ACTOR: Are you really asking that? How else do you think I would be feeling, That was my brother! It felt like my apart of my soul was ripped out and stomped on.
YVONNE: This is Mouthful and I am Yvonne Latty. Every week I will be having a complicated conversation with a young person about the things that matter to them, things they have written about and shared on stages across the city. And then we will go out into the community and talk to teens, adults, experts anyone who can broaden the conversation.
Today we are going to discuss grief, specifically sibling grief. This episode is very personal to me.
When we plan each episode of the podcast, the first choice we make is the monologue. We consider how the topics and themes in the monologue can start a larger conversation. How can this monologue open up a dialogue about an important topic? Or a topic that isn’t talked about very much.
When I first heard “Diagnosis” by Taliya Carter, I was deeply moved. It’s about a young girl whose brother died in a car accident. Sibling grief is something I live with every day. My sister was killed in a car accident when we were in our 20s.
Let’s listen to “Diagnosis” performed by Claris Park.
ACTOR: Ma I don't wanna be here. I don't care mom I told you a million times that I am fine. Listen just don't leave me here, please.
Okay, just because you know her and she's helped you with whatever you're going through don't mean nothing to me because i'm FINE for the last time. I ...DO...NOT... WANT... TO… TALK...TO... HER. Ughhhh why can’t you just believe me?
Okay, I'm sorry. Yes, I know that you are my mother not my friend I know, I know. (lets out deep breath). Just make sure to answer your phone when I'm ready to leave. Okay. Close the door then.
So what you just gonna stare at me? Really don’t care what your name is. Pretty sure my mother told you all about me during her sessions so why ask my name?
Ugh, Adona Blake, 16 years young, Birthday September 2nd I’m a Virgo and I’m in 11th grade, ya happy now? No I don't know why I'm here. Are we really going to do the whole Dr. Phil thing? Look, I'm tired and I wanna go home so just ask you couple of questions so I can go and you get paid for talking to the girl whose mother thinks she's crazy apparently. For the second time, no I do not know why she sent me here only crazy people come here but I’m not crazy.
It's your job to say that I'm not crazy, but whatever, let's chop chop this up real quick.
Typical question but school is school there's nothing to say about it. A-B average that ain’t nothin. My major is in art, design, and construction. It's none of your business why I choose those majors!
I’m not getting defensive but can we just move on? What do you keep writing on that paper?
Ummm, yea okay. (yawns)
Yes, I been tired lately.
Because I stay up late. Because I've been studying believe it or not.
I don’t know it varies. Mood swing… really does it look like I have mood swings to you?
Yea, I have headaches I'm getting one right now talking to you!
Maybe two or three times day I think? They come and go. I eat when I feel like it. I don't have an eating disorder if that's what you think, I mean it's nothing wrong with that but I don't have one.
Don't look at me like that I’m just not hungry. Yeah whatever. I guess the hunger thing started about a month ago.
No I haven't had thoughts of suicide or self-harm, what kind of question is that?!
Ummm. I don't know I guess I stopped drawing and watching tv but it was boring anyway. Stop asking me why I just don't know.
Are you really asking that? How else do you think I would be feeling, That was my brother! It felt like my apart of my soul was ripped out and stomped on. How can someone you were so close with just vanish within a blink of an eye. All I did was cry and cry I don’t want to keep doing that…
Because crying makes you weak. Because if you cry all you get is that loss feeling like you're alone and I despise.
It was my fault anyway. He died in a crash protecting me.
It was raining and another driver was in a different car they started hydroplaning. It all happened in a split second. The driver started coming towards my brothers side and he reached across to shield me from impact
Bottom line is he didn't make it. He was my best friend. He wanted to be an architect.
Listen, I don't wanna talk to you about this anymore.
Don’t try to diagnose me, I'm not suffering with depression if that’s what you think I'm just a girl who’s grieving.
You know what I don't wanna be here anymore so I'm blowing this popsicle stand!
YVONNE: Taliya's monologue really made me think about my sister, and I was really looking forward to talking to her about her monologue. I wanted to find out why she wrote the monologue. But even more, I wanted her to know that her words had made such an impact on me. Mitchell and I met Taliya at the Philadelphia Young Playwrights’ office.
YVONNE: I saw your play performed at the Festival and it really moved me because I lost my sister in a car accident. And I was wondering how did you get the idea for the monologue?
