This is an excerpt from Rock On: Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Sibling Grief, which is available

Chapter 8: Losing Anger

Jeneen Gallagher: interviewed in June 2015, Florida Ryan Gill: 7/25/79-3/30/13
Cause of death: Murder

On a sun-drenched Saturday in Boynton Beach, Florida, thirty-three-year-old Ryan—a redheaded, blue-eyed ‘gentle giant’—had a bounce in his step as he finished his shift at a local restaurant. He popped into his apartment for a quick shower and a change of clothes and headed to the bar across the street to meet his co-worker for a bachelorette party.

The bar was packed, and the crowd of people laughed, swapped jokes, and told stories. It was a light, easy night as Ryan and his friends sat around a table, fooling around, clinking drinks as the bride-to-be talked about the upcoming wedding.

When a round of shots arrived for the women, sent over by two dark-haired brothers at the bar, the women said, “No thanks.” They were not interested in accepting drinks from drunken strangers.

One of the two brothers—offended by the decline—became enraged and screamed profanities at the women.

Ryan, who stood six feet four inches tall, believed women deserved to be treated with respect. He wasn’t going to be a bystander, watching, as his female friends were harassed. He walked over to his friend, advised her and the others to move to another table, and to ignore the two men. Then, Ryan asked the brothers to take it easy.

According to police reports, the enraged, intoxicated brother, Alexandre Magradze, approached Ryan and argued with him. The other brother, Vakhtang Magradze, who stood five feet three inches, jumped on Ryan’s back and jammed a knife in and out of his neck. Though Ryan was larger and more athletic than the brothers, he lost the use of his arms from the stab wounds. A bar manager tried to break up the fight and was stabbed several times in the back by Magradze. Another staffer who tried to help was stabbed in the nose area.

The police were on patrol at the Backyard Boynton Beach bar that Saturday night, but they couldn’t get a clean shot.

An officer yelled, “Drop the knife!” as he stunned Vakhtang with his taser.

The stun gun couldn’t penetrate through the heavy jacket Vakhtang wore that warm Floridian evening. He swung the knife at the officer in an attempt to stab him, but the officer kicked it out of his hand and cuffed him, while Ryan lay still on the barroom floor. He later died in the hospital. http://articles.sun-sentinel. com/2013-04-01/news/fl-boynton-beach-stabbing-fo- lo-20130401_1_fatal-stabbing-ryan-gill-knife

“Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you!” Jeneen, Ryan’s younger sister, wailed into her bedroom when she received the news of her brother’s death.

I didn’t have to close my eyes and imagine the screams. I could hear them as if I were there, hovering in the dark shadows of Jeneen’s bedroom, gripping the bedposts, listening as her mother delivered the life-altering news. “Jeneen, something happened. Ryan went to Delray Medical, and he didn’t make it.”

Jeneen repeated fuck you over and over, smacking herself, willing herself to awaken from a night terror. It was 3:30 in the morning, and her son, asleep in his bed, did not hear his mother’s screams. “This is not real,” she said, until she noticed Ryan’s best friend, Joe, standing in the doorway. His contorted face told her the unimaginable had happened to her brother and the truth soaked through bone. This is real. It’s real.

Jeneen and I cried as she shared the horrifying details of her brother’s death. Her sadness turned to rage when she talked about the brothers who murdered her only sibling, the brothers who stole Ryan and Jeneen’s future, their dreams, and the memories they had yet to make together.

As I imagined Ryan, lying on the floor, and Rocky, lying frozen on the bed in the basement of Queen Elizabeth Hospital, swaddled in blankets, I felt Jeneen’s rage. Her stolen future. I felt as though I were sitting with her in her home in Florida, as I sat in my office in Maine.

“Why, why, why?” she asked.

After Rocky’s death, I swore off saying, “I’m sorry for your loss.” The words are trite and meaningless in the wake of heartache. There were no sentiments to of- fer this woman who had lost her brother two years ago at the time of the interview in such a senseless act of violence. I knew anger. I punched pillows, screamed at God, and wanted to die too, but that unhealthy energy became so toxic, I had to find a way to let it go, rise up out of me, and feel it drift away.

