The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss

Sibling Loss, Organ Donation, & a Sister's Grief: Kelly / Josh

December 06, 2023 Dr. Angela Dean / Kelly Stiffler Season 3 Episode 6
The Broken Pack™: Stories of Adult Sibling Loss
Sibling Loss, Organ Donation, & a Sister's Grief: Kelly / Josh
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Sibling Loss and Organ Donation: A Conversation with Kelly Stiffler

In this episode, Dr. Dean speaks with Kelly Stiffler about losing her younger brother, Josh, from a seizure. Josh was an organ donor and Kelly shares how this loss has affected her and the family.  We also explore how different roles and relationships mean grieving the same person differently, including how she is grieving differently from her sister, Kate who we heard from in the first episode of this season.

Dr. Dean and Kelly discuss how therapy can be a valuable resource to process sibling loss and a safe and supportive space to talk about her grief. They also discuss the physical symptoms of grief, emotional exhaustion, and brain fog.

To learn more about organ and tissue donation and to become a donor, please see:

In the US:
1. Donate Life America: https://donatelife.net

2. United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) - https://unos.org/transplant/facts/

For a list of organ donation organizations and informationby regions in the world, please see https://tts.org/isodp-resources/isodp-organ-donation-societies

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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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. Today I spoke to Kelly about losing her brother suddenly to a medical incident. He was an organ donor, his name is Josh, and this story may sound familiar, as I spoke with her sister earlier this season. What's interesting is to hear the differences and how Kelly grieved from her sister Kate, so take a listen, but also know that we do plan to bring them together and have a conversation next season about how they're different and how they're doing now. Hello and welcome to the show. I will let you introduce yourself.

Kelly Stiffler:

Okay, I'm Kelly Stifler. I am a teacher, a mom to a 14 year old just recently. lover of sports and all things, I guess.

Dr. Dean:

Awesome. What kind of sports? Just outta curiosity.

Kelly Stiffler:

we're currently very much football parent and, wrestling mom.

Dr. Dean:

Fantastic. and obviously a sibling loss survivor as we're here talking today. before we talk about losing your brother, I wondered what you want us to know about Josh.

Kelly Stiffler:

Josh was kind of a crazy kid growing up, loved every minute of just harassing his big sister. I am four years older than him. I remember not so much when he was born. But I remember, the years after that, and, the time he, my mom thought he broke my nose because she wanted two minutes a piece in the bathroom and he swung his musical box rabbit and hit me right smack dab in the face and got me in the nose. And the time that I broke his fingers in the car door, cause he was not where he was supposed to be. And he came behind me to get in the car and he was supposed to be with mom. he never really let me live that down, even though I don't think he was old enough to remember that. but obviously that story had come out multiple times and he always sucked those middle two fingers and those were the middle two fingers I broke. yeah, he didn't let that go very well. and as we grew up. he was just a good big brother to my little sister Katie's 10 years younger than I am six years younger than. Josh, but I remember going to something in eighth grade and my mom having to like hire one of the neighbor boys to babysit because she was afraid those two would like just throw down or burn the house down or something. even though Josh was old enough to like stay home for an hour with her they were definitely not in the space to stay home together. Obviously that changed as they got older. But as I went to college and things like that, I knew he was always super proud of me. and he just turned into this like amazing advocate for people. my dad was a special ed teacher and worked in a self contained building until I was a junior in high school. And so I think we grew up with that, Advocacy and, everyone is a person and all humans are humans. And, so he just turned into that, he worked for, an agency that cared for special needs clients. And, so he was a huge advocate, would help parents at schools with IEP meetings and different things. And then, I saw a different side of Josh when my son Kale was born, so that made him an uncle for the first time. And he was just so proud of Kale every time. He talked to him and remember he comes in and he goes, how does your son know what an octagon is? And I was like, I don't know why he goes, I don't know, but he just showed me what an octagon was. And little do I know, two days later I watch and it's, Mickey mouse clubhouse, right? Like I didn't teach him that. So that was much different for me. so he was just all things amazing.

Dr. Dean:

Sounds like a great brother and a great uncle.

Kelly Stiffler:

yeah. And then he became a dad and that changed, then he was even better.

Dr. Dean:

What was your relationship like with him as adults? Because I assume you stopped breaking Bones by accident.

Kelly Stiffler:

we did definitely stop breaking bones by accident. I would say, that typical sibling relationship that you have, and then he was very protective when he knew I had met my husband. I met my husband online. and so then he called my cousin who was a police officer. And he's like, how do we find out if this guy's decent? what do we do? so very protective still, even though, I was older. And then I remember very vividly having a dream that he was, dropped out of school and, making some poor choices and. I hadn't seen him in a while. And I ran into him randomly in a parking lot. And I was like, wait, I need to ask you a question. Are you doing this? And he's no, why? I was like, did you quit school? He's like, how do you know? Don't tell mom and dad. And I was like, okay. And then he's like, how do you know that? I was like, I just had a dream. And I remember you like telling me these things. And he's okay, don't tell mom and dad. I'm not ready to tell them. I'm like, okay, I won't tell them. So that continued and he just really struggled to find his place. Like in schooling school was hard. because not cause he wasn't smart. Cause he's incredibly smart, but because he didn't want to play the game. He didn't want to jump through the hoops. Like, why would I do homework if I know how to do it? so he went back and during the COVID pandemic and probably within the year of him passing, he got his BA degree, from Western. And so that was awesome for him, to have that diploma and that graduation. And then that allowed him to get that final job that he had right before he passed. but we had a great relationship. I would say not every day did we text, but like randomly, that kind of stuff, but definitely text all the time about our kids. Cause you know, then once you watch your brother become a dad, it just changes everything and they had to fight so hard to have the kids. so that was definitely a fun side as we all became parents, I remember when we had kale, we would just take kale to everything. Cause he was like, the first grandchild and then also the first cousin to have a kid that lived locally on my dad's side of the family and I remember about six months into my brother having the twins he's like we were kind of dicks like we went to the breweries we went to the wineries and we just wanted you to bring him with you and you did but like we did not recognize how much harder it is to do this with kids and how maybe that's not the place you want to go so You know, like that self reflection was always a big piece with him.

