Replacement Children Speak Out

This morning I opened up my email and saw that there was a post on a very interesting blog about my book, Replacement Child, on A Storied Career blog

The author of the blog, Kathy Hansen, had seen my book and understood immediately what was meant by the term ‘replacement child’ because she is one herself. The circumstances are quite different, not a plane crash, but a car crash that killed her sister before she was born.  Nevertheless, the tragedy was part of her life growing up and part of the way she grew to view herself and her place in the world.  She always wished for her big sister to be in her life, and even hoped she would come back for even a day.  I had a similar feeling that I always wondered how the dynamics of my family would have been different if Donna had lived through the plane crash and fire.  I also wonder if Kathy ever felt the responsibility I did to live up to the promise of her big sister–the life she might have had.  I know that there are many types of replacement children–those who replaced siblings who died from accidental deaths, tragic circumstances and natural causes.  It is always intriguing to me the different forms the impact of the role has on an individual.

Do you relate to any of the following possible effects of being a replacement child for one who died:

– Identity issues: establishing your own unique identity outside of the role of being a replacement for the child who died?

– Issues of abandonment.  This sometimes is the case when parents cannot be totally present for the replacement child.  In my case, for example, my father never really got over losing his eldest daughter–and I believe unconsciously did not forgive me for being alive when she was not.  His ongoing grief and resentment removed him in an essential way.

– Issues of rejection.  Sometimes fear of rejection, which a replacement child might feel in a more intense way from parents who may still be grieving, plays itself out later in life in a replacement child’s relationships.  In my case, I know that my own fear of rejection, of being left, often pushed me to be the one to leave first.

If you are a replacement child of any kind–tell us your story.  Did you have a sibling who died before you were born? Did you lose a brother or sister early in your childhood? Are you a parent who decided to have another child after losing one?

I look forward to hearing your stories, and will also follow Kathy’s blog as well.

#Job Loss Can Bring Opportunity

Follow your passion and you may just wind up doing the thing you love everyday. That was my primary message last night when I spoke to a community support group.  It was a great group of people, spanning a variety of backgrounds and skill sets–with one thing in common.  They had all lost jobs and were looking for a new opportunity, new ideas and a little inspiration.

If you’re new to my website, you may wonder what this has to do with Replacement Child, my memoir.  Well, I have to say that the book is a direct result of being downsized after a 20-year career in corporate marketing.  As it happens to me time and again, the telling of my story to this group clarified it for me.  I reminded myself that five years ago I made the tough decision not to go back into the corporate arena, but instead to start my own marketing copywriting business–and to give myself the time to write the book I had always wanted to write about my family and the plane crash that changed everything for us all.  It wasn’t an easy decision, and I remember the angst that went along with writing up my business plan, putting out feelers to possible clients, and taking the plunge.

Talking to the group last evening, I didn’t want it to sound like everyone should just stop looking for a job–but that they might just take another look at something that may have always been in the back of their mind and see if their reasons for not pursuing it were real, or imagined.  We sometimes talk ourselves out of taking risks with roadblocks that are only in our minds.  I asked the group if they would open up and share their own personal passion–something they had thought about but that didn’t seem realistic. Slowly, hands went up around the room and a lively discussion began.

One person talked about thinking she needed a business education to start a small business, but after we all talked about using Quickbooks to manage accounts and finances–she may be re-thinking whether that is indeed an obstacle for her.  Another woman confided that she had always regretted not going ahead with buying a hot dog cart–for the freedom it might give her, and the fun she thought it would be to run it with a friend.  She’s looking for another one now I think!  One ambitious woman started talking about two ideas she had and we all realized that she was already doing both on a small scale, and could possibly grow them to see what will work best.

We talked a bit about networking with friends, and social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.  I imparted a few tips I’ve picked up marketing Replacement Child.  That topic could take up many more hours! I also warned that while those social sites are great and very helpful, they can be a black hole that consumes your time.  Setting aside a certain amount of time each day for them is a good idea–but not more than an hour or so.

Right after the group broke up I had a brief conversation with one woman about what helps to keep you from feeling down when you are suddenly out of work, and I realized I had missed an opportunity to share some of the things that helped me during that time in my life.  I told her how making myself a schedule helped a great deal.  For me it was writing in the morning (either work assignments or my book), exercise in the afternoon, marketing my business or project for a couple of hours in between.  We agreed that keeping busy was important.

I hope the group came away with renewed inspiration to look at their job loss as an opportunity to reshape their work life, and maybe to rethink that one idea that put a spark of excitement into their voices when they told about it.


I was finally asleep after a fitful night in the hotel when the phone rang just after 7 am. The nurse at the hospice told me in a soft voice that my mother had passed earlier that morning. She waited for a response.  “I’ll be right there,” I said.  “No need to rush,” she reminded me.

We had stayed with her until the early hours of that morning, and my mother had seemed stable–though we knew she didn’t have long. I had been at the hospital for two days and was running on empty when the nurse convinced me to go get some sleep. My sister Linda was also worn out and had gone home for the night.  We had both slept on couches the night before, taking shifts to be with mom. It was harder for Linda, with her bad leg and back–but she didn’t complain–and we laughed a few times as we tried to make ourselves comfortable with blankets and pillows taken from supply cabinets we found unlocked during the night.  I went out for a food run and brought us back burgers and sodas to sustain us.  I had no idea this would be our last sisterly vigil together.  Linda too would be gone in a few years.

It was on this day five years ago that I got that phone call. My husband and son were asleep when they heard me talking, then crying.  We got dressed quickly to go to claim my mother’s body.  My son stayed at the hotel, I didn’t think he needed to see a dead body just then in his young life.  I called my sister and her daughters to meet us. My nieces came to the hospital, but Linda begged off–she’d seen enough death. She was the one who was with our father when he died only 7 months before. I understood–it was my turn.

The scene was unreal for me.  My mother in the bed, there but not there. I sat with her for a short while, kissed her forehead and walked out of the room.

My mother–Flurry, short for Florence–had the energy of ten women when she was younger.  She was the parent who bundled up her two little girls for a week at the beach in the summer–even if we could only afford to stay in one room together.  She made sure I went to the theater in New York, and that I got guitar lessons when I wanted them.  It was her encouragement that made me feel I could achieve anything–even happiness when the world seemed to turn against me.  All this even after losing her eldest daughter to a plane crash, and nursing Linda through myriad surgeries from her resulting burns and injuries.  How did she ever have the capacity for me after all that? Me with my rebellious nature, my sarcastic tone, my loud music and zigzag path to some kind of stability.  As one of her long-time friends reminded me at her memorial service, “Your mom was an incredible person–a wonderful friend.”

I’ve waited to stop missing her–as I suspect all loved children do.  I waited to stop wanting to call her and ask for recipes and for advice. And I waited to stop wanting to hear her voice on the phone. I’m waiting still to stop wanting to hear her stories — our stories — from her own lips.

Now, I’m only glad that I’ve written some of those stories down–and that sometimes, if I am very quiet, I can still hear her voice.