The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss

Twins Estranged: Navigating Sibling Loss, Reconnection, and Love in Grief: Brandi / Brandon

June 07, 2023 Dr. Angela Dean / Brandi Norden Season 2 Episode 3
The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss
Twins Estranged: Navigating Sibling Loss, Reconnection, and Love in Grief: Brandi / Brandon
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Twins Estranged: Navigating Sibling Loss, Reconnection, and Love in Grief 

In this episode of The Broken Pack: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss, a podcast, surviving sibling Brandi and Dr. Angela Dean  explore the complexity of   sibling loss, estrangement, mental health struggles, spirituality, and family dynamics through Brandi's personal story of losing her twin brother Brandon following his death from an overdose.

Content Warning: Information presented in this episode may be upsetting to some people. It contains talk of drug use, addiction, trauma, 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)
Support the show

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
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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 Brandy about the loss of her twin brother Brandon, and so much more including how being adopted, being estranged and mental health struggles impacted the postmortem connection and her grief and loss. We also discussed family dynamic. Her connection to her spirituality and her community has helped her in her grief. Please note that this episode does include talk of overdose, drug use, and trauma. Relative resources are in the show notes. So welcome and thank you for joining us today. I was wondering what you wanted to tell us about yourself,

Brandi:

my name's Brandi. I am 30 years old. I lost my twin brother in May of last year, and this is the story of that.

Dr. Dean:

Well, thank you for sharing that. So, it's less than a year. well, before we get to the story about the loss, what would be helpful to know

Brandi:

My brother's name is Brandon. I'm the youngest of 11 children, most of whom are adopted. ranging in ages from me, 30 to, my oldest brother being, 61, 62, something like that.

Dr. Dean:

Quite the age range. so you and your brother were the youngest.

Brandi:

Yes.

Dr. Dean:

what would you like us to know about Brandon specifically?

Brandi:

So Brandon had a lot of struggles in this life. he struggled with mental health and he struggled with, drug addiction as well. And, he lost his battle with both those things, unfortunately. And I believe that for him, they were very closely linked. and it really prevented him from living a successful life and being able to connect with other people, which is what I think he really wanted deep down.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. Did you feel like you were able to connect with him like growing up?

Brandi:

Unfortunately, I was not able to do that. We were always at odds for the majority of our life, and that was true into adulthood. It was just something about us being together that didn't really work very well. and oftentimes when we would get together, it would end in, an argument of some kind.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm. how would you characterize your relationship with him overall

Brandi:

overall, I would say it was estranged. When I left our childhood home when I was 16, we had a bit of a resurgence from like 17 to 19 where we tried to be close. And then, he said some very hurtful things to me and we stopped talking for a really long time. I would say it was estranged and then all I would really do is hear really bad stories about him in my adulthood. So I continued to keep the gap. a couple of months before he passed, I also tried one more time to reconnect with him because he had, had a really, close call with an overdose and had a medical emergency, where he temporarily lost the use of his legs.

Dr. Dean:

Oh wow.

Brandi:

had to have them operated on, it's what's called compartment syndrome. so if you cut off circulation to a body part for an extended period of time, it can be really detrimental and you can lose that limb, which almost happened to him. And it happened because he overdosed and passed out for many hours. and so I tried to reconnect and reach out to him during that time, and it was a really stressful process. And then it did not end well and then three months later he was gone.

Dr. Dean:

you just celebrated your birthday. Was that reach out right around your birthday?

Brandi:

it was before, it was in February, so my birthday's in March. so it was in February when that happened, and by March we weren't speaking anymore again.

Dr. Dean:

Okay.

Brandi:

a pretty brief time, because then I went to go physically see him. Like we were talking a lot over the phone and FaceTiming and stuff. And then I went to go physically see him and then that's where things sort of broke down. I could, I really saw the hurt mental side of him because, at that time his mobility was really bad, so he really didn't have any access to drugs. So I know that he wasn't actually on anything because he couldn't obtain anything at the time. I had also been with him all day. So, it's just, it was very apparent to me that his mental health was really, really unwell.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

His emotional stability was really unwell. And I have, you know, my own issues with trauma and emotional stability, so I don't have the capacity to be able to deal with somebody that's acting as though they're in a crisis situation. So, the best version of myself certainly didn't come out in that moment, but yeah, it ended pretty badly and I didn't speak to him again.

Dr. Dean:

Was this something that like happened over time, like these periods of time when you wouldn't speak?

Brandi:

yeah, it was many years. So from age 19 to last year, age, 28. So it was almost 10 years that I didn't. Speak to him.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

you know, when you're teenagers and stuff, you just kind of see each other a lot. So it's like things are up and down and good and bad. and it was easier for me to connect with him when I was a teenager because I wasn't getting along with the rest of our family at the time. And people in our family also did not like him very consistently though, including up through adulthood. So we were able to sort of bond over that. But that's kind of, that kind of changed a bit.