“Are you still angry?” I asked.

“I’ve gone through the grieving process but not in order. I had a lot of denial,” Jeneen said. “I was really angry for a very long time. I was in the shower one day, where I do my best and worst thinking. I was crying, but I was crunching my fingers and grinding my teeth, thinking, Why is this crackhead alive and why is my brother dead? Why do those brothers still get to talk to their parents and each other? This sense of peace came over me. I heard Ryan say to me, Don’t let them destroy you. They’ve taken enough. Don’t let them have any more.

Jeneen’s sense of peace reminded me of a day soon after I returned from Asia when the Maine ground was a blanket of hard-crusted snow. I put on my down jacket, gloves, L.L. Bean boots, and a red-knitted hat with sky-blue flowers. I stuffed a small notebook and pen in my pocket and headed out with my two golden retrievers to get some air, to get away from myself. We trekked down a snow-packed trail that led to an open field. As the dogs chased each other through the snow, I sat on a rock, pulled out my notebook, and wrote until my fingers grew numb. I felt the crunch under my boots, searching for clues, something tangible to give hope shape. As I sank through the hard crust of snow to the softer underbelly, I had this thought: grief can wrap its hands around your heart and imprison you in the past, turn your heart cold and hard, pulling the shade on light, slamming the door on beauty, on love, on all that’s good, and real, and worth living for. Grief can do that; it can. But here’s something else I’m learning about grief. If it has the power to harden the heart, it also has the power to soften it, like that underbelly of the snow.

With each tragedy, every loss, space is left behind, leaving room for hope, for new love to bloom, for deeper roots of gratitude and appreciation for the good, the joy, the laughter, and beauty in our lives. For me, I’ve prayed for my brother’s passing to soften my heart and to make those moments of joy that much sweeter than they were before.

I closed my notebook that day, tilted my head to the sun, and blinked in the wide-open space. I felt that same sense of calm come over me as if Rocky’s spirit kneeled beside me, whispering, It will take time, Sis, but I promise you, you’re going to be OK. I love you.

“What happened to you after you heard Ryan’s words?” I asked Jeneen.

Her voice cracked as she wept. “I know what he’d want for me, and he wouldn’t want me to be this angry person.”

Ryan’s essence and the words Jeneen heard transformed the anger she had been holding onto. She made the conscious decision to let go of the toxicity that no longer served her along her grief journey. She said, “They don’t get any more from me. That was a difficult change that was necessary and positive. I’m not an angry person. I don’t want to be, and my brother wouldn’t want me to be.”

Since the day her brother was murdered, Jeneen’s life has changed in every conceivable way. Two years before Ryan was killed, he made significant life changes. He quit smoking, joined a gym, recommitted to fitness, and returned to school. Then, in a moment, his life was taken from him.

“I think about all the things that used to matter so much and it’s stupid shit,” Jeneen said. “If one of my friends upsets me, how important is it? They might not be here tomorrow. Life is too short. I have to look at this experience as a blessing.”

susan casey

Susan E. Casey, MSW, MFA, is an author, a licensed mental health clinician, a certified bereavement group facilitator, and a certified life coach. Throughout the past 25 years, Susan has worked in hospice, in-patient, and home-based settings with teens and adults, and taught numerous courses to executive leaders and clinicians. Currently, Susan works for a measurement-based care organization, providing clinical coaching to therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists countrywide to improve mental health outcomes for youth and adults. Susan’s blog on her website,, chronicles her grieving process following the death of her younger brother. Her fiction has won numerous awards, including first place in the PEN/Nob Hill Literary Contest and Green Writer’s National Literary Contest. Rock On: Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Grief is her first work of nonfiction published on February 14, 2020 by Library Tales Publishing. Both Susan’s professional and creative work have been guided by her deep belief that every individual has purpose and inherent strengths and deserves the opportunity to reach their own unique potential. Susan lives in Maine with her husband Steve and golden retriever Indy.

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