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Interview With Author Susan Casey on "Rock On: Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Sibling Grief"

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

Susan E. Casey is a writer, 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.

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.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I love to talk to people and listen to their stories. Everyone has a fascinating story of who they are and how they arrived wherever they are in their lives. My favorite part about writing Rock On was being able to listen to all the stories people entrusted me with when I interviewed them for the book. Soon, I will be launching my new podcast: L.E.A.P (Listen, Engage, Allow, and Process) for young people where they will be sharing their painful and transformational stories about their life challenges with their peers. When I’m not writing or working, I love to be doing anything physical: walking, riding a bike, kayaking, canoeing, running and my favorite form of daily exercise is yoga and walking my mini aussiedoodle, Rocky. And no, I didn’t name Rocky, the breeder did. So when I found him and his name was Rocky, I took it as a sign and bought him. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. He brings such tremendous joy to anyone who meets him.

How did this book come to be?

The title came to me in a dream before I knew it was going to be a book. I had started a blog prior to my brother’s death as a way to inspire people to move the dial on their lives and go after those elusive dreams. When Rocky died, I ditched the inspiration idea and began chronicling my grief journey on my blog and received overwhelming responses. During this time period, I sunk into total despair. I searched for books on sibling loss and couldn't find many, so I decided to write my own. The book took me close to four years to write.

You’ve used writing as both a therapeutic practice as well as a way to reach out to others also in the process of grieving the passing of a loved one. How does writing help us both better connect to ourselves and others?

Writing allows the brain to process trauma in a different way than thinking about it, talking about it, etc. It’s a very powerful exercise, which is why journaling helps so many people work through their pain. There is much research available on the therapeutic benefits of writing through pain and trauma. A great resource/book is James Pennebaker’s book: Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion.

What surprised you most about the stories people shared with you regarding the aftermath of the loss of a sibling?

What surprised me the most was how open these strangers were with me and how generous and willing they were to share the details of their loss and their intense heartache. I felt so honored throughout the entire process to listen and hold these stories while I wrote the book. The interviews were healing for the interviewees as well. Many of them thanked me for giving them the space to talk about their deceased siblings.

Do you have any writing rituals, such as writing at a special desk or at a certain time?

No. My only requirement is not to have time restrictions. During a writing day, I shut off my phone and all notifications on my computer. It’s both freeing and necessary for me to have a wide, open space to dump down into the story and write for as long as I want to.

Your brother Rocky was courageous, spontaneous, and full of life. In what ways does his spirit help move and guide you forward?

In almost every way. A year after Rocky died, I made a declaration that I would try something new every month. It could have been as small as making a new meal to trying a new sport. The whole point was to push myself to take more risks. I say yes to things I would have said no to before he died, and I really try to walk my talk and believe in myself the way I believe in others. I’m not afraid of what people think of me anymore. Because of Rocky, I have the courage to launch my podcast. Because of Rocky, I wrote my first nonfiction book. Because of Rocky, I live in the moment much more than I used to. Because of Rocky, I appreciate every breath I’m given. Life truly is a gift not a given. I miss him and talk to him every day. I listen and wait for the signs that he’s with me and they always show up.

The whole world is experiencing a kind of communal loss. Still, some of us were directly impacted and lost loved ones. How can those of us less affected remember and support those more directly impacted by the pandemic?

Always ask about the person that someone has lost…a mother, a father, a child, a sibling, a friend, a grandparent…whoever that person lost during the pandemic due to the pandemic or for some other reason, ask. We all want to hear our loved one’s names; we always want to talk about them and share stories; we always want to remember. It’s ok if the person cries when you ask about their loved one. You are not making them sadder than they already are. They want to talk about the person who is no longer physically present in their lives. If they don’t want to talk, they will let you know.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on getting ready to launch this new podcast, which is very time consuming. I’m also working on a book about mothers and daughters and how mothers help to shape the women we become regardless of the bond we had with our deceased mothers.

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