The Next Big Thing – Blog Hop

Replacement Child - a memoir
Replacement Child – a memoir

Hop on the Blog Hop for The Next Big Thing!

Well, this is fun! And, great for those of you looking for the next big thing for your reading life. I’m proud to be able to tell you about my book coming out in March, and to spread the word about new upcoming works, and works in progress from writers I admire. Follow the blog train and I’m sure you’ll find something that will interest you now, or to look for in the future.

Thanks so much to Sande Boritz Berger for tagging me for The Next Big Thing.

Check out her blog and learn about her upcoming work at http://sandeboritzberger.wordpress.com

I was also tagged by writer Karen Rider, and a big shout out to her for tagging me. I feel like the prom queen! Check her out at: http://www.karenmrider.com/blog/

Here’s my contribution to The Next Big Thing.

What is the title of your book?

Replacement Child

What is the genre?

Memoir

Where did the idea for the book come from?

The idea was in my head for most of my life, to tell the story of my family and their recovery from a tragic accident that took the life of their seven-year-old daughter and left their two-year-old critically injured. In writing it, I realized my role in that story, as a replacement for the daughter lost.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

That is such an interesting notion. I’ve thought recently that Laura Linney would make a great choice to play me as an adult. Not sure who would play that character as a child. Angelina Jolie has always been my choice to play my mother, and Stanley Tucci as my father. My husband would very much like to be played by George Clooney. Why not?!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Replacement Child tells the true story of the aftermath of a horrifying accident: a plane crashes into a family’s home, leaving one daughter severely burned and another dead. The death of the child leaves a hole in the family that threatens to tear it apart—but in a great act of hope, the parents give birth to a “replacement child,” born to fill the painful gap.

Who is publishing Replacement Child?

Replacement Child is being published by Seal Press/Perseus and will be released on March 5, 2013. It’s available for pre-sale now!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Three years for the first draft, a year of revisions, plus those other forty thinking about it.

What other books would you compare this story?

I’ve heard Replacement Child compared to Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, even though it is fiction and mine is memoir.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was driven to write the story after my parents passed away. Their notes, newspaper clippings and letters urged me to write the book.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It is not only the story of recovery after the unthinkable tragedy of losing a child, but it explores the journey of the child brought into the world to heal her family, and about the complex family dynamics with her parents, her remaining sister—and in some sense, the sister she never knew.

Here are authors I’ve tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing:

Patricia Sheehy: http://www.patsheehy.com

Tracy Strauss: http://tracystrauss.com/notes-on-proper-usage/

Karen Rider: http://www.karenmrider.com/blog/

 

 

Grieving, Subsequent Children, and the Replacement Child, After the Death of a Child

Abigail Brenner, M.D.Guest interview with Abigail Brenner, M.D.

I conducted this interview with Abigail Brenner, M.D., several weeks ago. It now seems to have a new relevance in light of the Newtown tragedy as I asked her the questions I so often hear concerning replacement children.

Dr. Brenner is a psychiatrist in private practice. A board certified psychiatrist in practice for more than 30 years, Dr. Brenner is a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Her work has focused on understanding change and the challenges and opportunities afforded by change in relationship to major life transitions. She is the author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life, SHIFT: How to Deal When Life Changes, and co-author of The Essential Guide to Baby’s First Year (Alpha Books, a member of the Penguin Group).

Judy: Dr. Brenner, thanks so much for sharing some of your insights with my readers. I understand that you are doing research right now, along with your co-author, for a new book about replacement children; children who are born after the death of another child in the family. Can you explain what brought you to the subject, and why you feel it’s an important topic to research and write about now?

Dr. Brenner:  A very dear friend is a replacement child and through many conversations with her I’ve become aware of the many issues replacement children face. Since I’ve written several other books she thought it would be good to work together writing about replacement children. When I began to do research on the topic I realized how little exists on the topic.

My co-author has since been in touch with other replacement children, many as adults, and it became apparent that there are so many issues the replacement child has to face, often moving forward through their lives.

Judy: Do you have any personal experience as a replacement child, or with replacement children?

Dr. Brenner: I am not a replacement child and most of my initial understanding has come from the friend I just mentioned, plus the replacement children I’ve been in touch with since.

Judy: How about in your practice? Have you treated replacement children, or parents of replacement children? And, if so, have you found similarities among them as to the issues they face? What are some of them that you find most often?

Dr. Brenner: It’s interesting, but I don’t believe I’ve treated replacement children during my years of practice. I say, believe, because although I’ve known many people who have had “subsequent” children, I was not aware of the phenomenon of a child born to specifically replace a child who had passed away.

I use the term “subsequent” to describe a child born after another child in the family has died, but in this scenario, the parents want that child and have carefully thought out what having another child would mean for the family. That child is a unique individual unto themselves and is not meant to serve as a replacement for another child.

In interviews with several replacement children there appears to be a spectrum of issues and symptoms—which I talk about a little later on.

Judy: Do you find that parents are aware that they are having, or have had, a replacement child? And do they usually prefer the term ‘subsequent child?’

Dr. Brenner: Many people are totally unaware that they are having another child to make up for the loss of a child who has passed away. Many parents have been urged by their doctors and family to have another child to make up for the loss. When you search the literature about the profound grief that surrounds the death of a child, especially an infant who is stillborn or a child who dies shortly after birth, you find little understanding about the absolute necessity for the grieving process. Many people have another child and have not grieved for the lost child. Sometimes there is incomplete grief that lasts a lifetime.