Dr. Dean:

hmm. thank you for sharing that. what would you like to share about losing him?

Kelly Stiffler:

it was a shock. my little sister was very pregnant and I remember my school is two stories and I was standing upstairs outside, right before school started talking to, some of my colleagues and my phone rang and I looked down and, It was my sister and I was like, Ooh, maybe baby's coming. cause we were close enough that it was definitely safe. It was a little early. and then she shared that he had gone into cardiac arrest, from the sudden medical incident. And, I just was in shock and didn't really know what to do. And was like talking to her on the way down the hall and went down the steps one of the counselors in my buildings like, hey, let's come in here. let's come in here. And so I finished my call with my sister found my principal and my assistant principal. And I'm like, I gotta go. I don't know what's going on. so I got my son and my husband so we went to the Quad Cities and. had to break all the rules because it was still very much COVID time with limits in the hospitals and there was already too many people there and blah, blah, blah. But whatever, I, that's one of the most frustrating pieces of his story is that piece, there can only be two people in there at a time. And I'm like, he's dying. but I know we had to be conscious of the people in the other rooms. So that was hard for all of us. But, my husband jokes that he couldn't believe how well I could tell a lie because the security guard was like, he has to be 14. And I was like, he is, and, he turned 14 last week, so he wasn't clearly 14.

Dr. Dean:

But he knew your brother well.

Kelly Stiffler:

yeah. Oh yeah. fortunately for him, he has all these memories of Josh. Unfortunately for him, his kids and my sister's kids are not going to have the same memories that Kale has.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah.

Kelly Stiffler:

so I feel incredibly blessed as the big sister that he got to spend all that time with him and, they would come up and babysit him sometimes, or, just the times that he did spend with them. so then he was in the hospital for about a week. Because. he always wanted to be an organ donor, I think since 14 on when you register in the state of Iowa to get your permit that was checked. Yes. On his driver's license. I think he was like, if I can't have him, why shouldn't someone else? and so his wife consented to that. And then for those that don't know, that's a super long process. so they have to declare you dead in the hospital. but then keep you alive, obviously, to harvest your

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Kelly Stiffler:

So the incident happened on a Monday, and they didn't harvest his organs till Friday. So that's a lot of like, waiting game and that limbo, and you know he's gone, but physically he's still there. my sister and I have coined that Dead Brother Week. Which some people look at us like we're insane, but you got to do what you got to do to get by. And, all of us have different days of when was his actual final day. So it's that week. And then they were able to find, recipients for his heart and his lungs. and his kidneys, and then obviously bone and tissue as well, and corneas. So that was awesome.

Dr. Dean:

Awesome. And also, like you said, there's a whole week of, you're just waiting. It sounds like.

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah, and I don't know if you weren't super close to us, or checking in with us daily, you may not have even known, what the process that was going on or that kind of thing. and you shut down to a little bit as a family, like my little sister found an Airbnb in the Quad Cities and we just stayed there with her. And her four boys, four now, but her son at the time and her husband and my husband and my kid and my parents live in town, and then our friends from high school that, were around rallied around us and drop stuff off and, tried to help pick up the pieces wherever we could. But yeah, it was, an intense week of lots of questions. It was really important to my parents. They really wanted, him to receive, or for someone to receive his heart. That was really important to my parents. and I have to say the Iowa organ donor network nurses and people that were in the hospital were super fabulous and very aware. And one night I was laying in the Airbnb and my, I got a text and it was like one or two in the morning and she, it was one of the nurses or. I don't know if they were technically a nurse or, but does the organ donation placement on Josh's case. And she's like, are you awake? And I was like, yeah, of course. And so she called and it was the middle of the night. And she's like, Hey, I think we found a match for your brother's heart. And I was like, that's spectacular. She's the only problem is that it will back up. Like we really wanted it done by Friday morning. Like my sister in law was just ready. She was torn between being with her kids and with him. All of us were torn between the two places. And so she's like, but they can't probably be at the hospital until about two. Because something I didn't know is it's very common for the heart surgeons to fly in. And they actually remove the heart and then take it with them. and it has to be with like in a four hour window, or otherwise, the heart isn't good I guess. it had to be like a Midwest person. And that pushed it back to the afternoon and she's like, is that going to be a problem? I can't get a hold of your mom or your sister in law. and I was like, that's good news. That must mean they're both sleeping. So that's fantastic. Cause I don't think they had slept much. And then I was like, no, it's not going to be a problem. You're telling me that. if we are selfish as a family and say that it has to be done by 10 or 11, someone doesn't get a heart and his heart goes in the garbage. no, that's ridiculous. Like we are,

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Kelly Stiffler:

too important. And so like, I just texted everybody after I got off the phone with her and I was like, they found a heart. It's going to push everything back. I told them that was okay. I hope that's okay with you. and that's where we were with that. they did have a liver transplant recipient ready, but then something either on Josh's end or on the recipient, we don't know. It ended up not being viable, but like the kidneys went, the lungs went. And then my sister has written that heart donor and received a letter back and he's got young kids too. So like, how in the world could we knowingly be like. No, we want this done, which, you very much do want it done. but it was a good process.