TALIYA: So, since I want to become a behavioral psychologist I did a project at school because since we’re project-based learning we have a test called the Gateway, when you pass it you get to create your own projects. So I based it around um my research of mental illnesses and then I decided I was going to create a monologue for each one, and then I submitted it. But the thing was it’s like I know a lot of people that’s going through depression or what people claim would be depression, but they’re just grieving. And other people just feel as though you’re straight up depressed and that’s not what it is. But I got the car accident idea because I was in a really bad car accident last year and they were like it’s a miracle that I survived so that drew inspiration to me, because my grandmother and grandfather in the car, they w ere fine but all of the possibilities that could of happened… so that’s what I drew upon. And then I had anxiety from the accident I went through a thing of depression so it was like, that’s how it connected.
YVONNE: When you say you were injured in the accident, what were the injuries?
TALIYA: So I still now have back problems. My knee was messed up. I had abrasions all across my chest, my arms, my legs and stuff. So it wasn’t as bad as, like the way the car was messed up the whole front was off from my side all the way to the passenger side the whole front was gone, so. It was like a miracle that I survived.
YVONNE: And so that made you think about what it would’ve been like if you didn’t survive or?
TALIYA: It’s like it made me feel as though like I felt like one hand I was lucky because not many people would survive that but then it was like I felt like I was to blame even though it wasn’t me. But all of the things that could’ve happened. So like I could’ve lost my life or my grandmother and grandfather’s life like it like I went through a whole bunch of scenarios that could’ve happened and that’s what really bothered me. I was worried about everybody else and how they would react.
YVONNE: When you were creating the character of the young woman who lost her brother, what were thinking because that is about sibling death that wasn’t about a parent or a friend dying, she lost her brother.
TALIYA: So I was really focusing on the connection on how that can really mess somebody up but it’s like… so I lost my sibling but she was a baby. So like I connected it to how I was feeling, so she was born premature so she was only alive for an hour but it’s like when you get that phone call it can mess up your whole world so I was like grieving a whole lot. I didn’t even have a chance to meet her yet, so it was like I drew from that and how that connection felt like how it would be if you lose a sibling. So.
YVONNE: How old were you when you lost your sister?
TALIYA: I guess about 9. So. Yeah. It was either 9 or 10 and I got the phone call cause I was in my house getting ready to go down there to go see her, and them my um my dad called me and told me what happened.
YVONNE: Do you have any friends who have lost siblings?
TALIYA: Yes. I have a couple of them and they used to be so distraught over it. Like it was a really touchy subject. But I wanted to figure out a way to where I could help them, so I like talked to them I talked them through it a lot so I think they’ve gotten better talking about it with others.
YVONNE: Is that something you see in your community? A lot of people who have lost siblings? Or parents?
TALIYA: Yes, it’s like, a whole lot of people. You would be amazed. They either said they lost their father or their mother, or both, or a sibling or two due to like crime and violence and things like that.
YVONNE: So when people when you when the monologue festival happened and you saw people respond to your work, how did that make you feel?
TALIYA: It made me feel proud because it conveyed to me that the message that I wanted to have out was out there, which is like, things can happen but it’s like you can’t immediately throw somebody into therapy and think that it’s because they’re depressed or you think they’re crazy or something like that it’s that they’re grieving and sometimes it’s the actual person you have to realize that not everybody is against you. And it’s better to let things off your chest even if you like explode it makes you feel better. And like, it helps you realize things and make it real. Because sometimes if you don’t talk about it, sometimes you’re in denial that it didn’t happen, but when you talk about it it makes you feel better.
YVONNE: How could the character be helped because it seemed like she rejected the support of the therapist. So what do you think could help her?
TALIYA: I think just like the all around support from her family and friends and just like making her talk about it because if you bottle it in it’s going to do nothing but hurt you and it stresses you out and everything and like if you have friends and family that you can talk to about it that’s relieving some pressure and just time.
YVONNE: And so you’re interested in also you’re studying psychology as well, right in college? So what do you want to do with that?
TALIYA: So I’m going to become a behavioral psychologist. I’ve always been interested in like helping people and mental illness and things like that. So I want to be able to help people through the steps, so just in December I actually became certified as a youth mental health aid so I wanted to use that too. So I went through a training. We trained to help people with depression, anxiety, if they’re going through a state of psychosis um they’re going through withdrawal or drug addiction. Things like that.
YVONNE: Are those things you see a lot of in high school? Depression, anxiety?
TALIYA: Yes, it’s also people might not even know that they’re going through it because they feel as though immediately if you go to a therapist people think that you’re crazy and that’s not what it is. You can just be a normal person well what people would define as normal go there just to talk. Like that’s what they’re there for. And people don’t the way when other people explain it they make it seem like you only go to a therapist if you have a problem, which is not the case all the time.
