The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss

Medical Complications & Unexpected Sibling Loss Grief: Kassy / Rheanna

November 15, 2023 Dr. Angela Dean / Kassy Bowes Season 3 Episode 3
The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss
Medical Complications & Unexpected Sibling Loss Grief: Kassy / Rheanna
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Kassy’s Sibling Loss Story: Untimely, Unexpected, and Heartbreaking Circumstances

In this episode, Dr. Dean speaks with Kassy Bowes about losing her younger sister, Rheanna, due to abdominal sepsis as a complication from a medical intervention. Listen as Kassy shares how losing her 19-year-old sister , Rheanna, shattered her world, challenged her beliefs in the afterlife, and how finding connection with Rheanna has helped her move with her grief.

Content Warning: Information presented in this episode may be upsetting to some people. It contains talk of substance use, mental health stigma, and abortion.

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)

DISCLAIMER FOR THIS EPISODE

The Broken Pack exists to provide a platform for adult survivors of sibling loss to share their stories and to be heard. The views expressed by guest are those of the guest speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of the podcast host or the Broken Pack organization.

The Broken Pack acknowledges that the topic of abortion is polarizing and understands that different individuals hold varying viewpoints on the issue. The podcast host does emphasizes that the purpose of the episode is to focus on the guest speaker's experience as a sibling loss survivor. 

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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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Dr. Dean:

Hello and welcome to the Broken Pack, a podcast focused on giving adult survivors of sibling loss, a platform to share their stories and to be heard. Something that many sibling loss survivors state that they never have had. Sibling Loss is Misunderstood™. The Broken Pack exists to change that and to support survivors. I'm your host, Dr. Angela Dean. In today's episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Cassie about losing her sister Rihanna unexpectedly to a rare infection resulting from complications from a medical procedure that shattered her world. Listen to see how she's doing now and what advice she has for us. Welcome to the show, Kassy. I was wondering if you wanted to introduce yourself.

Kassy Bowes:

Of course. Yeah. so my name's Kassy, I grew up in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. I moved down to Niagara to actually go to school. and then I met my now husband and I never went back home after that. I'm 28, I have two dogs, I'm actually a social worker for the school board. I'm a school counsellor, I just came back from our honeymoon a few weeks ago, so just freshly married.

Dr. Dean:

Well, congratulations.

Kassy Bowes:

Thanks.

Dr. Dean:

I have questions about how losing your sister affected that, but I will hold off

Kassy Bowes:

Yes, definitely did.

Dr. Dean:

before we talk about the devastating loss of losing your sister, Rihanna, I was wondering what you wanted our listeners to know about her.

Kassy Bowes:

Oh, there's so much to say about her. She was just so young and vibrant. She was only 19 years old when she passed. we were eight years apart in age and we were total polar opposites, like not the same whatsoever. in terms of caring so much about people were the same, but she just took on that role in a whole new level. She just wore her heart on her sleeve, loved others. So much so unconditionally, and I remember one time she actually came home from school crying because she couldn't believe someone had called her friend fat and she was just like bawling her eyes out because she just couldn't believe how someone could be so cruel. yeah, she was just an incredible person, very quirky, very odd, would always make these different mannerisms and sayings and oh, she was just, she was hilarious. She was such a joy to be around.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing that about her. What was your relationship like with her?

Kassy Bowes:

it was different. It was definitely not a typical sibling relationship, and that's why I wanted to come and share my story on here because our relationship was very different, with such a big age gap between us. There was almost nine years apart in age and so I felt like our role. It was more like a mother daughter type relationship, especially that our mom was always working shift work all the time and not mentally well herself. So It was just us against the world, just the two of us. And it grew very much into me protecting her all the time. And so rather than having this relationship where she could come and tell me everything, she was very hesitant on doing so because she always feared of disappointing me. And I, of course, I never wanted her to feel like that, but that's just what our relationship was because she just valued what I thought so deeply. And, I was in the delivery room when she was born, I was eight years old, right there, front center, it was just, it was such a weird thing to, Be in that room during her delivery and then at the same time being at that exact same hospital being by her side when she died, it was just, I couldn't, I just couldn't believe it. I, when I was standing there, I was just like, this can't be, this can't be happening right now. But yeah, it was just very much me always looking out for her and trying to protect her and trying to help guide her in the right direction. At times we butt heads because, at the end of the day, I wasn't her mom, and unfortunately, like our mom wasn't able to care for us in the way that she should have. So I felt the need that I had to take on that role, but it was always that battle, okay, but at the end of the day, you're not my parent. It was a struggle. And the last two years of her life, it was rocky because that's when she was becoming an adult and wanted to take the reins a little bit of her own life and make her own mistakes. And I'm just like trying to tell her look out for the red flags. I didn't want her falling down the same path. as our mom and her dad, I just, I really feared for that. So I just. I tried to grab the reins and hold them as tight as I could, and that caused a little bit of a strain on our relationship, unfortunately, It was really hard to navigate that relationship as she got older, because she was making some decisions about her life that weren't ideal, but at the end of the day, I knew I had to sit back and let her make those decisions on her own because she was her own person. So it was a challenge. It was a challenge, our relationship, but I loved that little girl more than anything in the whole world. I always say she's my whole world. I have, I have birthday tattooed, on my chest and I did that when she was alive. I put it above my heart because she was my everything, my heart, my world. And, yeah, it's just losing her was the ultimate nightmare of my life.

Dr. Dean:

it sounds like in a lot of ways you had the parental role and still a sibling. So a little bit complicated, I'm guessing from a grief perspective, but also just the relationship sounds complex.