Dr. Dean:

So, right, because it sounds like when you were kids, you spent a lot of time and bonded over that, and then when you were out of the house, it's a lot harder to maintain a bond that's based on the negativity.

Brandi:

Yeah, cuz that's all it really was.

Dr. Dean:

So as a child, how did you guys interact

Brandi:

not very well, just because we were often treated differently. my adopted mom, she favored boys over girls, and so we were treated very differently in that aspect. So that made it really difficult for us to get along. sometimes. And then also he, again, with his mental health struggles, our, upbringing was not very healthy. And so, I believe that he found his ways to get his needs met by our mom. And it really turned out that, he became very, very manipulative. that went over into all of his relationships. So he was just a very manipulative child who knew how to get what he wanted because that's how he got his needs met. And that included mistreating others. if he saw that my mom was not favoring somebody, he would also not favor them in order to remain in her favor.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

and he would also perform tasks that were favorable. Like he became very obsessive about cleaning and cleanliness, which again carried over into his adulthood because that was seen as a favorable task, like to be really clean and to help out with all of the cleaning.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. I'm getting an undertone of this affected you negatively.

Brandi:

Yes, it definitely did because we really did not get along, and I was often blamed for things that I didn't actually do. and that happened throughout my entire childhood, through my adolescence, and through my teen years. So that was really difficult. And then again, he was treated differently, so he was actually doing things that were bad and I wasn't actually doing things that were bad. And we were just treated very differently in that way. Like he, by the time I left home, he had dropped out of school, for instance. he really blamed the downward spiral on, our dad passing away when we were 14. and you really can, if you look back, see the shift in him during that time again. He already definitely had, developed these manipulative tendencies and a lack of emotional regulation as a kid. But things just got way worse when he started introducing drugs and alcohol into the mix after our dad died.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. And it sounds like you set some boundaries around that as a young adult.

Brandi:

Well, I just didn't do anything like that. That just wasn't what I was into. I was very into my schoolwork, and I didn't really have time for anything that was like that. but for some reason my mom thought that I was doing those things, even though it was really my brother. So that was really confusing.

Dr. Dean:

So it was almost like you were getting I won't say punishment cuz I don't know what was happening, but it sounds like you were getting the brunt of however she was treating, should be treating or responding to his behavior

Brandi:

Right.

Dr. Dean:

him.

Brandi:

Yes.

Dr. Dean:

And then, well, thank you for answering that, I asked the question poorly. but that's good information as well. At some point it sounds like you set boundaries with him specifically around"I can't handle the manipulative behavior."

Brandi:

yeah. That was when we were about 19 and

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

he had reached out to me while I was away at college I went to Western New England University and he asked me to buy him a bus ticket to Springfield so that he could come stay with me in my dorm room. And I was like, no, I'm not doing that. That's a hard no. And then he, started calling me a whole bunch of terrible names. and, I didn't wanna put up with it. That's kind of how he always was. He was always trying to get things out of people. And I was like, I'm not doing that. I literally had nothing to give when I was a teenager and young adult. I literally had nothing and no money at all. I had nothing. So I really couldn't offer him anything. He couldn't come stay in my dorm room. That wasn't allowed. And I didn't live by myself. I had a roommate,

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Brandi:

so when I had no money to get him a bus ticket, I didn't have any money for anything. I didn't even have money for antibiotics when I got sick. and then we just didn't talk and I just kept hearing more and more stories about how, the things that he was doing. And I was like, I don't want any part of

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. Yeah, for sure.

Brandi:

And every person in my family that lived in the house with him is an adult all at one point or another had a restraining order against him.

Dr. Dean:

Oh,

Brandi:

So it was like that,

Dr. Dean:

sounds chaotic in a lot of ways.

Brandi:

yes.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. So what are you comfortable sharing about his death and losing him?

Brandi:

he would go through these cycles with my mom, cuz they had a very unhealthy attachment and despite the fact that he had physically threatened her and other members of the family over the years, she would always let him come back. And so he had one of his, explosive episodes where he reacted violently and my mom had to call the police on him and have him removed from the home. And then, he was kind of all over the place. And then he was living with a friend that, from what I know, he knew from jail and was distributing drugs and, he was staying in their living room and he did some drugs. He did, fentanyl specifically with the girlfriend, and he overdosed and he died. There is an idea that they might have waited before calling anybody to clean their apartment since they were distributing drugs. So there was not the opportunity for Narcan to be distributed. I. And also the autopsy toxicology screen showed that he had not before, that he had been clean for over a month from any drugs. so the thing that I don't think that people understand about him, and what I truly believe is that it was really his mental health. People say oh, drugs make you act a certain way. But in my opinion, it really was he had mental health issues that made him act this way because he really, truly didn't even have a drug of choice. He just wanted to take anything that would calm him down. Cause that's, I just ke I think a lot about, one of the last things that he said to me was that he had no intentions of stopping doing drugs because it was the only thing that quieted his mind. And again, like he would do anything, like he would drink or he would smoke weed. He would, draw more minor things and then he like worked his way up to fentanyl. And again, not like his drug of choice, it was just whatever was available to him to be able to do

Dr. Dean:

What's it like for you to be able to say like no one was really helping him while he was overdosing?