Dr. Dean:

Were you there when he had his final? I don't know what they call that.

Kelly Stiffler:

The honor walk. Yep. it was much shorter than I anticipated. I don't know in my head, I envisioned it to be parade, like we're going to go through the whole hospital, but you really don't go that far, but it was very

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Kelly Stiffler:

awesome to see all the people out in the halls., I don't know how they do it in all hospitals, but they make an announcement and then you, walk behind him. yeah, it was pretty darn cool to see those people come out and just pay their respects because the heart donor nurses and people there did say, he's a rarity. a lot of times you don't have someone that can donate so many organs and so many things and help save so many

Dr. Dean:

Mm

Kelly Stiffler:

cause essentially when I was talking to her on the phone, the one thing that didn't work for him at that point was his brain, right? Everything else was working with machines.

Dr. Dean:

hmm. Right.

Kelly Stiffler:

it was awful. cause you knew that was last time you were gonna. see his physical body. but he deserves that because he's saving all those people.

Dr. Dean:

yeah.

Kelly Stiffler:

Sorry.

Dr. Dean:

How incredible. Oh, please don't apologize. It seems normal that you would be having emotions talking about that. what was it like in the, days and weeks after that for you? Did you? go back to work or?

Kelly Stiffler:

yeah. So I didn't work that whole entire, like, as we've coined it, dead brother week. And then his memorial service was that following Monday. and then, I didn't go back to work to Day, but I went back to work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I had more time. Like I could have stayed home a little bit longer. but it was spring break that following week. Cause I'm a teacher and I was like, if I don't go back in and do something and just at least see people, I'm going to have a heck of a time going back after another full week off. Cause that would have been three weeks off. So I figured it was a nice, good, soft start to get me. a little bit back to some sort of normalcy. So that was good. I needed that, was it hard and was I just going through the motions? 100%. but it allowed me to show up for my kids, my students to see that I was okay. cause they didn't really have any heads up that I was going to be gone. Cause clearly we didn't. And then, I think people finally told them what was going on, but they wanted to make sure like I was good with that and things like that. I have some incredible notes in my box from students and staff. And if I wasn't in the building that I was in. I don't know if I could have gone back to work, but like they just. pick you up and, make sure you're safe. And, I remember there's a book, it's a great book by, it's called crossover, spoiler alert, the dad dies in it, and goes to the hospital. And I've read that book out loud so many times to kids and we were reading it out loud and I literally. I don't know what, I don't know if it was divine intervention. I didn't read out loud that day and I almost always in my co taught classes offer to read out loud because the teachers have to read it five times and I'm only in there once so let's give you a break but I didn't read it out loud that day which was good and I literally looked at her and I was like I gotta go and I went to the counseling office because it was just the whole, was he going to live? Was he not going to live kind of thing in the book? And although it was this kid's dad and that it was just too fresh, too new. but like knew that and they just, picked up the pieces. I think at home I was unbearable at days. I would guess that my husband and my son would tell you very irritable, quick to snap. And when I finally went to therapy for the first time, my therapist is like, well, that's because they love you and they're still going to be there tomorrow. And you can't do that at work, or you're going to lose your job. And you don't do that to your friends because you still want to have friends. And I was like, Oh, and just that awareness. Of her, telling me that so that like, when I got home, I could try. No, I'm still not perfect by any means. and have better days and weeks than I have, but just try not to be, I only had, he's only in my house five more years before he goes to college. I don't want that relationship to be cruddy because of everything that's happened in my life.

Dr. Dean:

Mhm. I love that you were able to get that perspective. it's sometimes hard to when we're in grief and we don't know why we're irritable, or we might be, but then it comes out in ways that we're unaware. what grade do you teach?

Kelly Stiffler:

teach, so the year that he passed, I. Was a seventh grade special ed teacher. And then I rotate with those kids. So last year I was in eighth grade and then this year I'm back in seventh grade. it'll be interesting to see how it goes. I'm back in the exact same room and the exact same wing. Cause I move rooms every year. So I am back in that exact same location. So it'll be interesting to see how the month of February, March, April, May, June go, cause that will

Dr. Dean:

Mhm.

Kelly Stiffler:

reliving all that trauma,

Dr. Dean:

And he died in 2021.

Kelly Stiffler:

Yes. Yep. It'll be two years in February. or March,

Dr. Dean:

Mhm.

Kelly Stiffler:

you are.