Kassy Bowes:

Yeah, that's what I wanted. I wanted that sibling relationship so bad. And I used to tell her like. I remember we had this nice heart to heart, finally, when we all broke it all down, and it was before she passed. I was like, why? Why do you tell our mom, out of all people, everything, and you hide everything from me? You tell her what you're involved in, or what you're doing, or who you're dating, and... She's cause I don't care what, I don't care what she thinks. I don't care what our mom thinks. Cause she doesn't care what I'm doing. So I don't care to tell her, she goes, but you're the person I'm most fearful of disappointing. I don't want to disappoint you. And so I just, I finally gave my head a shake a little bit and realizing Oh my gosh, this is what a parent feels like, this is what it must feel like to be a parent, to not know what's going on in your child's life, because They don't want to disappoint you.

Dr. Dean:

So if you were eight years older, what was your childhood like with her?

Kassy Bowes:

It was different, She always wanted to hang out with me at all times. And of course, I was growing up and wanting to hang out with friends. But, we always had this thing where, at the end of the day, when it was all said and done, my friends would leave. it would just be the two of us. We'd hang out together. We'd play like just dance sometimes, or I'd take her to the park. But my favorite moments that, I'll take with me forever is, at night, in the middle of the night, I'd go and I'd sneak into her room and I'd, I, even when we shared her room I'd, this, when she was two, I would take her out of her crib and put her in bed with me. Or we would hold each other and sleep in bed together. I did this even when she got older when I was in high school. I said, Hey, do you want to come sleep in my room? And she's like, yeah. So she'd come and tiptoe in her little pajamas and come and crawl into bed with me. And we'd have this little sleepover and, I miss that. I still feel like I can smell her sometimes. It's so surreal. And that's just what we did every night. She'd come and like sleep in my room or, I'd always have the same movie, playing over and over again, because this is before streaming. Before streaming existed and I would just always have to have noise on at night I could never sleep with no noise. So it was always the same movie playing over and over again, but Yeah, It was different growing up like she wanted to hang out with me so much and of course like me being a teenager not making the best choices myself. I didn't want her being around that. I was very protective on what she saw. and what she saw me involved in. I always made a promise that I would never let my sister see me do something that we witnessed growing up. So I was very protective of that and she was aware of that. but I wanted to protect her as much as I could. And at the end of the day, I don't know if that was more damaging than not. But, I did whatever I could to protect her from the world.

Dr. Dean:

It sounds like, even the story about her, coming to your bedroom, that you were her safe space, but I also heard in that, that she was a lot of your safe space as well.

Kassy Bowes:

Tremendously, I've been in therapy for a long time, especially after she passed. And that's exactly what my therapist even said herself. She knows like she was that person that you needed when you were a kid. And so it was. Like, that comfort, that nurture, and that's what we were to each other, But even at the end of the day when we would fight or, I wouldn't like something that she was doing, she would still call me and tell me, hey, this is what's going on with mom, or... she always just like at the end of the day, we still always had each other

Dr. Dean:

Thank you for sharing all of that. What would you like to share about losing her?

Kassy Bowes:

other than like what many people have spoke to on here It's just that it was a horrendous loss and everyone tries to measure grief In a way of that relationship to that person, oh, well, nothing's like losing a daughter. Nothing's like losing a child, like a child or a parent or anything like that. And they all want to compare the grief that they feel. Our mom did that a lot when she passed. Well, you don't know how it feels to lose a daughter. And I was like, Okay, but it doesn't matter the relationship, the importance of that person to that person is what matters, I don't know why we have to compare grief or say that one's hurting more than the other. Losing that person is just, regardless of the relationship, it was so intense, and I don't think that it should be compared because it's the importance that person had to you and, She was just an incredible person and it was such a sudden death, something that we never expected. it was just like, I got a phone call all of a sudden it was our mom and she's like, I just got a phone call from the hospital saying your sister's in the ICU. And I was like, really shocked by that because I was like, what do you mean? Like, what do you mean the ICU? Like, what happened? and I just panic started to set in. And everything just started to unravel a little bit. When we found out what happened, and what happened was, is she wasn't just in the ICU, She went into cardiac arrest for 28 minutes. It was a long time that she was under cardiac arrest in the hospital. And this is where we started to figure out, because we were like, how did this happen? How did all of a sudden, this perfect, healthy, vibrant 19 year old little girl just be full of abdominal sepsis? just completely, full of infections? The more that we started to talk to doctors and when we looked at her medical records afterwards, we later found out that there was a link, through the, abortion pill. We knew just a couple of days prior to her being in the ICU that she had had abortion. And she had one and it was a medical abortion. So now there's like this new, not new, but like it's newer type of abortion rather than a typical D& C, and it's called a medical abortion and it's used, you just take a pill and you could take it early on in the pregnancy if you catch it earlier. Statistics like one in three women in Canada alone go and get abortion. So this is not something that's like uncommon. This is a very common thing that, that women have access to here in Canada. And my sister took it upon herself to, to make that decision all on her own and say, you know what? I'm not ready to have a baby at 19, especially because she was in a very, toxic, abusive relationship. And she was just like, I can't do this and made that decision on her own. But again, So fear of the stigma disappointment that we might have towards her when we did finally find out She was experiencing some complications and some pain She was going to the hospital, but they were checking her out and just sending her home She went three times and the second time she went by ambulance and they still sent her home but they sent her home with a bottle of highly addictive pain medication, which I just think is wild. And I know that's a common thing that doctors can do these days. Then 24 hours later she came back in full-blown sepsis and just dying. And then, and it just, it happens so, so rapidly And once that onset of sepsis occurs, you only have so many hours before it can kill you. It was crazy hearing this all on the phone, like, how did this transpire from her just getting checked out, making sure everything's okay, to now, like, she went into cardiac arrest due to the sepsis.

Dr. Dean:

mm-Hmm.