MITCHELL: What if you had to pin it down on one or two things, one thing, what motivates you to want to pursue what you’re going to school for.
TALIYA: I would say the one thing would be my family. Like my siblings, my mother. Because I know everybody goes through something but I always want to be the type of person like I always want to find a way to help so if I could start off with helping them and then going to college to help other people that would make feel like the best person on earth basically. Like I’ve always put other people before me, sometimes it’s been a problem, but other times it’s like well you need to give out to give back, so it’s like if I was going through something and if I was in anybody’s situation, I would want somebody to help me, so why not start off helping other people.
YVONNE: Well I just want to say your monologue really helped me, so thank you, it really did.
YVONNE: We went to visit Darcy Walker Krause, the executive director of the Center for Grieving Children in East Falls. It’s a comfy, colorful space. There is artwork on the walls, but when you look closer at the words they say “RIP Daddy” or “I miss you Mommy.”
DARCY: We provide free grief groups to kids from ages 5 actually up into young adulthood to 25 who have lost a close loved one to death. Um, the groups are offered in after-school program that’s throughout the school year September through June, and then we also offer groups inside of schools during school hours. So this last year, we had 15 after-school groups in four locations, and we ran 74 groups in 64 schools.
YVONNE: I mean when I hear that I think wow that’s really great and then there’s a part of me that my heart breaks. Because that means that there are so many grieving children in Philly. Do you have an estimate of how many children you serve?
DARCY: So each year we’re serving, this year for instance, we served 650 kids directly. That doesn’t include the students that we supported in post-crisis interventions where a student died at the school and we came in to provide grief counseling and support. Um and that doesn’t include kids who were touched by the counsellors and professionals that we offer trainings to. We can’t get to every kid in the City of Philadelphia. We estimate that 1 in every 2 youth in Philadelphia will lose a close loved one by the time they reach 18. Which is higher than the national average. You know it’s affected by a variety of circumstances including poverty in the city, um which can have um you know issues with health care access and obviously the violence that we have in our city. Um the opioid and drug problems that we have in the city, just result in um in young people experiencing death at a younger age than outside our urban setting.
YVONNE: So the monologue is about sibling grief, and as someone who has gone through that which I said in my email to you, I feel like it’s a type of grief that doesn’t get discussed enough. Because way too often when a sibling dies the attention goes to the parents or if it’s an adult sibling who is married with children it would go to the children. But far too often it’s those siblings who are the spokesperson, who have to handle funeral arrangements, who have to in some cases, like in my case, grow up very very fast. Do you see a lot, what kind of effects does sibling grief have on these kids?
DARCY: Well I think some of the things that you speak to are really accurate. Looking at the youth that we serve and also from some of the literature that I’ve seen out there as well on sibling bereavement. The kids often times do have to take, they get parentified at a very young age, um they often do take on the role of maybe raising a younger sibling as well or taking care of the parents who you know are obviously devastated with the loss of a child, um they oftentimes will hold back their own emotions because they don’t want to upset their parents if they talk about that sibling or if their feelings sometimes the parents will fall apart and they don’t want that reaction. Um, there’s oftentimes an issue of and this you know can be very tragic for the psyche of that child the surviving child is that oftentimes there’s a sense that the wrong child died and I mean as horrible as that sounds I mean that’s actually something that’s well documented in the literature, um, you know I think that--
YVONNE: I had that feeling.
DARCY: Yeah, yeah. It’s you know I think that it’s something that isn’t as talked about but it’s so painful you know one of the things I always think about this is if you ask somebody oh do you have any brothers or sisters, how many do you have that answer is so loaded for people who have lost a sibling. Do you list that sibling that’s no longer here because then there’s that explanation and you have to talk about it and it becomes and it just goes deeper.
YVONNE: And that’s often like the icebreaker question. Like I’ve been in situations now as a parent where I’ve been in like pre-k orientation and they go okay how many brothers and sisters do you have and you know you’re like uh…
DARCY: Absolutely. Yeah. You know and I shared this in a conversation I had had recently. I do this work because my mom died when I was 15. But my mother was a bereaved sibling. Her brother died when she was 22 and he was 24. And I was able to see kind of that experience in my own personal life. Um and I saw you know how she felt like there was no person out there for her to talk to that no one understood. Most people in her life didn’t even necessarily know. Because that hadn’t known her when her brother died. Um that her parents you know, she didn’t always want to talk to them about it, it really made them upset. And so some of these things you know you can see it around us but often times it’s in silence the people that are going through this.
