Last Valentine’s—that rose-scented, chocolate-infused day, God reached a hand down, scooped my brother’s soul in his Godly palm without asking if we were ready, if Rocky was ready, to transition from this world into the next. He was plucked from our lives without any warning at all, leaving a jagged hole in our wholeness, sending tremors through our family while hairline cracks mushroomed through our “ROCK” solid foundation.

The past nine months have crawled by in a blurry, non-linear haze. I’d attach wheels to the next three, hitch them together like freight train cars, and shove them over a cliff if it would speed up time, whiz me past the four season mark a little more quickly. Many who’ve lost deeply have offered me this wisp of advice, “Give yourself 4 seasons. It will get better.” What no one told me was all that happens while you’re waiting around for those seasons to hurry up and come, to hurry up and go.

No one ever told me that each and every time my family gathered, we’d walk along the sharp and fragile edges of those cracks, like high-wire acrobats without a balancing stick or a safety net, teetering so close to the edge as memories crowded around us like ghosts on the haunt. We’d ask ourselves, I’d ask myself, Do I whisper my brother’s name, “Rocky…” Do I stand in the center of my family and scream “ROCKY” as if I were on a mountain top, hollering to God and the angels and the spirit guides. Or do I hold his name in my mouth, like a bitter slice of apple, and pretend, as my mother does, that Rocky’s living in Bali, riding motor scooters, twirling his four-year old daughter around in his arms, dancing to the theme song of Frozen, humming, “Let it go…”; and in the evening , he’s cuddling up with his wife as they write their bucket list, and dream the dreams they’ll create over the next forty years of their lives together.

With all that nobody told me, I attended a 35 hour training at the Center for Grieving Children; a safe space where I could find a few answers, do my own grief work and eventually help others do theirs. In one of the day long training sessions, we were led through a guided imagery meditation and treaded back in time when our loved ones hearts still beat.

I landed in my childhood, sitting at the kitchen table, inhaling the scent of eggs, American cheese and fried spam, stacked atop each other between two halves of an English muffin—my mom’s famous breakfast sandwiches that she made for us on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I heard myself ask my brother for a bite. He laughed, rolled his eyes, and handed me the sandwich. “Why can’t you just get your own,” he’d always ask. “Because they’re too fattening,” I’d say. “I just want one bite.” During that guided tour into the past where my brother shared his breakfast sandwiches and hotdogs and meatballs and French fries, I felt the loss in the marrow of my bones, because to “feel is to heal,” which is the whole point of the guided imagery, to feel the loss with all the senses.

But still, no one stood at the front of the room and said, Let me tell you how to balance along those thin fragile cracks; let me show you how to fill the hole in what used be the wholeness. I’m not talking about someone reminding me of how our faith will and can and does carry us through loss, like a beacon guiding ships safely into the harbor. Check. I’ve got that one covered. I believe in the beauty, and goodness of the afterlife. I believe our spirits live on. I’m talking about those of us whose souls are still contained inside our skin and bone and blood. Inside bodies that feel loss, and love, and joy and sadness, and anger, and all that comes with being human before we make that everlasting transition over to the other side.

And no one talked about the untalkable (this isn’t a word, but it should be), the unspeakable truth that stung my skin like frostnip; the truth that a sudden loss will change everything and everyone in your family in that millisecond for good; the truth that if I can lose one sibling, I can lose another and will. It’s not a question of if, but a matter of when. The truth of how in those early months I’d clasp my hands together and pray to God to reach down and take me next, because I never want to feel that heart-searing pain again— that depth of loss. I still don’t, but I no longer pray for God to snatch my soul anytime soon, because here’s also what no one ever told me but what I’ve learned since my brother’s death.

After I crawled through the tunnel of shock, and waded through the neck-high water of acute grief, I found myself standing on the cracked foundation of my new and altered reality. A place where the sun’s lost some of its shine; the clouds are a few shades grayer, more ominous; the rain falls a bit harder, lasts a bit longer, and carries with it a deeper meaning, because my own heart weeps, without warning, in that same way as I bend my head and stare into the hole my brother’s left behind.

I feel the coolness rise from the earthy depths and know I have a choice, we all do: to climb down, curl up tight inside a hardened heart with each loss we endure like a periwinkle snail, or climb up, spread arms and hearts wide to joy, to heartache, like a parched seedling welcomes the rain, the sun, because it needs both to grow.

Here, nine months later, I tip my head to my dimmer sun, open my arms wide to love, to life itself. Gratitude swells and rises up through my body as I maneuver my way along those cracks because I had time with a brother who has given me the courage to say yes to joy, to heartache. Without you, Rocky, I would not know the full depth of one without the other.



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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