Kassy Bowes:

I just couldn't believe that something that is so easily accessible and something that, a lot of women in Canada take part in, that this could happen to her, like a 19 year old little girl. So there's still so many questions I have about surrounding this and what happened, and there's so much uncertainty with the results of what transpired after her medical records. It was hard to detect, exactly what that infection was, but a lot of them guessed that it was due to this rare infection that can occur by taking this pill. It's a really rare infection, and It's proven almost fatal and only one woman has actually ever survived from it. It's a different kind of sepsis. You don't get a fever. So really her only symptoms that she had was a high heart rate and low blood pressure. Even her blood work, everything was normal the second day she came in. And then completely a 180 when she came in 24 hours later. They couldn't believe how drastic her levels had changed from when she came in last. She went downhill really fast There's so many questions I have, that still haunt me and sit with me to this day and it's Why didn't she call anyone? Like, why didn't she, why didn't she call any of us and tell us, this was happening to her? She didn't call, myself or our mom or anything. She just tried to deal with this all on her own. And it was during COVID, so no one was there to advocate on her behalf. And it was just, it was tragic. It was just horrible the way that everything happened. And she was alone. She was alone in that hospital when all this was happening. And no one was really explaining to her what was happening to her. There was no general saying Hey, honey, like you have sepsis. You should probably call someone and tell someone because this is very serious. And I just felt like that message wasn't given to her in any sort of way so that she could make that decision. Because I just, I keep sitting there thinking I hate that I was there when she was already in a coma. I hate that I didn't have any last words or talk to her. It kind of leads into the guilt. I still feel this guilt because her and I were. of course, bickering about, her making these decisions and staying in this relationship with this awful person that was just not good to her. And, so I sit there going these were my last words to her. her and I arguing and her telling me, you need to let me make my own decisions and if it backfires on me. So be it. Those were her last words to me, and they'll haunt me forever, I hate that I wasn't there before she went unconscious to talk to her, and tell her how much I loved her, and I know she knew that, and I know, sitting back, looking at that, I know she knew that, but, It was very hard to, to deal with and accept that those were our last words to each other.

Dr. Dean:

It sounds like you didn't know the medical abortion was happening.

Kassy Bowes:

Yeah, we knew afterwards what it was. Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

The words she said to you was that related to decisions about her relationship with her partner? yea yea

Kassy Bowes:

I said, just give me a year, come live with us She was from Toronto area. That's where we grew up. But I lived in Niagara, and I said, come live with us, We bought a house recently, that year, come live with us for a year, if you want to go back, if you want to be with him, then by all means go back, even six months, I said, just come down here, don't have to pay for anything, you can come to school, not come to school, just give it a chance, I wanted to get her away from that life that we grew up living. It was a rough neighborhood that we grew up in. Our family wasn't the greatest. I just wanted to get her away from that and see the potential that she had to just live a great, extraordinary life. When you grow up in homes that are toxic and there's a lot of domestic violence and stuff like that, we tend to be drawn to and be attracted to relationships that remind us of that. and I just, I feel like that's what happened with her. She got really pulled into thinking that's what felt most comfortable for her. And that's what she wanted. And she was a helper. She wanted to help save people. That's the kind of person she was. And I feel guilty cause I'm like, if I maybe bought my house a year sooner before she met this person, maybe she would have come and lived with me. Maybe I could have gotten here sooner. Maybe I could have done something to prevent this from happening. And I go over this storyline in my head all the time. I find myself getting stuck there and living in this fantasy of what life could have been like if she had just come down here. mm hmm

Dr. Dean:

So that what if game that you're playing, let's normalize that we've all done that to some extent. Especially, I think, many of us, not all of us, but many of us have done that with sibling loss for sure. Are there things that you wish she had known about that support that you could have offered or that advocacy that you are wishing you would have been able to do?

Kassy Bowes:

I mean she definitely knew there was always a place for her always. I always had a room here and she always came to visit and when we bought her house She came to visit and I just I noticed that after she met this guy that she was with, I started losing who she was. She'd come down here and she wouldn't want to hang out with us, she'd just want to sit outside and smoke weed the whole time and that just wasn't, that just wasn't like her, that wasn't like my sister and, She always knew how to have a good time and have fun, but she'd always want to hang out with my husband and I and we'd go and do stuff like go karting and golfing and go on all these fun adventures. I started to lose the piece of her that wanted to do all those fun things. I started to not recognize who she was and I tried my best to hold onto what she was and make her realize that she was just such a good person and she had so much to offer to the world, and she was just getting stuck with this group of people you become the five people you hang around with the most like that saying it's just that and she was hanging around with people that just weren't, didn't have real goals in life and kind of just wanted to stay doing what they were doing. It was tough. It was tough to watch that unfold and watch that happen. And I knew that was due largely to what happened with the pandemic, a lot of kids lost their drive and wanting to do something. It really has had a huge effect. on youth. with all that kind of together interweaved, it was just, I was losing my sister and, and losing the relationship that we had. It was, yeah, it was really hard.

Dr. Dean:

What year did she die?

Kassy Bowes:

2022.

Dr. Dean:

Okay. So, still the pandemic. I think your limitations on the pandemic were longer

Kassy Bowes:

We were shut down. Yeah, we were shut down for a long time, like on and off, like shut down for a very long time. she didn't have a grade 12 graduation, didn't have an 18th birthday, so I had to throw a little mini party for her just on her own because she didn't get to have any of that.

Dr. Dean:

right. Where are you with grieving now? I mean, it's not been that long.