Dr. Dean:

Does your family have different views of that

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

When he died,

Kelly Stiffler:

I think for my sister in law, at least the last time we talked about it, I think hers is like the day that it happened in their home together, where I think my mom's might be either the same as my sister and I's or it also might be she was there. they have to declare you dead. And so she was there during the test to verify that he was dead. And so for her, I could see that it would be that day. cause that's a different day than when they, we said goodbye to him. And so like mine is that day, the last day I like saw his physical body. cause I saw him most days that week. I think I saw him every day that week. So cause on that Monday, then we came back home. I didn't go back to school, but my son went back to school for a couple of days. and then I think they came down either Wednesday or Thursday of that week. And then we all stayed at the Airbnb together. and did some stuff and we went down Tuesday and my sister wasn't there because it's a longer drive for my sister but then we were with my sister in law and my parents when they told the kids that Josh had passed away. we were in the Quad Cities every day that week whether we were staying the night or not. yeah, we do all have I think different. and I don't know what the kids, what her kids, my brother's kids will have is there, I don't know that they have any awareness of the actual timeframe or the day. So I don't know what that will look like for them as they grow older.

Dr. Dean:

we often talk about anniversaries with grief and how that is challenging It sounds like the whole week must be some sort of anniversary.

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah. definitely there's stuff every week and like my, again, my principal. is really great. And so like we talked and, with my therapist about days that we're going to be triggering or days, maybe I wouldn't be my greatest teacher.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm

Kelly Stiffler:

I took that Monday. It ended up being a Tuesday, but I took it that Tuesday this last week, last year off. And then the Friday, and then the Friday I went and spent with my sister. my kid stayed here and went to school. Her kids were in daycare. And then we went and we actually got tattoos together. and so I would assume,

Dr. Dean:

honoring Josh or

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah. Yep. we both got, kiddos and then she had already gotten her cardinal tattoo with her guy and then I wanted one. and I really liked what he did. And so then I got that one as well with him, I didn't have a tattoo till Josh and so it was fun for just the two of us to go. And then when we went out for lunch and then. Rowan is her son and he's all things Aunt Kelly some days and so we had a great time with, just hanging out and playing with him and seeing the baby. yeah, it needed to be done. I think one of the things that maybe Is lost a little bit in sibling grief is you find that you're picking up the pieces for, trying to help your parents or trying to help your sister in law and her kids, and then worrying about your own kid, even though like he apparently is fine, I've stopped asking because he's a middle school kid and whatever he says, he's fine. So hopefully at some point, if he's ever not fine, he'll tell us. yeah. Apparently, according to my counselors, that's a very standard response. it's not here in the moment in his face. So it's not in his brain. And I'm like, okay, I'm glad that he can. I'm glad he can think that way. I can't. so I think that was lost on us. And so that day before I went home on. Whatever the next day was we like sat in her kitchen and she's like, we really haven't talked about Josh you know, you tell stories when we're all together, but so that was really a good empowering time where we had those emotions and talked about that kind of thing. Because, while my parents, my mom was incredibly strong, and I am pretty sure that I would have to be locked up in a mental institution, if it was me. But, you still worry about them. they went and did the funeral arrangements. And so I was like, I'm going to go with you, I don't want you to have to do this by yourself, and things like that. And you just forget to maybe remember that you need to look at him as a sibling sometimes, because you're worried about everyone else, which then, I think makes your grief a thousand times worse when it hits you.

Dr. Dean:

so many people I've talked to talk about, and myself included, that especially in those first few weeks or months, you're very worried about your parents and taking care of them, which kind of reinforces this idea that other people have that our grief is less, but it's not less, it's just different, right? But we somehow also fall into that internalized belief, taking care of everyone. it's hierarchy.

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

How has your relationship been with your parents?

Kelly Stiffler:

my therapist would just say that's who I was before too, was taking care of everyone else. So she's like, it just manifested and made it a whole lot harder. my relationship with my parents is great. unfortunately, COVID was a disaster in our family. obviously couldn't stop working. When we went back to work as teachers, my husband manages. A local branch of FedEx. So he never stopped working. In fact, he was busier during COVID because it was so busy. my sister and her husband were able to work from home. my son is a social being with only one child at home and he was tired of his mom. So we obviously sent him back to school. and my, brother, they chose to stay home and my parents did as well, I feel like, you kind of got robbed of some of that time because of COVID.

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm,

Kelly Stiffler:

but, you have to just work through that process as well. my relationship with my parents is great. It's sometimes I feel bad because I probably don't reach out as much as I should because I'm in my own grief. So sometimes you don't want to add grief to your own grief and they don't do that. that's not even who they are. So I don't know why I feel that way, but you just do.

Dr. Dean:

Mm

Kelly Stiffler:

they just came up last week to watch my son play football because that was one of the things my dad's I miss so much watching kill play football and wrestling because of this stupid COVID. And so They came up last week and then he's like, if it's nice in two weeks, we're coming up again. And so there's just that regret also so many people died from COVID. So you totally get it too, but now that it's over and you can't do it over because you think of the time you're going to have years with everyone.

Dr. Dean:

Which is such a hard lesson when we lose people unexpectedly and out of order.

Kelly Stiffler:

Correct. Yeah. You don't really realize that there's a death order. Until something happens and it's out of order.

Dr. Dean:

Right. In the grief literature and world, we call that out of order loss. Quite literally what it's called.