Brandi:

that. I really does upset me. I know he made his choice to take the drugs and his words to me were very specific that he that he wasn't gonna stop. But

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

from what I know, it's sad because he was apparently trying to get help for his mental health at the time. but because of his own self sabotaging stuff, he got kicked out of the program.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Brandi:

Because he was acting inappropriately towards one of the agents or whoever, like got assigned to him because that's one of the things he did. He also, he had issues with hypersexuality for sure. was also one of his, one of his characteristics that got him into a lot of trouble. but it's very sad the idea that somebody would consider themselves a friend of his and wouldn't help him

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

if he died. Like, you know, that's just really sad.

Dr. Dean:

It is very sad. so you were both 28 at the time?

Brandi:

it would be

Dr. Dean:

29. 29, sorry. Yeah, that's right.

Brandi:

That's okay.

Dr. Dean:

do you wanna talk about what it's like as losing your twin or what, what that was like specifically? Because it sounds like you've lost him multiple times, not just

Brandi:

and I think it just hit me a lot harder than I thought it was going to. And I think because I felt that I had lost him multiple times and not talking to him for 10 years. Like I thought that, you know, and I expected that someday his actions would catch up to him. But I was just so devastated by it in a way. I just can't explain how it happened.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

I had for a while such physical reactions. My whole body would tense up and it would be hard for me to breathe

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

and just the sorrow that I had and there was things about his death that just made it worse. And about the things that came afterwards, it was like sometimes I just felt so sad, especially because I sometimes felt like, was one of the only people grieving him. It was like me and my mom really as, I feel like a lot of other people let him go a long time ago. And I thought that I had too. And I really don't blame anybody that did because of the things that he did in his life. He was often a dangerous and untrustworthy person, but I believe it's because he was really hurting. And I really don't think a lot of people understand that. I truly feel like I'm one of the only people that does. And one of the other things is that I've never really felt this before is that I truly for from May to October felt him with me all the time.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

Like all the time. he was there with me. Yeah. and that was kind of a lot like, it was comforting, but it was also kind of a lot to have him there after him not being there for so long.

Dr. Dean:

So it sounds like because he wasn't a comfort when he was alive, that finding that presence was an extremely difficult thing to understand or

Brandi:

Yeah. Yeah. It's cuz we were never close. And so it's like, and now you're here now and it's just kind of a lot and I mean he was certainly lighter. That was the thing. It's like, it was just different.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

you know, there is a part of me that. Believes that he wanted to be a good person and wanted to love and be loved, and I don't, and he just did not get that opportunity. and I always would wonder, even before we started speaking again, I would talk about it in my own therapy, like if there was any hope for him, about nature versus nurture. because we come from a family, our biological family of mentally unwell and drug addicted people. And so, and then we also grew up in an abusive home. So I wonder often if there was any hope for him. Was there ever gonna be a universe in which he was healthy?

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. Where do you stand with that, processing that idea now?

Brandi:

I mean, it still bothers me. It doesn't, maybe it doesn't bother me as much because it can't change now. When he was alive it was like, could he make a different decision and end up somewhere else? But now that he's gone, it's sort of the whole thing has played out. And again, I still sort of feel like I'm the only one that understood'em. Cuz even our biological mother has reached out to me a few times. I'm not particularly close with her.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

I keep her at arm's length as well. she's very mentally unwell and has drug issues. I did send her some pictures of Brandon, some photos that I have. I talked to her a bit because they did live together for a little bit also until she had to kick him out too. Because it just got to be too much. but in a lot of ways, he reminds me, a lot of her, they remind me of each other. And again, that's like the nature versus nurture thing. Was he always destined to be just like her?

Dr. Dean:

it sounds to me like for you, you had to work through that to understand your risk, but also like how to help him and how to love him.

Brandi:

Yeah, I still am working on my risk issues. I don't use fentanyl or hard drugs, but, I have been, contemplating my own issues around drinking.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

I think in the last several years it's become very, pervasive in our culture to accept binge drinking as an acceptable social norm. And, I think that for certain people, and people like me maybe, who have trauma and predisposition, it might not be the best option to be binge drinking. so drinking to excess because it can really open up some unhealed things.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

And I, when I've struggled, I wonder what Brandon would think, now, not then. Then he'd be like, yeah, sister, get me one too, or whatever, you know. But now that he is on his own afterlife healing journey, what he would think about my excessive use of alcohol when it happens, you know?