Kassy Bowes:

No, Honestly, I cry still every single day. I don't think that'll ever, I, people say it'll fade and people say you'll be less sad, but Man, like, when it first happened, I just thought, like, how is life, ever even gonna, am I ever even gonna laugh again? Am I ever gonna laugh? Am I ever gonna smile? And then when I would laugh, I'd feel guilty. And, even still, I'll be doing something and enjoying myself and then, it'll click. Rheanna's not here. This is not okay. I shouldn't be having fun. I shouldn't be living a life without her. I'm still very much in it. I'm very much right in the middle of it. And it's been a lot of back and forth. some days I just, it's really hard for me to even want to function. And and then other days it's okay. But. It's like a part of me doesn't want it to be okay. I don't want it to get better. I feel like by not being debilitating upset about it, that she's now drifting further from my memory or that she's drifting further away from me and that time is passing by faster and faster. I do that I get stuck sometimes in the future and I can't believe because of how young she was I'm gonna spend more of my life missing her than knowing her because of how young she was and I'm going to be it's going to be a really rude awakening when that day finally comes. It's going to be crazy because I would have missed her longer than she's been alive. I get stuck in these awful thinking traps all the time. and I'm still very much in it. I'm very much in the thick of it. I go to counselling, on medication because I was on medication even before she passed, but, and I was going to try to start coming off of it. And then, of course, when she passed, I was like, nope. that's not happening. and it was very hard. And it's, It's, I don't think people talk about it enough, but the own mental health that happens to us, suicidal ideation, like, all that stuff, it was very intensive when she first died, because I was like, that, she was my everything. She was I always say, my world, she was my world, and she was just, gone, just like that. I used to have nightmares, even before she passed, about her dying, because it was just, I had such a fear of losing her, because she was everything. And at the beginning, it was very difficult, I didn't trust myself driving, I couldn't listen to music. It was so much I couldn't do, I, even podcasts that I loved listening to, to help distract my mind, I listened to murder podcasts, and that was not a good idea, because then I, my nightmares merged with the podcast, and then it was just awful, I was having terrible nightmares about serial killers kidnapping her and killing her and it was just oh, it was horrible. So I was like, I can't even do that. So now I'm just sitting in this car driving with nothing on no music. Just like Nothing and just thinking about her and it was very hard. I managed to get through those first critical few months because I didn't feel safe with myself at times, cuz I just I couldn't imagine living in a world where she wasn't in it, I'm at a good place now, but

Dr. Dean:

yeah. You brought up a good point around. I think you said feeling less sad or something along those lines, and I don't know if that's necessarily what happens. There's an internet meme that draws this where it's grief is a black ball and then that stays the same but the jar gets bigger. And I think the idea is that we learn to live with the grief, and it has its place but it stays painful. Of course.

Kassy Bowes:

yeah, and It's weird because then it's am I ever going to be like, I don't think I'll ever, I think I can be the same person after a loss like that but I feel like, will I ever be able to fully enjoy things being in the back of my mind all the time. That's not fair, that she's not here and that she's not doing this or that she's not able to get married one day or have kids or, be an aunt to my husband and I's future kids. And those are all little things that I'm so sad and upset that she's going to miss out on. It's just, every happy moment in life that I have to come or every milestone, there's just going to be this tiny black cloud over it. It's always just going to be there in the background, like it's always dark cloud. Yeah, it's just, it's the kind of thing that I don't wish upon on anybody.

Dr. Dean:

Right. What was it like to be at your wedding without her there?

Kassy Bowes:

It was hard. We were right in the middle of planning our wedding when she passed and, I actually had my wedding dresses. fitting for her to come and join me and she had it booked in her calendar and she was so excited to come to it. Even on that day, I was just a bawling mess. I was crying my eyes out and was just a very heavy emotional day and then my now husband said to me, I have an idea of how we can honour her at our wedding and I wanted to be very careful on how we did this because I I already was so like deep in my grief and of course I would, if I could, I'd memorialise my whole wedding to her, like I really, because I was so in it. I wanted to be very careful on how I did it because I didn't want it to be a memorial for my sister at our wedding, so it had to be done right and it has to be done in essence of her. So husband said, I still think we should buy a bridesmaid dress for your sister. I still think we should have one. And, I had a guy stand in my wedding and he was in my sister's life since she was a baby. and he was going to walk her down the aisle. That was always the plan. So instead, he would then walk her dress down the aisle and hang it, at the end of my bridesmaid row. And there was a chair with a pole up the back for the dress to be hung. And on the chair, it was a picture of her and a bouquet of flowers that I got for her, a smaller bouquet. And that's the way I honored her and had the dress walked down. It was very beautiful and, it was just done right. But that day when I woke up, It was crazy because it was actually stormy a little bit outside and I'm like, oh my gosh, no rain, please no rain. It's outside. I don't want it to rain. And it rained just like a tiny little bit. It was like a sprinkle of rain and my bridesmaid said to me it's your sister crying because she can't be there. And, it's just her shedding a tear to let you know that she's sad that she's not there, but then she brought the sunshine and it was hot, very hot, beautiful sun, and everyone said, that's your sister, that's her, it was her showing you that she was sad she couldn't be there, but she was going to make it a perfect day for you. It was just hard, and I thought about her a lot, and I did mention her a little bit in my thank you speech and, but again, I try not to do too much because I know it's a sensitive topic for people. People don't really know how to take that and how to receive something like that, especially losing someone so young like that. People get so awkward in conversations when I talk about her, but all I want to do, all I want to do is talk about her. I love talking about her, even if I'm crying, it's okay, I don't mind as long as it doesn't make the other person uncomfortable. I want to talk about her all the time because I never want anyone to forget her and not know what she was like.

Dr. Dean:

Well, it sounds like it was, a beautiful way to honor her. Yeah. I wonder how much you hold back from talking about her if people feel uncomfortable.

Kassy Bowes:

it's hard. I'm definitely an open book. I'll bring her up at any point and you can tell people will get a little awkward about it. And I just, I name it. I'm like, look, I know this is an uncomfortable conversation and I know people get really awkward by this. And honestly, you don't need to give me any advice to make me feel better. That's not what I'm looking for. You could just say to me, that really sucks. And that's all you need to tell me. and that's that's enough. and I think for me, like I've never had such a deep loss like this. So even in my own practice as a social worker, now it's you almost think about all the times that maybe you put your foot in your mouth before saying something to someone and you don't realize that it can come off as not arrogant or rude, but just not what that person needs to hear at that time, Because grief is just different, especially therapy with grief. The therapy's not there to help. fix everything and fix this. it's more just like helping you navigate through this. There's nothing that's going to take this pain away. Like it's so intensive. It's especially right in the beginning, no amount of therapy can lessen that pain. It is such a intense pain that you have to just get through and just be in it and it's you need to do whatever you have to at that time to just to be in it and move through it. It's so hard and it's so difficult. Those first six months, even longer, it's just, it's hard. It's very, very hard. I just wish that there was a magic wand.