Kelly Stiffler:

it makes total sense. And it's that you don't really know realize until it happens to you. And also you realize you weren't your best friend to people that have gone through this before, like you thought you were doing the thing. But you have no flipping idea what people actually really need. And I think you realize quickly every person is different. One of the best things we got, when my brother passed was the two counselors and the counseling secretary, and they're all very good friends of mine. they sent me a DoorDash gift card. And while that seems super trivial to some people, it was the greatest thing. We came home that first night from being in the Quad Cities and Chad's we don't have groceries. Like we don't have food. We haven't been here for a week. what do you want for dinner? Do you want to go somewhere? I was like, I don't want to see people. And so we could pick from all these restaurants, ordered DoorDash, had it delivered. I didn't, I put leave on the front porch. I didn't even have to talk to the delivery driver. It was so. empowering for something that simple to go that far because, they did a meal train for my little, for my sister in law and they did some stuff for my parents as well, like her, their church, but My sister in law didn't want to see people, so they had the meals dropped off at someone else's house and then that person would bring them over. So now that's like my go to gift when someone is having something going on is, and it's so simple because you can text it to them. You don't need their mailing address. You don't need anything. And then they can feel that they don't have to go out and do something, right? they don't have to see people if they don't want

Dr. Dean:

Right.

Kelly Stiffler:

to people.

Dr. Dean:

for sure, I love it too because other guests and I have joked about, it's nice when people want to bring you food, but then you end up with A freezer full of food or things that you may or may not eat. So the DoorDash gives you the, or the delivery of some sort, gives you that opportunity to choose. Yeah. What a great, great gift. And also it sounds like your friends, especially being counselors, understood how to support you and just even emotionally when you went back to work.

Kelly Stiffler:

Oh, yeah. they sent the emails for me to Kale School because I was like, I, and I wanted to make sure nobody pulled him out of class or any of that kind of thing because he would be so mad if someone pulled him out of class to talk about that. But the gym teacher there, it wasn't his gym teacher, but is also one of his wrestling coaches. And I was like, so please make sure he knows because that would be one of the people that kill would talk to if he was, if he wanted to talk to somebody or also his teachers. My building got split up and so both his teachers were friends of mine from, when they were in my building. I wanted to make sure that the right people knew and they handled all of that for me. yes, very fortunate. lots of people. And not just them, but lots of people picked up. and did things for me. one of my friends I had taught with who had reached, who had retired and was subbing, she went and subbed in my classroom and I was like, I'll try to get you lesson plans tonight. she's absolutely not. She's like, I will get in there. I will figure it out. I will talk to the teachers around you. You just need to be with your family. And just those little blessings that they don't even maybe know was such a blessing, was a huge blessing.

Dr. Dean:

Mm-Hmm.

Kelly Stiffler:

it was good.

Dr. Dean:

Do you feel still supported in the same way?

Kelly Stiffler:

yes, but sometimes I think, I don't want my friends to listen to this and think Oh, we don't do a good job supporting her, because that's not what I'm saying. But sometimes I feel like that support fades or sometimes you'll still get the question like, how are your parents? How's your sister in law? How are the babies? And then you're like, wait, you missed the, how are you question? and Which I do appreciate people caring about all of those people. That is incredibly important as well. but I also, sometimes I'm like, I am not good, but if you're not going to ask, I'm not going to tell you because I don't reach out. I don't ask for help.

Dr. Dean:

Well, and that speaks to you being the caregiving type.

Kelly Stiffler:

Oh yeah, that's true. Good point. actually had a good conversation with my therapist yesterday about all of that and just reaching out and asking for help more along me talking to my doctor about, changing my medication. that kind of thing just, it's kind of crazy in the grand scheme of life.

Dr. Dean:

It sounds like you also have a great therapist. Not everyone has had that experience after grief to find people with

Kelly Stiffler:

is really we would be friends in another life if we weren't, patient, doctor rules. She's just good and she's relatable and she doesn't care when I come in and drop the F bombs or, or she gets my brain that's all over the place that spews like random stuff at her nonstop and may or may not be related I remember probably two months after I, started seeing her and, I had a pretty traumatic birth with story with kale and almost died. And there's a lot there. And so I struggled with anxiety after he was born. just very fearful that, the next thing was going to kill me. and I said to her, I was like, but I'm very proud of myself. I've never really been depressed. And this was after Josh died. And she looks at me and she's like, Hey, don't read your medical file then, because you're going to be surprised by what your diagnosis says. And I was like, Oh, really? She's yeah, you have all those classic symptoms that you didn't want to know that you had. And I was like, Oh, and then I was like, tell me about it. And then we like talked through it and I was like, Oh yeah. Yeah. Okay. And so then that's what we talked about yesterday is that nothing in my medication has ever been changed since he passed when we were truly just treating anxiety before. And so maybe we need to look at something that would maybe treat. them both together. so we'll see. Gonna call the doctor, make an appointment for that. I think having those conversations and finding that person that you can talk through it with is pretty critical to getting through this. if I can recommend it, and now I don't know why I ever thought therapy was weird or, and I don't know that I ever thought it was weird, but I was like, well, I don't need it. And I don't know why, because everyone should have a therapist that they talk to, even if it's once a year. That they connect with because it just takes that piece out of like it having to be You being hard on someone at home or you I don't know I just I would advocate for it for everyone.

Dr. Dean:

I do too, but I'm a little biased.

Kelly Stiffler:

I know there's not enough

Dr. Dean:

that is correct. For sure. We all have waitlists, I think right now, partly to the. pandemic normalizing therapy and grief and loss and struggle in many ways.

Kelly Stiffler:

That's true, too. Yeah, I never thought about like that

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, you mentioned people not working during the pandemic. I think that I actually worked more during the pandemic.

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah, that would make sense. Absolutely. And you had to change

Dr. Dean:

in truth, some of that was my grief. That was my avoidance in my grief. This podcast is about you.