Dr. Dean:

So you said from May through October, you felt his presence.

Brandi:

I did, yes.

Dr. Dean:

What shifted?

Brandi:

it's, it was different for me too. I've never had this happen before. I've always been open to afterlife things. I'm also, in a coven, so I'm a practicing pagan, I don't know how to explain that part. But, I've talked a lot with my coven leader about him. And so when he left physically, it was only a few days before I felt him for the first time. so my apartment has always felt very, spiritually neutral, which I like, I like it that way cuz I used to be kind of sensitive to stuff when I was younger. I don't know if it was like, you know, whatever it was. but I was really sad one night and I just was walking through my bedroom door to go to sleep and I felt somebody walk through the door with me and I was

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

what are you doing here? Because I was the only person that it could possibly be.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

and, I had laid down. I was just so sad and I had been crying and I felt like a pressure on me, from him, like a hug. And then, he was just around and I had a lot of his friends, telling me things that reminded them of him. They were very specific things. His favorite song was, blue Bayou by Linda Ronstadt. You might not know it, but, my friend who was a mutual friend of ours was serving waitressing, and she went out onto the patio and the live singer was singing Blue Bayou by Linda Ronstadt. who sings that song? it's not new, it's not popular. so things like that people were sending me, things like that, like that they knew he was around too. and I don't know, I just felt him all the time. And then around October, it's actually interesting because around that time, especially if you're practicing Pagan, the realm, the portals between the worlds are supposed to be very thin. And so I actually was going to a Dumb Supper, which is a silent, silent Supper, hosted by my coven leader. And I was actually excited because I was like, oh, Brandon's been so close, I'm definitely gonna be able to do something. I don't know. But shortly before that, I had this thing happen that, some people might not believe or whatever, but, I was in bed and it seemed that he did try to appear to me physically. I don't think I'll get into quite that part, but it was a bit disturbing and I was afraid. So he went away after that.

Dr. Dean:

Mm.

Brandi:

And it makes me a little bit sad, but I talked to my coven leader a lot about it, and she said that the dead don't have boundaries. So she said, just like I had to set boundaries with him in real life, I had to set a boundary with him in the afterlife as well. So in that way, I suppose we've still maintained our relationship. she's also said that there's an idea that our souls entered into some kind of contract before we came, and that he was always meant to pass away. And I was meant to stay. Because he always talked about when, we were younger, he always talked about dying early. and he would've loved it. He would've really romanticized this idea that he never made it to 30. He would absolutely love it. I don't know how else to explain it. Yes. he was just very like sentimental in that way. so in a way I guess he fulfilled kind of what he wanted, which was to die young.

Dr. Dean:

Interesting.

Brandi:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Has it challenged your idea of mortality at all?

Brandi:

Yes, it has. Because there is this idea that he still has deep healing to do on the other side because he didn't heal in life. He was very, very wounded when he left. And there's also an idea of like souls being tired and literally needing to rest before they even move on to whatever is their next stage or whatever healing they have to do. And maybe that's what he was going to do. He stayed with me for a little bit until it was time for him to rest. I don't know,

Dr. Dean:

Mm.

Brandi:

but one of the biggest things, the last time I physically saw him this is pretty morbid, but his body was not for public viewing. he had decomposed faster than he was supposed to. He had some sort of rare bacteria in his body cuz you know, if you overdose and you find them like that day, it really shouldn't be a problem. But it was definitely a problem. and I was told by many people, including the funeral staff, to not do it

Dr. Dean:

Mm.

Brandi:

like they did their best because they weren't sure how it was gonna be the day of the wake. But then they told me to, not to. but it felt incredibly important for me to do it. so it was like after the wake. The wake was a lot. The wake was a lot. My mom was very overwhelmed by the amount of people that came. She didn't think that anybody was gonna come. But actually, when he had bits of normality, he actually was a very friendly person and people really liked him when he wasn't manipulating or having an emotional violent outburst or using drugs. So, there was that whole long day and they were like, okay, we're gonna do the body unwrapping. And two of my sisters looked before I did, cuz they were just curious, I guess I don't really know why they did it. I was actually slightly annoyed that they did if I'm being honest, because they didn't like him. So I wasn't really sure why they did it. and then I did, and I had written in a notebook. a bunch of things that his friends wanted to say to him because a lot of them were very disappointed that they were not gonna be able to see him. and one of the other things that bothered me was, I guess nobody ever technically ID'd his body. And so I found that really weird. And so I wanted to see him. and though he didn't look great, I could tell that it was him. So that felt very important. And so I read all of the words to him. It was very hard to keep it together. and I played him Blue Bayou and, yeah, like legitimately collapsed afterwards. it was a lot. but it felt very important to me. you know, it's very stereotypical, but like, we came into the world together and it felt very important to me to see him you

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

He left. So, that was a really traumatic experience.