Dr. Dean:

Well, thank you for that. yeah, I wish there was too. And I really appreciate that perspective because I think people do approach this thinking, well, I have to fix this. You can't fix this unless you can bring the person back. Nobody can bring your sister back. Right. Nobody can bring my brother back. That's just. unfortunately, not how life and death work. And I think grief therapy and grief counseling play a role in helping people learn to process and navigate that. I'm curious though, because you're in Canada and I don't know as much about the Canadian healthcare system other than what I know from my relatives. How does behavioral health or mental health work as far as counseling and grief go?

Kassy Bowes:

it's not the best. It's not the best. It's it can definitely have lots of room for improvement. it's waitlists are long if you want it covered, right? So if you have work and you have benefits and benefits to cover the cost of private health care private practice it can go a long way, but it is very, it's very hard at getting a, psychiatrist here or any other kind of mental health support. We're really actually lucky in Niagara. We have, an association called Hospice Niagara. They're truly wonderful. And, people think, oh, hospice, it's only for families that have dealt with a person that have passed away from cancer, but no, not at all. It's, They offer grief support for anybody who's grieving anybody. it's individual, they have group, they have art therapy for kids. They've got walks, grief walks you can do with a group of adults. And you get in really fast with that organization because it's just here in Niagara and they call you back within a week or two. They're really great. We do have a lot of great resources here in the area. I can't speak for much of where else in Ontario that we have, but, it's hard. It's hard to access, health care and mental health supports, when health care is free. Everyone says, Canada is so great because health care is free and we don't have to pay for it. But we pay for it in the long run that you might die before your appointment, before you get referred to someone, The wait lists are extraordinary long, even to get a family doctor, it's a long wait list, And to me, at this point, I'd rather just, and that's what I do. I pay out of pocket for support and it's sad because, that's not equal for all who can't afford it. And it's yeah. That's an interesting power dynamic that's happening here.

Dr. Dean:

What's interesting here in the U. S. where, we don't have the same type of healthcare system, but the wait lists are still very long to get in for mental health, and it's starting to happen in other, medical domains as well, that it's even with private insurance, you're still waiting months

Kassy Bowes:

So it's happening everywhere. I'm sure that has something to do with COVID.

Dr. Dean:

Oh, I hear. Absolutely. yeah, for

Kassy Bowes:

Yeah,

Dr. Dean:

I'm wondering if with the way that she died with the abortion, if that has also added to stigma or discussions with people around avoiding talking about her death or her.

Kassy Bowes:

I mean it's to be honest like I think sometimes it's me that even gets a little bit hesitant on saying because people always say Well, like how did she die like 19? Everyone wants to know like how does a 19 year old die and I say that she died From abdominal sepsis and then depending on the person and if I know their views I'll say but some people that I know that have very Christian Catholic backgrounds where I'm like Yeah, she just had this really rare infection in her stomach and I just try not to have any more, leading questions from that, but it is, it's always a taboo subject, but at the same time, I want to try and spread this awareness to as many people as I can, because people need to be aware of the signs, people need to know, that there are risks with taking this pill, because it's being shown as the safer method of having an abortion, and I want people to know that there are still risks with these safer methods, quote unquote, right? I need people to know that this is a real risk that can happen and what things you need to look for and how you can advocate for yourself in the healthcare system because being a woman in general, and I, that's outside of, the LGBT community and, the black community and just so many other, indigenous community, how, we all just get treated not so well in the, in the healthcare system. As in even just a white woman, you can't, you're being labeled as an hysterical woman or looking for drugs or whatever that may be. It's really hard being a woman in a man's world, and unfortunately all the doctors that my sister saw were men, and they were just wanting to say, Oh, and I always told my sister and I feel like, again, this was the thing I feel guilty for, but I told her always be honest with medical professionals. You tell them if you're using drugs recreationally, tell them how much you drink on a weekly basis. I said, you need to tell them all these things so they can get an accurate assessment and know how to best treat you. And, when I went, when I looked at her medical stuff. She's told them exactly. Yes. I use drugs recreationally. And yes, I drink sometimes a couple of days occasionally during the week. And I almost felt like that did a disservice to her. I almost felt like this doctor looked at her and said, Oh, an unresponsible teen girl who does drugs recreationally got an abortion. and now she's here looking for pain medication. That's what I feel like happened to her. And, Because that's just, unfortunately, the stigma that still strongly exists here, and I just feel like she wasn't given a fair shot at treatment.

Dr. Dean:

Right. And I think, here, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U. S., I think, people used to come from Canada to access abortion because even though you have access to it was easier to come here to access abortion. And now, in our news, even yesterday, the day before recording this, there was information on the pill, And I can't pronounce it, so I'm not going to try, the abortion pills. And so I think this could potentially, this information and this loss of your sister could be. used, or the types of loss from, that she died from with this infection could be used on either side to make a case. And I don't want this episode to be that because I really want, to focus on what it's been like for you to be a sibling loss survivor.

Kassy Bowes:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

regardless of that, but I was just, I was the stigma around abortion is it's so polarizing the topic of abortion that,

Kassy Bowes:

It really is,

Dr. Dean:

sounds like it's affected you.