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

I do want to share like, so sometimes you find these connections, to how you stay connected to your sibling. And I had this moment when you first started talking about Josh that I want to share because I feel connected to you and your brother in a way that will make sense in a second. So you said that he sucked the two middle fingers. My brother is in most of his pictures in childhood. And for people not watching on video, you can't see this, but he had those same two middle fingers in his mouth. facing upward all the time. And so when you said that, I felt this, really, strange connection, something I'd forgotten about till you said that. So I wanted to share.

Kelly Stiffler:

No, thank you for sharing that. Yeah. And those are just those moments that you have, That bring you full circle back to remembering.

Dr. Dean:

for sure. are there other ways that grief and sibling loss has affected you that you wish you had known before? Because you, you hinted at, I wasn't the best of friends in supporting other grieving people, but are there things that you know now? That you wish you had known as you went into this.

Kelly Stiffler:

I had a, an associate who was a good friend of mine who lost her brother and he was a wrestler and into that kind of stuff. And I remember we were watching videos in one of our classes for teaching perseverance or something. And, we could pick, like five different ones as a teacher. And I loved the wrestling one. It was about a kid who didn't have, He couldn't really use his legs, but was still able to wrestle. And, I remember putting that on and having it on for like two or three minutes and she looks at me and she just leaves the room. and I felt horrible at the time afterwards, but she had to make that connection for me, but now looking back, I'm like, man, I was an a hole like I could have picked the sprint runner one, or, all these things. Or I could have said Hey, step out of the room. you don't need to be here for this 30 minutes because. This isn't going to be

Dr. Dean:

hm, mm hm,

Kelly Stiffler:

and just looking back in those moments and also like realizing, it's a club that you don't know exists until it happens to you that nobody should want to ever, I don't, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, like to be part of this club. Cause you feel like part of yourself is missing. Cause you grew up. He was the middle child. He always lets you know he was the middle child.

Dr. Dean:

In what way?

Kelly Stiffler:

every way, my sister got braces, he didn't, he desperately needed them, according to him, the dentist said, nah, really, they had the same teeth, they had my mom's crummy teeth, that was on her. and then I had my dad's teeth and I had the good teeth. So he didn't get braces, Katie got braces, Kelly got the good teeth. He was balding. That was from my mom. like just all the middle child things that he could do, he would do and let you know. and he was the only boy, right? So there was that too. Not all people want to talk about their siblings, I would assume, ask me anything you want to know, because talking about him or hearing a story about how he tried to light a fart on fire when he was in high school at a party, that reminds me of him and brings him back in my brain, and the longer he's gone, the more you don't have those. New stories. So bring them back all the time. I don't care if they're filled with every F word under the sun, bring them back, And so that's, I think the part where I just told Katie, cause I was like, this is probably going to come out in the podcast that like. I'm jealous of her because I was 18, went to college, moved, two hours away, two and a half hours away. He was 14. She would have been eight. And so she was home for his high school years. I wasn't. And so I don't have some of those memories that she has, I knew several of his friends and as he got older and I lived in the Quad Cities again, I knew more of them, but some of them that came in at the memorial, I'd be like, Katie, and she's like, that's so and so. And I was like, okay, I don't know how you figured out that's who that was, because also they were grownups. And, the last time I'd seen some of them, they were 18, 19, but I don't have some of those core memories that she would have because I wasn't there. And you do kind of start to show your personality in high school and he was spicy before. And so I'm sure he was spicy when he was in high school. so there is that piece that's dang, I got robbed. And then I moved back home. I taught muscatine for four years and then I moved back to the Quad Cities and taught there for four years before I met my husband. so I was around for like everything my little sister did in high school, I went to all the plays, but when you move to college and you don't have a car, you just aren't home as much. I do have those jealousy moments where I'm like, Oh, I wasn't here for that because I was in college, which is a normal life thing that you don't know you're ever going to be jealous of, right?

Dr. Dean:

hmm. Right. It's interesting because you were there when he was little too. Like she wouldn't have had those types of memories.

Kelly Stiffler:

That's true. Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. And for our listeners that Your sister was on a prior episode. So I think maybe we can come together and have a conversation about this together. Like all both of you, if you're up to that.

Kelly Stiffler:

yeah, of course,

Dr. Dean:

Have you talked to her about that? What it was like to not

Kelly Stiffler:

just recently, like I

Dr. Dean:

same memories?

Kelly Stiffler:

yeah, just recently, I told her, I'm like, this is going to probably come out. I'm like, because I've really been working through it internally, like being jealous. And she's like, Oh, I don't think she saw that. But then she's like, but that makes sense. cause you weren't there and it's just by birth order. I wasn't there. and so when they would go do a lot of their political stuff where he would take her places with him, I didn't live there, so I didn't do those things with them. As I moved back home, I know she told you the story or told listeners at this point, the story of picking him up when he was drunk downtown, and him smelling terrible and all those things. so we do have some of those core memories together, of him and his, Wilder stage, and I never thought about it for her. That she would not remember him as much as the younger him. So that's a good, although he was naughty. So maybe some of those memories she doesn't want to remember.

Dr. Dean:

that sounds like. Part of his spiciness, as you said, right?

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah. Oh yeah. And it was, kicking a hole in the door in the bathroom because it was the only room in the house that locked and I had tagged him last. So I ran into the bathroom and hid and locked the door and then he was mad. So he kicked the door and cheap doors are hollow. And so you put your foot through it. Parents weren't very happy

Dr. Dean:

Mm hmm.

