to, to being able to do the best work that you can do, both as a patient and. As a provider, so I'm glad that you had that. are there things that you wish people had known or would know now that they're not supporting you with or.

Karen Thomas:

No, not, not that comes to my mind. Mm.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm, that's fair. How are you doing overall, do you think, on a day-to-day basis like communicating and staying connected with Kevin?

Karen Thomas:

Overall, good. It gives me a lot of comfort, to know that he's still very much present in my life.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

and I think it's also supported me in working through some issues with the adoption racial trauma, to be like, I'm still here. This needs to be done.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

and this is what maybe should have been done before, so let's do it now. So I think it's given me that okay to do this. it's necessary actually. so that propels me in a lot of like that work. some days I really miss him and I'm crying. Usually when it's brought up I still cry like a lot, which also I'm like, huh, maybe I don't know what that means. But, it is, it's hard to talk to him more. It's hard to talk about it without crying still.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

But I'm thankful that I found the practice of having an altar and be having a connect, like a connection align to him because I don't know how else I would've dealt with that. Yeah. So super grateful for the practice I have day to day. Yeah. For folks that are like, what are we talking about? maybe I'll just say what my practice is. the practice of, I have an altar and it typically has pictures and element from the earth. So flowers, I have plants, I have crystals. that I don't buy anymore, but I use the ones that I have, and. anything like I have water from Kenya that has a little bit of the sand from am baa in it, right? Like bringing him back home, like I brought him to Kenya with me to go to the continent and, to have things that meet that are meaningful on there. When I meditate, I light the candles. Usually when I blow out the candles, I send messages on the smoke

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

to my brother or to my ancestors, whatever is needed. Putting food, things they love on there to honor. so that's kind of what it looks like. So it's incorporating it in my daily life to be present to allow them and him to be present with me still, like his energy. yeah. And I think it's really helped me grieve and come to terms with what happened and not feel so alone cuz it was very lonely for a little bit,

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Karen Thomas:

like I mentioned. Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

And so being able to connect to him and your ancestors, you feel supported and surrounded. And loved

Karen Thomas:

Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Dr. Dean:

That's beautiful. Yeah. Protected. Which is similar to the role he played for you when he was here.

Karen Thomas:

Yes.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. I love that so much. I would love to learn more about that. are there other things that you think would be helpful to know or to share? Anything that you wanted to share?

Karen Thomas:

Well, I guess maybe one thing, and this is I have like a tattoo for him on my arm and since he loved dirty dancing, to have the time of your life is that song. So, and that's kind of what. we took for that. And so that would be the one thing I would give back out is like, I have the time of your life while you're here and make things work for you and enjoy and find the support you need.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Do you ever just sit down and watch, I, I know earlier you mentioned that he liked all of the, what we call chick flicks. Do you ever just sit down and watch them for him?

Karen Thomas:

I have not, watched Dirty Dancing. Yes. or we'll turn the music like the soundtrack on. but you know what I do do though, when like, I need a good cry. I do watch them.

Dr. Dean:

Mm.

Karen Thomas:

but that's actually a really good idea to honor him and watch them for him. That's a really good idea to add to the practice.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, so you left teaching after he passed?

Karen Thomas:

Oh yes, yes. Was I, did I get out of the classroom yet? You know what? I think I had left the classroom, but I was still in education. I was at a non-profit. Mm. Yeah. So I was like switching. It was like maybe that first year of switching.

Dr. Dean:

Would you say that this grief and loss is. Changed how you approach your life and even your work.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah, I would say that it's given me permission to set boundaries, and to fully and like authentically. Moved through the healing that I needed to do through adoption and like racial trauma. after that, like I went in my second round of like deep dive into the primal wound work. And then, now on the other side of all of that really painful work, I've set some pretty significant boundaries with like birth family, So I've met my birth family and I also now found my father's side of my birth family, which I never knew until like three years ago. and so feeling confident enough to do that definitely stemmed from this and the need to do it, which finding my dad's side of the family took setting boundaries, because. I don't know. There's just a lot of racial undertone there that he was very scary. I shouldn't reach out all of these things. He's a black man and I was like, wait, what are we, who am I listening to? This may be true, but let me see. and I felt confident to do that and set boundaries around it if need be.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. And I know that you're working on this other project with, I don't wanna put words into your mouth, but as I understand it, and please correct me if I'm wrong, it is around, adoption with multiracial families. I

Karen Thomas:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

all wrong.

Karen Thomas:

no, not at all. It's, yes, they're multiracial families. We call it transracially adopted cause

Dr. Dean:

you me. I couldn't remember

Karen Thomas:

yeah, So yeah, children are like taken out of one culture and literally put into another, and adopt that culture cuz that's how they're raised. And so, It's a little different than multicultural, unless if their parents are multicultural, right? There's like layers to this. It could totally be in my case. my parents are not, they're white. And so, that's the one culture that I was getting was white culture. There was no other element to that. so yes, I, I did some work with parents that transracially adopted years ago. it was a lot for me cuz I had to do some internal work and so I've done that internal work and I'm looking to get back into supporting families, who transracially adopted both parents and the transracial adoptees as well.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. So it sounds to me like the acculturation process for you and your family was similar to Kevin's and that connection was there.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm. It makes perfect sense to me why you're, you're doing the work that you're doing and it sounds like it's very much needed. Thank you.

Karen Thomas:

Yes, it's still very much needed.

Dr. Dean:

I'm sure it will be for a very long time. Unfortunately. Unfortunately. All of that. do you wanna share any favorite memories that you had of Kevin?