Kassy Bowes:

yeah. Well, and it's just something that I never, for me, it was like, oh, you've always heard people going through this, and, Women getting abortions and it was never something that was oh, this could be potentially dangerous and actually hurt someone, right? so it was just, there still are just risks with anything, like risk with taking Advil, risk with taking Tylenol. there's always a risk, right? It was just something that you just don't expect.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. the argument then is There's also a risk of having a baby of But, and I'm again, not here to argue that

Kassy Bowes:

yeah, I know, right? There's risks with everything.

Dr. Dean:

yeah, but what I also hear you saying is that you weren't able to advocate for her because you didn't know. There was such shame and she wasn't sharing that with you, but in a different setting, it sounds like you would have been there to help her advocate for herself. And that's where I hear the guilt.

Kassy Bowes:

And that's the piece. That's the guilt. That's the piece that I just I replay in my head all the time is if I could just go back and she just told me I could have went there I could have taken her to a different hospital or I could have went there and I could have advocated on her behalf and I could have done this and I couldn't done that and it was just yeah it's just it's a vicious it's a vicious game that you play with yourself and that what if game is by far the worst one it's I try to stop myself from doing it because it really does actually do more damage and it hurts I do have strategies that I use to try and help me through it. Sometimes just crying it out is really helpful for me. And just being sad and looking at videos and pictures of her and just being in that moment with her. And that's sometimes what I need. Other times it's being really crafty and making something or doing something to honor her in some sort of way or making something like I have all of her clothes from when she passed and I'm learning how to quilt so I want to like make a quilt with all of her clothes and do something and you know when we have children I have all these ideas of how I want to incorporate little things of her into that and just always have her be a part of our lives and that our kids will always know who their auntie Rihanna is or auntie Riri. Her nickname was Riri. I need them to know who she was and that she was a great person and that she would have been an incredible aunt. so yeah, I just I try to take that grief and I try to put it into things that are good and that would represent her. I'm still learning it. I'm still trying to figure it out. And I know if I do too much, I'll burn out. But, I'm always trying to find ways to honour her. And when she passed, we had her cremated. so I actually had some of her ashes made into jewellery for all the family members and her closest friends. So I made sure, I did something like that. So I have a ring and her friends have a necklace of her. It's just something that always carry us close and even on our honeymoon I took some of her ashes with me and I spread them all over where we went on our honeymoon and all different places And I just I do stuff like that in a way of helping me cope through it and it really does help

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, so I think that's important to continue that relationship with her, right? The continuing bond as it's sometimes called. And you're spot on as to let yourself feel that and find the compassion around. I'm just going to sit in this moment because the what if isn't going to help, right? so that awareness

Kassy Bowes:

no, You've got a ride the wave Mm

Dr. Dean:

For sure. And it's hard. It's hard to ride the wave'cause we want to fix it ourselves. We can't, but we want to.

Kassy Bowes:

Yeah. Oh, yeah, I talk to her all the time. It just helps I'll go outside and I'll talk to the sky at night when there's stars in the sky. I really struggled with my own beliefs, you know prior to my sister passing and I always grew up. I always had a strong fear of death it's always been something that I've struggled with that I've you know go to counseling for and I always had a fear of death and Then when she died it was like, okay. Well, what if there's nothing what if I never see her again? That's it, lights out, that's the end of her and us, and it was very hard for me to wrap my head around, and I could no longer sit in this belief that there was nothing after death, and that's what I chronically believed before is that there was nothing and that's why I feared it so much. But that was no longer an option for me when she passed because I was like, this isn't this isn't helpful for me. I need to do something. I need to believe in something. I don't care what it is, but I can't sit in this belief that there's absolutely it's not helping me on this grief journey. So even through counseling, it helped, but it still wasn't enough for me. Like it, it just wasn't what I needed. And so someone said, well, have you tried going to a medium? And I have seen one before in the past. And, I did go to one When I go to these things, I make it impossible for them to read me. I cover everything up. Sometimes I don't give them my last name. Like I make it impossible for them, you know? But, she said things that no one would knew about my sister. And people can take that for what it is and say that people can twist things in a way. But she said things that just will stay with me forever. And it gave me that little glimmer of hope. That there might be something and I'm okay with that. I'm okay with believing in a sliver of something. Cause it has to be something. Cause I can't live with the complete, belief that there's nothing. And there's been some crazy signs I've received from her since passing. Even on our wedding day. So many things have happened and it just gives me a little bit of hope that I can continue to carry on with the hope that we'll be together again, some way or in some shape way, or form of energy, whatever that may be. It's, it was just that little thing that I needed extra to help me along with my journey. and I do, I do say to anybody, if that's something that they're open to doing, do it because it can really help. It can really help if that's, if you're really stuck in your journey.

Dr. Dean:

You're a social worker with children?

Kassy Bowes:

Yes. Yes.

Dr. Dean:

Has. Your grief and loss changed how you do your work?

Kassy Bowes:

Oh, especially with kids who have lost someone themselves. I just understand it a lot better. It's weird. Like when you hear about someone passing or someone else losing someone, you go, Oh my gosh, that's horrible. You empathize with them, but really until you're in it and you go through something like that, no, you really had no idea what that person was feeling and what they were going through, no measure whatsoever. So yeah, you could feel bad for someone, but until you experience it, It's just a whole other level and it's just it's made me feel a lot more connected To the students that I work with and It's just it helps me just be a better social worker for them and help them navigate through that and help link them to services that they actually might find helpful. Rather than just saying, it's okay, you'll get through it. just hold on. I'm able to better wrap my head around how to best support them and their family and connecting them to the services that they need that they might not be able to ask for.

Dr. Dean:

Are there things that you wish people knew about sibling loss that you had no idea until you experienced it?