Dr. Dean:

it sounds like it for sure. And also, I'm glad that you were able to send him out in the way that you felt appropriate, cuz it sounds like you were one of the few people that saw him with some empathy even during the times that you weren't talking to him.

Brandi:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

you've said he did these things because of his mental illness, and you could see past that.

Brandi:

yeah, I don't think that he was an evil person. I think there was a time where I did think that, but the time is gone. I think so. But it was when I was dealing with my own stuff. I was a very angry, young adult, so the fact that we were so different. I don't know, something to be angry about.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

And I think that's one of the reasons that we didn't get along is I think when we would come together, I think he saw a lot of himself in me, but didn't know how to reconcile that and why and how we were so different but the same. And I think it really upset him. Not that like my life is great or perfect or whatever, but that we were, that things were different that I turned out this way and he turned out that way.

Dr. Dean:

I think the first time I talked to you, you mentioned that, and it just sticks with me that that feels unfair in, in some way, the way that you're describing it.

Brandi:

Yeah. I mean, he often felt that the world was unfair to him.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Brandi:

but yeah, I think he might have seen it that way cuz he did one time tell me that I got the easy way out, which was not really true.

Dr. Dean:

Nothing you've described about your early life sounded easy,

Brandi:

well, he was talking about my transition out of our childhood home. I was actually asked to leave, so I did. and really had to, knuckle down and focus on academics in order to get me literally anywhere,

Dr. Dean:

Mm.

Brandi:

I didn't have anything else. So that was my choice. And I didn't have a lot of things for a very long time. Again, I had no money, I had no license, I had no car. I, yeah, I had nothing.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

It wasn't really easy. It was its own struggle.

Dr. Dean:

of course. so it's also interesting to me because when you think of twins, and I mean, this may not be true for you because you are a twin and you grew up as a twin. I did. not. But you often hear about that twin bond and that connection. It sounds like you didn't have that until he was out of his physical body.

Brandi:

that I believe is true. He liked to tell people that we did. Again, he loved to romanticize things. That was his thing. and so he loved to romanticize the idea that we were connected and talk about it like we were, even though we weren't. I will say that when my mom called me to tell me that he was dead, it was very early in the morning, like 6:30 in the morning. Because he, she had found out the night before, but I get, she probably didn't wanna call me cause it was the middle of the night. and my first thought was, why is Brandon calling me from our mom's phone?

Dr. Dean:

Interesting.

Brandi:

So that is something he used to do, when we were like 16, 17 years old and I wasn't living at home anymore. But, that's, that was like 10, 12 years ago, and I, that was my first thought is that he was calling me from her phone and I don't, and I don't know why I thought that. And

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Brandi:

then she let me know that he was dead.

Dr. Dean:

What was it like for you to hear that call?

Brandi:

it was really hard because, part of it is because my mom, Was never really an emotional person like that. And she was crying and she's cried a lot more since he died. cuz again, we lost my dad when I was 14 and I'm sure she did cry about it, but not that I ever saw. And it's just, that's been really different and I was just really devastated and I thought that it was just gonna be like temporary devastation. So I actually tried to go to work that day, which was like a really poor decision. But again, like we hadn't spoken for 10 years. I knew he was a drug addict, like I should have seen this coming. And I was like, oh yeah, I'm totally fine. And then I was like, not fine at all. So, it was very devastating.

Dr. Dean:

I'm only laughing because that's been a theme of almost everyone I've talked to. We've all gone back to work too soon, whether it was that day or that week or that month,

Brandi:

Yeah. I mean, that day was just the dumbest, the dumbest decision. I don't know why I did that, but, cause I like, thought that I could handle it. I'm, I've dealt with people dying. It was not a big deal. but yeah, and then it was very awkward because like my partner was asleep next to me and then like obviously woke up. and then we had to navigate that and then getting his son to school while I'm devastated and then going to work. yeah, it was just a lot. And one of the first things I told my mom was I know you don't think anybody would go to a ceremony. I was like, but I'll go, and I'll help pay for it or whatever. cuz she, like already had said she wasn't gonna do anything. one of the other sort of outcomes of his death, unfortunately, is right after my mom called me, I called one of my sisters I'm was closest to. And, our relationship has since been, destroyed, for lack of a better word, since his death. And, the first thing she said to me was that she was glad that he was dead.

Dr. Dean:

Oh.