Karen Thomas:

So I shared the one when we were laughing over pizza about why we were celebrating him. and then, yes, I can share, One. So, and I don't, you know, and half of this is memory half is probably was just told to me like also my memory is not great. I alluded to trauma, but That's okay. yeah, like creating forts was a thing and our family, and so we had this one really cool crawl space. It's in our basement. We have a basement that's not like you wanna live in it. It's like a basement. that stores all the tools and is cold and scary. And there was this one crawl space that you have to like get on your hands and knees to get through. And then there's this big pit at the end. And so, Kevin and my older brother found it and created a fort and we used to hang out in there all the time. That's probably a, a favorite memory. hearing how they set fireworks off in our, treehouse is a favorite

Dr. Dean:

tree house.

Karen Thomas:

The Treehouse is a favorite memory. I was not a part of that, but I remember hearing about it. I'm trying to think if there's like another, I just think hearing him laugh would be like my all time favorite one. He had a very distinct laugh. I cannot do it, interpret it. his son's mother can and has, and I've been meaning to get it recorded so I can just listen to it. but I think that would be my favorite memory is him laughing. cuz he did, he laughed often, like no matter what. He was laughing and cracking jokes.

Dr. Dean:

the time of his life.

Karen Thomas:

He was having the time of his life. Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. Have you tried to find recordings of it?

Karen Thomas:

No, we have a lot of v h s tape that, that it, I'm sure it's on. I'm not sure if my parents have converted that to DVDs, which I think they might have. Yeah, I have not committed to looking for it. Maybe I should do that and get it authentic instead of having it recorded, but. Yeah, it's a good idea. I have two great ideas from you. Thank you so much. I watching what we call Chick flick, romantic comedies or movies, not comedies, and finding him laughing on some audio. I'm going to do that.

Dr. Dean:

Oh, I can't wait to hear how that goes.

Karen Thomas:

I'm sure

Dr. Dean:

Well, there are other

Karen Thomas:

it.

Dr. Dean:

things about sibling loss. Or your specific loss with adoption or trans, racial adoption and that loss that you would want people to know.

Karen Thomas:

Hmm.

Dr. Dean:

And that was a very big question. So whatever you wanna say.

Karen Thomas:

I think it's just what I'm feeling is that both of those are huge losses, and I don't think people talk about adoption as loss. And, and it is, I mean, right, it's loss for the adoptee. a gain, maybe for the folks adopting, but, And what that brings up for me is I think this duality of emotions and feelings, which is something I'm always grappling with. I think also being like biracial is a thing, but holding two things to be true at one time. Like loss, but also love, right? And that's very much adoption, and I think that's very much mourning a

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

And so finding that balance that works for you, which for me, I think is the practice that I talked about, communicating often that mourning, that grief and that love. I think is important. And I think that's how we need to start talking about this.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. No, I love that so much. I have a giant ampersand in my office, which you can't see from here, but, I often remind my patients that two or more things can be true at the same

Karen Thomas:

Hmm.

Dr. Dean:

time. And that is true. We wouldn't mourn people if we didn't love them in some capacity, usually. I mean, they're, they're cases of that. And you loved him so much. That of course it hurts. So two things or more things can be true at one time, and in your case it's many things are true at the same time. That complicate this loss for you specifically.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah, there's a lot of things around this loss that has been very complicated and

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. How has it been with You as a mom did that, was that changed or affected by this loss?

Karen Thomas:

No, not directly. Mm. Not directly.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Karen Thomas:

I mean, he has children. and that always, that piece I feel at a loss for, and that piece I feel I. I could use more support in like guidance in how to, how to help and support. cuz they're both fairly young. one is now in their twenties, the other one's 17. So they were teen, very much teenagers when it happened young, middle school and high school. And so I'm not sure if they got the support that they needed.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Karen Thomas:

And were able to advocate for that and know what was needed to get through that time best, since they were very much still finding themselves and head guardians that, you know, very much guide you. yeah.

Dr. Dean:

It's definitely a difficult space to navigate. Our nieces and nephews are also grieving. Especially with any complications in, in relationships.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah,

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. Have you worked through that with your therapist to figure out how to support them or,

Karen Thomas:

I have not. Mm-hmm. And I think it's hard too when you're like, well, I'm grieving and I'm trying to figure this out. And since, you know, I don't live with them or see them daily, right? There's this whole other component, like the amount of people that he touched and that amount of people that probably are grieving him is, I think, greater than I've thought about in this like current moment, like

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Karen Thomas:

about it. yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Right. When you're little and your sibling is like your world, it's hard to think as we get older, people come and go, but yeah, it sounds like how, how could he have not touched a lot of people's lives? The, the way that you described him.

Karen Thomas:

Yeah, he was very charismatic. A lot of people like, I mean, if you knew him, you'd love him, right? He was just that kind of person.

Dr. Dean:

Well thank you so much for sharing all of that. thank you for chatting with me today.

Karen Thomas:

Yes. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Dean:

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

Intro
Who is Karen?
Who was Karen’s brother?
Growing up together: Safety, Security & Surviving
Losing Kevin
Anniversaries, Grieving, and Ancestral Connection
Family gatherings without Kevin
Learning Kevin Died
Understanding Kevin’s pain
An Understanding Therapist
Realizing Others were supportive
How Karen is doing now (5 years later)
Kevin Protecting her today
Learning from her grief
Favorite memories
Other loss