Kassy Bowes:

I just didn't know, it would hurt this bad, but it was just, I didn't realize, how much people want to always say, well, how's the parents, and I know that's like a common thing that I hear on here is that, siblings saying that, everyone's always asking how the parents are, but yet you're sitting here, I lost someone really important too, and it was, you definitely feel that. And also, depending on where your relationship was with your sibling, I didn't realize how quickly you have to plan things when a person passes. You're in so much pain, so much physical pain. And it was like, okay, but you need to do this. You need to plan the funeral. You need to hand in all their documents. You need to do all the stuff with the government. You need to close their bank account. You need to do all these things. And I'm like, this person just died. This person who was such an important person to me just died and now you're telling me I have to do all of these things and I have no time to even process any of it. it's just nope, you got to do this. Boom. They're labeled deceased. it's just it hasn't even set in yet that they're gone. And here I am getting a death certificate for her, and it was, I did, I played a huge role. It was solely me that really took on that role of planning the funeral and doing all that because, our mom and her dad just couldn't feasibly do that. It was a lot of work that went into making this day. special to honor her in the way that she deserved. And that was something that was really hard for me to do. I wasn't prepared for by any means necessary. and Everyone's like, you know, they have people that do that like the funeral director, you can just send them pictures and they'll put together a little thing. I'm like, no, they're not going to do it. They're not going to honor her properly. I need to be the one to do this. And I just took on this. and I think as much as it's a lot, it can be really therapeutic for anyone who's going through something like this, to take on such an important responsibility and planning that, it really helped move through it, because It gave you something to do. It gave you a purpose to give something so special to them. And to honor them in the best way possible. So, if anyone out there has lost someone, try to stay busy in that beginning period of doing something for them in memory of them, because it does help.

Dr. Dean:

I would add to that, too. For me, I was the one putting together the slideshow, all the pictures and whatever. It one, gave me something to do, like you said, and it helped me feel that connection that I suddenly was like, I don't have. it helped build a foundation for That connection, like looking through all the photos, And

Kassy Bowes:

Yeah. Oh my God. Her friends like sent me everything. Yeah. Like you get everyone sending you everything, and just Seeing her in all of her glory and watching her just be her quirky self and thank gosh for them living in the digital times where they videotaped everything. I had her friends sending hundreds of videos and photos and, those are things that I'm just so thankful for because I just sift through them all the time. If I want to be with her and just sit with her, I just go through those videos and they're who she was That was her authentic self and it was just it's amazing to really see that

Dr. Dean:

Are there other things that you wanted to talk about that we haven't talked about?

Kassy Bowes:

My heart goes out to anyone who's lost a sibling out there because It is, it's different. It's just so different in terms of the reaction you get from people and work, can we just even talk about work and how they don't acknowledge, three, I don't know about in the States, how many, grief days you get, but it's measured based on your relationship to that person. What the hell is that? Like, how is your days given to you measured by your relationship to that person? yeah. It just doesn't make any sense to me. oh, if it's a husband or a child, you get five days. Cause you know, five days, you'll be fine. By five days after losing a child or husband, you'll be okay. And then for siblings, it's three days. Like just to me, that's just like absolutely insane. I can't believe that's how that's measured. I think it should just be a one number for all, like one number, just pick a number and yes, obviously people are going to need to go beyond that if needed, which many do I don't know, five days is not enough. But at least it's just a number that doesn't have to compare relationships to grief. That's just not, I don't agree with, I don't agree with that. So that was, that needs change.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. Well, I've been recently looking into this around various countries. Is it in Canada? And I don't remember, but in Canada, is that law, the bereavement? Leave?

Kassy Bowes:

I think like labor, like maybe it has to do with labor laws. It's a good question. I know it's a standard for across, a lot of works have it. So I'm assuming there must be some kind of, Law in there that states that. That's actually very interesting that I'd like to look into myself because it's definitely one that I feel like needs to be reviewed because I don't think that it should be measured based on what family member it was to you, like this tiered system.

Dr. Dean:

Here in the U. S. it is not law. There is, I think, one or two states where it is law, but across the board, it's not law. it's really by employer and if you're full time or part time or benefits and various things. And it is also more blanketed. It's usually two to three days. Now that's general,

Kassy Bowes:

Geez.

Dr. Dean:

in some places it is based on relationship. I know that, Oregon has a law and it is based on the relationship and how many days you get based. And as you're pointing out, that's ludicrous.

Kassy Bowes:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

the fact that we're like three days or five days, like we're talking, it's ludicrous. Not even a year, for you?

Kassy Bowes:

yeah.

Dr. Dean:

you're still, you're always going to be grieving, but it's still hard, right? To go to work and function.

Kassy Bowes:

It helped going back to work. it did help me. And then that's a personal preference. I know everyone needs to handle that, their own way. And, for me, it gave me something to do and get my mind off of thinking about her. Cause all I was doing was thinking about her all the time from the moment I'd wake up to the moment I go to sleep. And yes, even when I was at work, she'd pop up, of course, but it gave me a sense of purpose, something to do every day. Cause then when summer came and I had the summer off, it was awful. It was terrible. I was just sitting there in that grief. I couldn't function. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't do anything. It was worse being off. And even though it's been a year, this summer has been really hard on me. Anxiety has been increasing, the low motivation has been kicking in because I'm not doing anything. I don't have a routine. And every mental health expert can say, we all rely on routine and scheduling and purpose. So when you don't have that structure or routine come summer, you could really start to lose yourself and unravel a little bit.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. For sure. Before we wrap up, I'm wondering if there's a couple favorite memories that you wanted to share.

Kassy Bowes:

Yeah, I have lots. especially the one that I highlighted before about her always coming to sleep in my room, that's, that will always be my most favorite. But, other ones, I remember my friend and I were in charge of babysitting her for the night and we duct taped her to a wall.

Dr. Dean:

Oh.