Brandi:

And I told her that I understood why she felt that way, because I do, I do understand why she felt that way. It was like a relief that he couldn't harm anybody else. But, from that day on, things were just not the same between her and I because she had other, what I feel are inappropriate things to say around his death. inappropriate behaviors, not exhibiting traditional things, you know, being present for things. and then eventually she just stopped talking to me. it's not that I stopped talking to her. I actually wished her a happy birthday on her 40th birthday in July. And she did not wish me a happy birthday on my 30th birthday

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Brandi:

So it's had a weird effect. His death has had a weird effect on my family for sure. My mom is like a shell of a person, and some of my siblings have just handled it very strangely.

Dr. Dean:

Handled his death strangely, or seeing the changes in your mom.

Brandi:

both I feel like a lot of people are not sensitive enough to her

Dr. Dean:

Hmm

Brandi:

around his death and like to focus a lot on the negative, but that's actually just my family in general. They often focus on negative things, like there's never positive things to focus on. It's always focusing on the negative aspects of people

Dr. Dean:

mm-hmm. Hmm. Was he your only biological sibling?

Brandi:

that I grew up with. Yes, but not my only one overall.

Dr. Dean:

Okay.

Brandi:

That could be its own podcast.

Dr. Dean:

So the, it's interesting cuz we talk about sibling loss and how hard it is. for you, it hit you unexpectedly, not just because he died unexpectedly, but the grief sounds like it was unexpected.

Brandi:

It certainly was. It certainly was the, especially the way like it manifested in my body. Like I go to the chiropractor

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

day of his wake, the morning of his wake, I went to an appointment. And like they worked on me extra in the massage portion cuz my body was just so tensed up and contorted. It was incredibly painful.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Brandi:

And at his wake, I just felt like I was gonna pass out the entire time. I was sweating and trying to hydrate myself. but really it's crazy, like really putting on like a face for people though.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Brandi:

weird. Like I feel like people looked more uncomfortable than I did. Like other

Dr. Dean:

Interesting.

Brandi:

Yeah,

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. Like people that were part of the family or just in general?

Brandi:

no, in general, people approaching me. and then also some of his friends, they were I can't look at you because you look too much like him.

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Brandi:

I don't know if that's something you've heard, but,

Dr. Dean:

for sure. I'm, at this point you've probably seen pictures of my brother. Yeah.

Brandi:

I have. Yes.

Dr. Dean:

Today the hair's a mess, but his curly hair was much, much better.

Brandi:

How do they do that?

Dr. Dean:

I don't know, and I can't ask them.

Brandi:

but like his teeth were way better than mine and I was like, I don't understand.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Brandi:

I was like, that makes less than no sense, but okay.

Dr. Dean:

so your family dynamic has definitely changed.

Brandi:

Yes,

Dr. Dean:

How would you describe, generally the changes? It sounds like with your mom in some ways you've grown closer or, I'm mishearing that.

Brandi:

in some ways for a while we did. She was calling me a lot in the wake of his death, I think, cuz I was one of the only people that was concerned about the services and stuff. I think a lot of other people weren't very concerned about it. and yeah, I think you know her, she was able to talk to me a bit and I was able to describe to her what I thought of Brandon while he was alive, you know, the reasons why he did what he did. I think she was finally more open to hearing about it

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

than she was previously. So yeah, in some ways I would say that we grew closer, at least for a while. and then with like my one sister, it's really driven us apart. Like other siblings weren't fans of him either, but they didn't behave in that way. And they actually, I think, have called out her behavior, saying things that are not kind and behaving selfishly. Like, even if you didn't care for him, I'm grieving, our mom is grieving.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

if you could have a sympathetic bone for that, maybe.

Dr. Dean:

I think there could be a whole episode on funeral behaviors

Brandi:

I mean, yeah, it was, it was really something.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. where are you in the grieving process now?

Brandi:

I would say things are a lot less painful. Like I was having a lot at least like once a week or every other week having like days that I would feel very down about him being gone. And I dealt with that a lot, through Facebook posts. That was a thing that I was doing cuz it made me feel better. Like people can look at it or they cannot look at it. And I know that there's people who were close to him on my page who would wanna see that stuff too. and yeah, it would just make me feel better. So I would just do that whenever I feel that way. But I don't feel as bad.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

but I do truly think of him every day. Like there is, they say there's not a day that goes by and that's really true for me. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about him. But honestly that was kind of true when he was alive as well though.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

I thought about him almost every day while he was alive. and I really do feel like he is part of me. I really do. I've been thinking about my actions a bit more through the lens of him and how he would feel, if I'm making a particular choice or something. And so he's almost like my conscience or something, even though he is not really, but would he want me to suffer as he suffered? You know, if I'm unhappy or depressed or whatever, if I'm making myself unhappy with a decision, would he want me to be that way? And I don't think so.

Dr. Dean:

That's a beautiful way to keep the connection going, or even the connection that you have now versus the one that you had for so long.