Kelly Stiffler:

Pretty sure that's still in the upstairs

Dr. Dean:

I bet Before I ask you the last question about memories Is there anything else you wanted to share that you that we would talk about today?

Kelly Stiffler:

just that sibling grief is something that is way harder than I think people know or anticipate.

Dr. Dean:

Mm

Kelly Stiffler:

and like those. Anniversaries that seem silly, and that's one thing I've worked through is I'm usually good in the day, which again, like you said, leads to the characteristic of taking care of people. like, on his birthday or on his death day or on, the first Christmas, like I'm pretty good in those days. I can handle myself, but then After that is the hardest for me, his birthday is January 2nd. We typically have that day off from school. but this year, I didn't go back to school till January 4th. my therapist and I are like, you're not going to be ready to be around people that day. so we made an appointment. So I went and saw her on that day and that kind of thing. And so I think identifying. When your body knows, like when your body is going to let you know and have those, the physical symptoms, one of the biggest struggles I've been having right now is just the emotional exhaustion and the brain fog, right? the last two weeks of school, I'm I'm here, but I'm not sure I'm here as my best self. And so being aware of that for people who. are listening to this because they just lost a sibling, or being aware of that as someone who's supporting someone who's lost a sibling. it'll be two years in February, March and that, still hits randomly at any time and I think what I've realized is during the summer when you have one of those emotionally taxing days as a teacher, then the next day I could just really Not talk to anyone, turn on a TV show, allow my mental self to recuperate. when you're going to school every day and you're around people, which I love my job, I'm not gonna, I don't want to change that, nor do I want anyone to think I don't, but your body doesn't get the time to recuperate that it needs from being around people. And I have found that to be most challenging for me. And also I don't like to go places anymore. My husband will say I'm always fine once I get there, but it's hard to get me to agree to go, especially if he's not going, because I just don't want to be in that situation where I'm constantly feeling that emotional exhaustion.

Dr. Dean:

That's such great awareness, and thank you for sharing that. I think that's a lot of good advice in there. So are there some favorite memories you want to share about you and Josh? No,

Kelly Stiffler:

many.

Dr. Dean:

fine.

Kelly Stiffler:

know what Katie shared, so I don't know if any of them would overlap. but I rented a house in the Quad Cities when I taught there and my cousins were all in town and I don't even know what everybody was in town for but we went over to my uncle's house who lives in the Quad Cities as well and you know he grilled out and we were hanging out and then we were the cousins. Minus my little sister. Cause she was still too young at this point, I believe we're going to go to the bar and, he apparently had taken Benadryl that day because of his allergies or he wasn't feeling good or something. I don't remember what, and then had alcohol on top of that. And he like lost his ever living minds, like hanging out of the sunroof of my cousin's car, calling names. And then He got mad at me when we got back to my house I don't know what I said. I don't remember what I said to him, but he refused to come in the house then. so he was like laying in my front yard. and then I was like, dude, the neighbors are going to call the cops. Like you cannot lay in my front yard. this is a quiet little neighborhood. And so then he went and laid on the back of the picnic table. And then he had called my little sister. So she came and got him in his car. Luckily, because then at the bottom of my big hill, he had to open the door and lost his dinner. and so then we reflected okay, Benadryl and liquor, not quite a good mix for you, Joshua. And fast forward to two weeks later, you could laugh really hard at it. And the moment he was super mad at me because I told him he couldn't go out with us because he couldn't handle his stuff. And he could, Kelly, but he could not. That was one of those where, you just look at it and you laugh and just all the times like he would be with kale like all the things or like combing through my kids text messages, because, that's I guess one positive to my son having a cell phone is combing through and he would randomly get a text from him about how proud he was. And I was like, I didn't know he sent him those texts, he would tell me, but I didn't know he just would reach directly out to him. And so that was cool. and then, watching him become a dad and my nieces are adopted through foster care. And so watching them, become theirs and get to change their last name to Brennan. That was a pretty awesome day. he was a big kid, but really didn't have any desire to play competitive sports like that just wasn't in him. And so when he went to high school, he was fearful. That the football coaches would give him a hard time because he was a good sized kid, but he's I don't really want to do it have any desire to and, I remember him calling me or seeing him and he's like, Hey, coach asked me why I didn't play football. And I said, I didn't really like to play competitive sports. He's okay, cool. And then he's been nice to me ever since. And I was like, yeah, I told you it would be fine. And, he's Yeah, he was real cool. He's real cool about it. the number of times he tried to get me to hide my report card or my progress reports from my parents because he wouldn't play the game. And so his were never what they were supposed to be. And mine always were, fairly what they were supposed to be. And, depending on where we were at in our life, whether I would be like, no, I'm going to rat you out. or I'd be like, okay, fine. I'll just leave them in my backpack. But it would depend, was he going to do something for me? Were we currently fighting? Were we currently at our best? So it always depended. and the number of times he would be like, dude, could you have been just a little bit of a rule breaker when you were in high school? So these teachers would not be like, you're Kelly's brother. And I'd be like, Oh, sorry. I don't know what to tell you. I was like, well, my senior year, I walked around a lot during homeroom. He's like, yeah, but you signed in every day in the guidance office. So they never counted you absent. I was like, well, yeah, but they didn't figure out that's what I did. And he's like, yeah, that's not really breaking the rules. And I was like, I tried, I don't know what to tell you. Cause he went to high school, obviously right after I graduated. So he had many of the same teachers and harassed me about, and then I think my sister got it on the flip side. some of the teachers didn't remember me as much anymore, but they're like, you're Josh's sister. Cause of all the students, she was the best probably. Cause she cared more than I, I got good grades without really. trying too hard, but I was in high school to socialize. And I think she went for the whole, like academics and socialization. So I just was more about, hanging out with my friends. looking back, I realized in college that it was hard and I should have studied, but, And the number of times I remember him fighting with my parents and my mom threatening to send them to boy's town, which I don't even know if that's a thing or what that is. but Him just him getting to the point where he's you're not going to do it. You've said you're going to do it for a hundred times and you're not going to do it. And just, just him, calling their bluff clearly. And I wouldn't say he was ever like, he didn't break laws or like, I don't want people to think he was out stealing cars. Cause he didn't do any of that kind of stuff. He just wasn't going to play a game in a society that he, when he knew how to do stuff and things like that. And that also meant at home. Where like, even if you were like, I remember them clearly getting into a fight about him going to a party. Cause like my mom, you don't drink underage. You don't go to those parties. And my brother was like, mom, I'm gonna go to that party. I'm not going to drink, but I'm going to drive my friends home. That might drink so that nobody gets in an accident. I feel like he was still even then advocating for his friends, right? they're going to do something stupid and I want to make sure they're safe. Where I probably wasn't, I didn't have that nerve, to do that. When I would have never told my parents I was going to a party if I went to a party with alcohol at it. And he just was like, I'm going and you're not much you're going to do about it. cause I think he was like a senior. And she's and she clearly wasn't happy about it, but, in his mind, he wanted everyone to get home safe. I remember one of him, him telling me after the fact that several of his friends were like, Hey, will your sister buy us alcohol? cause I was 22 when they were 18 and he's like, no. And they're like, you didn't even ask her. He's like, yeah, I don't want her to lose her teaching license. So she's not going to buy us alcohol. Get over yourselves. And so like just him having that awareness, like he never even brought it up to me until he was like telling me the story, oh, so and so asked me to ask you to buy alcohol. And I was like, really? And he's like, yeah. And he's like, I said, no. So still just, sticking up, not putting you in