Kassy Bowes:

And she stayed up and she willingly was like, yeah, duct tape me to a wall. She was so pumped for it. And I remember because when we took the chair away that she was standing on, she was like held up on the wall with duct tape, and she would, she just slowly started to peel off the wall, and along with her came the paint, and it was not good, and we were in a lot of trouble, but that was definitely one of my top favorites and another one would be when she was little, Blue's Clues was really a thing and I did a whole Blue's Clues adventure, She'd have to find Blue's paw prints all over the house and find the clues to solve the mystery or solve whatever thing that I had going on for her. those are just some of the things that I think of that we did together that will always stay in my memory and, she did go through a period of time in high school where she was really anxious, too anxious to go to school. and, our mom worked shift work and, she, she didn't have time or energy or drive to really want to help her through that. So I would get on the phone with her every single morning. I'd coax her through it. I talked to her and say you can do this. I'd send her text messages every morning. and she'd be so anxious to the point where she'd be like sick, like actually throwing up. It was a really rough couple of years for her and we managed to get her through that. And she ended up graduating high school on time and everything. But it was a really hard time for her. And the reason why I say it's one of my favorite memories Is because like her and I just we're able to share this experience on a deeper level. Cause I also experienced chronic anxiety. And it was so nice to for us to share this because no one knew what it was like. Our parents didn't know or didn't understand. And they just didn't have the patience to help us through it. So now that I was at a place where I could help her, I was able to direct her and give her strategies on how to deal with it. And I just remember we were on a plane coming back from Cuba, and she was so sick and feeling anxious, and I just remember her head was in my lap, and I was just brushing her hair, and I just telling her it's okay, if you're gonna be sick, it's okay if you're gonna be sick, and I was just helping her through it, and Yeah, it was just, she was like my little baby. That's even when I said, when she was like, when I first came into the room, when she was in a coma, I just, I dropped my knees and I just kept saying my baby, my baby, that's that's my baby. And I still to this day, that's who she was to me. She was my little baby that I just loved so, so, so, so much. And, yeah, those memories I will treasure forever. And there's still so many more that I could share, millions of more.

Dr. Dean:

You can share as many as

Kassy Bowes:

but those are just some of my,

Dr. Dean:

I'd love to hear more

Kassy Bowes:

those are just some of my, yeah, she's just, she was just so funny. She was not afraid to be herself at all. was not ladylike whatsoever. She was just so funny, would fart in public and not even care, She was just that kind of person, Her friends, if they listen to this, they'll laugh because they know, that's just who she was., She just, she didn't care, and she was so funny, and, She was just so like wild with her movements and make all these funny sound effects. And yeah, she's just She was such an old soul. And I mean I didn't even I didn't even mention this today but she was really close with her dad's mom. So we didn't have the same dad, but she was really close with her nanny. They had a very special bond her and her nanny and they were just so so close Her nanny died seven days, a week after she did. Just massive heart attack. Died, right after my sister did. And, we all say, that was, it was from a broken heart. she didn't have a good heart to begin with. And that was just, the last straw with her. And, one thing I did say in my eulogy for her was just that, Rheanna didn't have anyone up there to watch out for her. If there isn't up there, if there is a heaven, whatever that may be, she doesn't have anyone to watch out for. But now, I feel a little bit of comfort knowing that she has her nanny with her, a person that she just loved and adored so much. And it was wild because all the things that my sister loved, started disappearing or dying afterwards. Her cat passed away, right after she did too. It was just such a weird thing. It's like she took everything that was important to her with her. like the ones that she could anyways. She just took with her and... Our dog passed away like before she did a little bit, our family dog, and it was just like, just wild that she just has all these things that were precious to her and, but yeah, she was just such a good kid. She was such a good kid and it was just really hard to see her start to go down a path that was just not who she was, and it was, I know it can happen. You hear a family say it all the time. They were such a good kid. I don't know what happened. And they just started going down this path, but she truly was such a vulnerable person. She was vulnerable to people having this influence on her. I always worried about her as a little girl because I was like, man, you gotta be strong, you gotta be tough, you gotta stand up to people, backbone, but she wasn't like that at all. She would always shy away from conflict. She always just wanted to make everyone happy and was a people pleaser. She would never want to step on anybody's toes whatsoever. That's just, wasn't her cup of tea. And her best way was just to slide into the background of a crowd, never wanted to be the center of attention. And even I had a mini wake, I had a mini wake for her, just me, our close family and friends, and that was it. And I just remember standing there and I just remember saying to the person next to me, and I think it was the first time that I made a joke since she passed. And I said, she would absolutely freaking hate this. right now, she would just absolutely hate that we are standing here staring at her right now. This is not what she would want. I just I just said it out loud. this is a terrible idea. She would hate this. And like, funerals really, at the end of the day, I know they're for the living. They're not for the dead. But I just, I couldn't help but think that, She would absolutely hate this. she'd be like, oh my gosh, stop looking at me right now. But that's just who she was, right? just never wanted to be the center of attention. She was, she was a shy girl.

Dr. Dean:

Well, thank you for sharing. I feel like I know a little bit more about her or know her a little bit. So thank you so much. And thanks for joining me

Kassy Bowes:

you're welcome.

Dr. Dean:

Thanks,

Kassy Bowes:

Angela

Dr. Dean:

You're welcome. Thank you so much for listening. Our theme song was written by Joe Mylwood and Brian Dean, and was performed by Joe Mylwood. 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 follow, subscribe, and share. Thanks again.

Introduction
About Rheanna
Their Relationship
Losing Rheanna
Regret & Guilt
The What If Game
Where Kassy is with Her Grief Now
The Ever Present Black Cloud of Grief
Honoring Rheanna at Kassy's Wedding
When Others Feel Awkward With Talking About Kassy
Kassy's Thoughts on Grief Therapy
Finding Professional Care & Support
Dual Disenfranchised Losses: Sibling Loss & Abortion Complication
Coping Strategies & Continuing Bonds with Rheanna
Changing Beliefs After Losing Rheanna
How Losing Rheanna Changed Kassy's Work
Sibling Loss Hurts So Bad
Bereavement Leave
Working as Kassy's Healthy Distraction
Favorite Memories