Brandi:

Yeah, because I think he would've wanted us to be close, but I just don't think he knew how to do that.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. So you just had your 30th birthday and it was the well happy belated birthday, or was it, was

Brandi:

Oh, we were, I, well, I was in Ireland for it,

Dr. Dean:

Oh, well, okay.

Brandi:

so

Dr. Dean:

sounds lovely. I think I did see that. Yeah.

Brandi:

he also always very much identified with being Irish.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

and that is, majority are heritage, so, and then we grew up in an Irish family, if that makes sense. Like our adopted family identifies very highly with being Irish. It's also the area that we're from Eastern Massachusetts. Everybody's Irish and Italian, so now it's US, Irish and Italian. So, I felt like that was a nod to him as well, being able to celebrate in Ireland, because again, That's something he really romanticized was being Irish. And I remember when our dad died, him sitting at home listening to like Irish music after the wake. And I actually, this is kind of random, but I felt like I was playing his character, that he was at our dad's wake, at his wake because at our dad's wake, he was standing closest to my mom and he was very friendly and welcoming to people

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

to pay respects. And I felt like I was doing that. This one I was standing closest to my mom and. Putting on the front of being like very friendly and welcoming to everybody that was coming. Well, afterwards, suffering.

Dr. Dean:

Oh, I was gonna say, you, you seem very friendly, so I don't know if that part was a front, but I was wondering what you meant by that, so.

Brandi:

I'm not like the most social person.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

and I can get a little bit of the R B F going on. but it seems in these instances that like sort of someone has to be the front and I felt like that had to be me. And not that it bothers me, but I think often empathetic people do this when other people are suffering. They feel like they cannot be suffering in that moment.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

I feel like I experienced that a lot. Like if someone else is crying, even if I'm upset, like I can't cry, I literally just can't do it. so, you know, as people were sort of coming through and crying and his, especially his friends, they were very sad. you know, being able to be that pillar is not something that I resent.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. I think that's true for a lot of siblings too, that you find yourself in that spot because you've got a parent beside you and they don't expect us to grieve in the same way, so it's easier to fall into that role of, I'm just gonna shut this down in that moment, do you have any favorite childhood memories of him?

Brandi:

I don't have a lot, but I have this like one. That's very odd. it's not really my memory. It's like from a video recording and it just to me like represents like a lot of innocence where we used to go to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire every year and there's one where, there's a video recording happening and we're four or five years old and Brandon's just there, he's begging. Can I have the camera? Can I hold the camera? I wanna use the camera. Please. Please. And this is my sister-in-law, Shannon. She's just go, no, no. And he like has his hand out cause he is so small, but he is like so dead serious about wanting to use the camera, like that's a thing that's gonna happen. And then he just eventually stops and turns around and runs down the stairs. And I feel like I don't have a lot of memories due to trauma, unfortunately. so a lot of my childhood memories are blocked, but I, because recordings are played over and over again, I was able to have that one refreshed. I haven't seen it since I was probably eight, but I can still remember that one because he was, you know, he was a very cute kid too, he had the mushroom haircut, you know, the bowl cut. and he was happy for a time. I don't know when things changed,

Dr. Dean:

Hmm.

Brandi:

but he was happy and innocent at some point. And then not anymore. And it might have been very brief. I don't know.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. Is there anything about sibling loss that you've learned or that you wish other people understood that you've, especially given the estrangement?

Brandi:

I don't know. Just that you can still continue to have a relationship after. And I just didn't even realize that. I really didn't. and that's comforting because it's giving you a chance to heal. Especially if you had an estranged relationship, you'd still have a chance. And it's like you don't have to dwell on the fact that things weren't very good

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

Again, for me, there's an idea that this was always meant to be this way and that he was meant to struggle one way and I was meant to struggle another. And that my time here is not done, even if his is, but that he's meant to support me now somehow,

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

until we meet again, again stereotypical, but if he was around me for so, so long afterwards, why shouldn't we meet again? And how will it be different next time? You know,

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

if you're into that kind of thing might be different next time. Maybe we'll get a bit longer together,

Dr. Dean:

That's a beautiful idea to hold onto. It sounds like it gives you some hope and connection.

Brandi:

especially if I continue to do some healing

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

and so then we're healed and. We won't be so oil and water when we're around each other.

Dr. Dean:

So that goes back to the thing that I didn't actually ask you about your birthday because I think you answered it without me asking It sounds like you feel this responsibility to live life for him.

Brandi:

Yeah. For me it is like a bit sad that he won't get to, you know,

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Brandi:

didn't get to, I even felt bad a little bit while he was alive and I was talking to him briefly. I just felt bad sometimes that my life was this way and his life was that way.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

I knew there was nothing I could do to help him safely, but I wished that there was.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

And it's just, it is kind of weird cuz I did always share my birthday,

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

and like now he'll never get another one and again, as much as he would've loved that, what kind of birthdays could he have had?