Dr. Dean:

Yeah. Mm.

Kelly Stiffler:

that's just. Yes, 100%. I remember, I don't remember a lot of childbirth after Kale was born, but I remember, they all did officially, come up and were in the waiting room waiting, and then, things went a little crazy, and, they let my family have the room next to us because there wasn't anybody in there, and at one point, when they were in the room working with me, my mom had Kale, Next door. They let her take him next door. and I remember hearing from my brother later, how traumatized he was because the nurse had pulled off kills the cap on his head and was like, do you want to see what 10 centimeters looks like? Cause you could like, there was like a ring on his poor little head. And my brother was like, Oh. No, thank you. And walked away and, I just remember those kind of core memories and then just him being the best human, my husband ended up with cellulitis when I was pregnant with kale and, spiked a high fever, we went to the hospital. and then they were like, if he has a blood clot, we're going to send him home. And they had to do different tests. And I was like, he can barely walk. how am I going to get him in the house? And I remember texting with my mom and my parents and, talking to them. And so lo and behold, My brother shows up an hour and a half later and he had driven up here to be here that if he had to help because he's like you can't get him into the house if he's you know if he's coming home and so like just that blessing of having my brother there and then he came home with me and stayed because they admitted Chad obviously and he was there for several days but he came home and stayed with me and you know made sure everything was good here and Chad's a big guy. I'm a big guy. If we need to get him in the house, it's not going to be you. So he didn't think anything of it and drove up and it was after 10, it was probably midnight when he got there, but he's like, well, mom and dad can't come because they have to work. I'm, I just said I couldn't be there tomorrow morning. And I was like, that just meant so much because I didn't know. I was panicked, and you go into that, like, how am I going to take care of this person that has to be here? Cause I was like, he can barely walk. How's he going to get to the bathroom? Josh is like, I'll just stay. so just those kinds of things that you don't even ask for, but he'd just show up and do.

Dr. Dean:

Yeah, it sounds like his insistence on being an organ donor was this last act of making sure every, he could take care of as many people as he could. So how fitting.

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah. we always talk that we didn't get the miracle we were praying for, but several people got the miracles that gosh only knows how long they were praying for, right? one of the kidney donors, he, he had to go to dialysis all day. I think it was three or four times a week. And so now he, when he would be able to spend time with his family and his grandkids, it's a pretty big blessing for that family.

Dr. Dean:

thank you for sharing all of this and chatting and I look forward to staying in touch.

Kelly Stiffler:

Yeah. 100%. Yeah.

Dr. Dean:

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.

Intro
About Josh
Kelly & Josh’s Adult Sibling Relationship
Losing Josh
Dead Brother Week
The Honor Walk
Going Back to Work
Anniversaries
Caring for Siblings, Kids, & Parents: Delaying Her own Grief
Out-of-Order loss
What Helped in Early Grief
Support Now
The Value of Therapy
What Kelly Wishes She Knew Before
The Sibling Loss Club
Stories of Josh
Kelly & Kate’s Different Experiences of Josh
Kelly’s Thoughts on Sibling Loss
Favorite Memories
Josh Taking Care of Others Posthumously