YVONNE: Another thing that really struck me about the monologue is how the young woman is like everything’s fine, everything’s fine, and then she sort of had this outburst of grief and then she’s like well, this isn’t helping me. I’m, leave me alone. Do you see that a lot?
DARCY: Yeah. Yeah we definitely do. One of the things about youth and adolescence as they grieve is they really and it’s healthy, they come in and out of their grief. And often times you’ll see an outburst or what we call a grief burst and then they’ll want to kind of pull back from it because they’ve exposed themselves, they’re extremely vulnerable in that moment and they want to pull back and kind of take a breath. And that’s natural and that’s healthy, um, so we definitely do see that a lot with youth. Um, I think that something that can be confusing uh for adults when they’re seeing a grieving child is that they do go in and out of these waves particularly the young ones as well. They’ll be hyperactive and running around and acting like they’re having fun and then they get really sad and so it’s… they’re kids at the end of the day and it’s you’re gonna see that vacillation sometimes between putting you know I think with adolescents they put up a front with younger kids they’re running around or being hyperactive or playing around and doing things, um, and then you’ll have those moments. And it’s about being present and aware for those moments that’s really critical.
YVONNE: How do you reach a grieving child?
DARCY: You know I think when it comes to a parental or a teacher or any caregivers role working with a grieving child is that just to be open and honest with that child. To make it clear that you can talk to me at any point. That I’m here for you. I think also that sometimes particularly in a sibling situation where the child may not feel comfortable going to the parent is maybe trying to access resources. Now one of the things that I took away from the monologue, you know here at the Center we run peer groups. And one of the things I took away from that is that these peer groups are sometimes a little bit better than going to a therapist because you know you’re going into a room with an older person who may or may not understand what you’re going through and you’re gonna clearly have up your wall.
MITCHELL: Um, I mean I don’t know if this is actually a saying or but I’ve certainly heard it that everyone grieves differently. Um, is there anything universal about grief, especially among young people?
DARCY: Everyone does grieve differently. Everyone in a family grieves differently, which can be really complex. I think the one thing I feel that I could say is universal is that you never get over it. There’s never a closure, there’s never an end. Especially I think for a person a young person who loses somebody because you go through so many stages of life where you should’ve had that person or expected that person to be around. And so I think that and so often in our society we want to just kind of wrap it up neatly and tie the bow and be done with this and that doesn’t happen with any grief frankly, but particularly with someone who’s lost someone at a young age.
MITCHELL: What was your sister's name?
MITCHELL: When you think about her what do you think about?
YVONNE: I mostly wish that she was here. I wonder like what her life would’ve been like. I wonder if her marriage would’ve survived. I wonder where she would’ve been living. I wonder how she would’ve aged. I feel like she wanted to be a mom so I also lost potential nieces and nephews. One of our last times together we were coming up with names for the baby she wanted to have, um because she was getting married and she wanted to have a baby right away. And I remember eating pizza and drinking beer, like way too much beer, and like making up all these crazy names for this kid you know? And so you know when she died I lost nieces and nephews and a brother-in-law and an extended family, and um. She would’ve taught me how to be a mom. I would’ve been able to watch her fumble through and laugh at her and then I would’ve figured out how to do it better. I feel so bad because she missed out on so much of her life and I also thought that it was a mistake. Like it should’ve been me, because I thought that she was basically a nicer person you know? She was nicer than me. But um, you know you can’t it wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t my choice to make. It’s just what happened. But it’s definitely the grief that doesn’t ever go away. I mean I’ve lost my dad. He died of cancer. And it was sad. But I’ve yet to ever feel the kind of grief I felt whenever my sister died. Like that was the absolute worst and you know it’s hard to go through holidays sometimes I think about her at every holiday, I think about her on her birthday, I think about her when I’m in crisis. I think about her when I’m happy, you know. ..You know I think about her all of the time. And sometimes I see my daughters and I see her in them. Like if she were alive and she was walking down the street with them, people would think she was their mother.
YVONNE: And that’s our show.
Thanks so much to Taliya Carter of West Philly for her monologue and conversation. Taliya is graduating very soon from The Workshop School in West Philly. Her next stop is the Community College of Philadelphia where she will be studying psychology and automotives. Congrats Taliya! I hope you have a great graduation day and I know you are going to do great at CCP!
And thanks to Darcy Walker Krause, the executive director of the Center for Grieving Children.
Diagnosis was performed by Claris Park.
See ya next time!