Dr. Dean:

Right. And as little kids, I wonder if you wanted birthdays separately.

Brandi:

I don't remember wanting birthdays separately, to be honest. I just grew up in a very not privileged household, if that makes sense. So there just really was like this idea that you get what you get and you don't get upset. So, I don't remember resenting sharing my birthday. I really don't. It's just we had to share so much I had to share so much. so I remember there was a lot of times where my mom would get us separate cakes, so that was good.

Dr. Dean:

Interesting. Yeah.

Brandi:

So we would get two cakes and I mean, there was enough people to have two cakes for. So, yeah, I think this is really funny. One of the traditions of my family that's pervaded and nobody even knows what this is, we have a really long version of Happy Birthday that we sing that nobody knows. the verses are happy birthday to you. And then it's how old are you now? And then it's, they are just however many years old. And then a reprise of Happy Birthday. And it is the longest song of all time. And there was a lot of birthdays and this song would have to get sang and the candles are just melting and melting and melting and melting.

Dr. Dean:

That's a very long

Brandi:

nobody, nobody else that I know knows that version of Happy Birthday. I have no idea where it came from.

Dr. Dean:

I have heard that there's other verses I didn't actually ever think about. what are they? so I'm guessing when we were told to wash our hands to Happy birthday during the pandemic, you didn't sing the whole song.

Brandi:

I did not.

Dr. Dean:

Okay. You'd have very clean hands.

Brandi:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

So just a couple more questions. How supported do you feel in your grief process now versus the beginning?

Brandi:

I feel supported. I feel like I don't need that much support right now, which sounds weird, but I think it's true. I feel like that's how I found you is because in the beginning I really felt like I needed so much support and I did not even understand what was happening. But I feel like I have it sort of under control now. A lot more as a year is approaching.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Brandi:

and I'm able to talk about it with people and I know which people to talk about it with, so that's good.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

cuz the people closest to me have understood the complexity of the situation. so yeah, I do feel supported, but it was very difficult in the beginning because there was just a lot of pain.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. And I think people don't understand the estrangement piece for sure.

Brandi:

No, I think people think about siblings as being very close because every time someone would find out that I was a twin, people would say, oh my gosh, that's so cool. And my first response would be, he is not cool.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm. probably thought you were joking

Brandi:

Yeah. I'd be like, unfortunately he's not cool. And it was sad

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

all the time to have to say that

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Brandi:

It's really marose to say that I'm closer with him now than I was. But it is true.

Dr. Dean:

It sounds like you've also gotten support from the coven leader

Brandi:

Yes,

Dr. Dean:

and at some point a therapist as

Brandi:

yes, yes.

Dr. Dean:

Okay.

Brandi:

Yeah. But the coven leader is great with that stuff. not that she's super in tune with the dead, but you open to the idea that we, can connect with people after they're gone.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-hmm.

Brandi:

because I feel like there's a lot of things that we don't understand. Again, I feel like I'm saying so many stereotypical things, but maybe that's what my thirties are bringing is all of this stereotypical wisdom that turns out to be true.

Dr. Dean:

I'm trying to think back to my thirties and I don't know if that is true or not.

Brandi:

my therapists, moved away, which really sucked because we like really connected. but she was like available for like calling and stuff. and it's actually really interesting. She had scheduled a, impromptu call with me, the day before my brother's funeral I think. And I was at this, I was at this museum and I sat down and I was feeling sad waiting for the call in this weird little courtyard thing. And this little girl came up to, ran up to me just randomly and hugged me out of absolutely nowhere. And I was like, oh, this is so weird. Maybe she knows that I'm sad of my brother. And then she called me. so I think she was good about being in touch when I needed it.

Dr. Dean:

Oh, good.

Brandi:

the estrangement in some ways is worse. Than losing someone who's really close. Cuz you don't have to question as much, I think.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, for

Brandi:

sure saying it's not valid, but there's just, I feel like there's so many unanswered questions when you're estranged.

Dr. Dean:

Well, thank you for doing this. I've really enjoyed talking to you.

Brandi:

No problem. It has been great. I'm always a person that likes to share my story about whatever it is because I think that I don't want people to feel alone

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
About Brandon
Their Relationship: Estrangement
Losing Brandon
The Surprise and Devastation of Losing an Estranged Sibling
Comfort in the Post Mortem Presence of Her Twin
Brandon's Hug
Setting Boundaries with Brandon
Saying Goodbye: The Funeral
Brandi & Brandon's Differing Views of Their Twin Bond
The Call and Changing Family Dynamics
Where Brandi is Now in Grieving
Brandi's 30th Birthday
Brandi's Favorite Memory of Brandon
Becoming Less Like Oil & Water: After his Death