Judy: Can you talk about the spectrum of issues you see with replacement children? Some who may have more issues than others, and why there is that difference?

Dr. Brenner: There appears to be a constellation of issues and symptoms. The experience of a replacement child seems to exist along a continuum—from the most extreme, to individuals barely aware that they are replacement children, to a larger population of individuals who recognize themselves in a middle-of-the-road position. We want to talk about all of these in our book.

Classically, parents often don’t complete the grieving process and continue to mourn the death of their child. The replacement child often feels inadequate to compete with the deceased child since they are often compared to an idealized version of the child who has died. To the parents, these children would have been perfect and brilliant in every way and the replacement child often feels the need to be perfect to be able to compete with their idealized sibling. Parents are often overprotective, controlling, and intrusive in the lives of children (especially replacement children) after they have suffered the loss of another child.

Replacement children sometimes don’t acknowledge their own need for help, have difficulty with guilt, are frequently aware of their parents’ vulnerability and attempt to take care of their parents’ fragile emotional state.

Judy: I have to say that I relate to all of what you’ve just said, as a replacement child, which I never thought of myself as until writing my memoir and facing many of those issues. Are there measures that you believe parents can take to minimize any negative effects of having a child subsequent to another child’s death? What would you advise parents to look out for?

Dr. Brenner: I would advise parents to take the time necessary to understand what has happened to them and to get professional help, if necessary, BEFORE they have a subsequent child. I would tell parents that grief is absolutely expected but that working through this process is essential for being able to move on—to never forget, but to be able to move on in life in a healthy way.

Judy: Are there any surprises as yet with your research? Things about replacement children or their parents that you did not expect?

Dr. Brenner: I am surprised that the therapeutic community, until relatively recently, has not understood the grieving process for parents who have lost a child.  I’m also surprised at the lack of research necessary to help parents work through their “unfinished business”— before they decide to become parents once again, for any subsequent child.

Judy: What is your advice to those who discover that being a replacement child may have had a negative effect on their life?

Dr. Brenner: Hopefully, with the publication of your memoir, Replacement Child, Judy, and our book, people will find explanations and resources for many issues they had not been aware of for much of their lives. Perhaps, you and I can put together some resources such as therapists that are familiar with and/or have treated replacement children and/or support groups for those who are searching for answers.

Approaching therapy (especially for those who have been in therapy previously when they were not aware) with the recognition that many factors may have influenced how they’ve lived their life up to now may help focus on those specific issues that may shed new light and allow for a new and broader perspective.

Judy: Thanks so much Abigail.

You may also be interested in Dr. Brenner’s latest blog addressing issues of siblings who have lost a brother or sister to the Newtown tragedy:

The Forgotten Mourners: Strategies to Help Bereaved Surviving Siblings

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-flux/201212/the-forgotten-mourners

Her website is: www.abigailbrenner.com

 

A Message of Hope for Newtown Parents

birdMy mother always told me that life was never the same for her after she lost her first-born child. Like the tragedy in Newtown that took 20 precious children, at the hands of a gunman surely struggling with his own demons, there was no sense to be made of my sister’s death. We can rail at gun control laws that are failing us, at a mother who thought she had a need for assault weapons in her home, at a system that may have failed a troubled young man.

But, I want to offer a measure of hope for the families of the lost children.

My parents lost their 7-year-old daughter in a tragic accident many years ago. Though it was a different circumstance, a plane crashing into their home, it was also the loss of a child through sudden tragedy. A loss that brought an abrupt and cruel end to the hopes and dreams any parent has for their child. At six and seven, children are seeing the joy in their everyday life and re-teaching their parents to see it too. We take that journey back with them, and they show us what we forget to treasure. Images of my own son at that age have come back to me over the last few days in hearing about the Newtown massacre, and seeing the photos of the children. I remember how excited he was to be learning about the world, making new friends, finding his own voice. Losing him would have been the end of my world, as it seemed for my parents, and as it seems for the parents in Newtown right now.

But, I learned an invaluable lesson from my parents’ journey through their grief. Even though they had no professional guidance, and floundered with how to go on, they did find their way. They also had another child at the time, a two-year-old who was injured in the plane crash and fire, and they rallied to nurse her back to health. It may have been a mixed blessing that they had no time to dwell on their loss of their older daughter, though I know she never left their hearts for the rest of their lives. And, in many ways, she was with them always. Later, they had another child—me.

I’m not suggesting platitudes for the grief stricken parents that life goes on. I will say that I learned from my parents’ story that we sometimes expect too much of ourselves when tragedy strikes. That ‘normal’ may have a new definition. That grieving has it’s own timetable for every individual, and we each need to give each other permission to grieve in our own way.

My mother struggled with her new reality, I know, for a very long time. But, eventually she smiled. She laughed with her husband and her children again. And, though my parents grieved in very different ways, they found each other again and were able to build new family memories.

Prayers that parents in Newtown find their way home.

Prayers for Newtown

 

ripplewater

It was the image of parents running to see if their children were safe that stayed with me. The father whose anguish was clear as he told of his feelings of helplessness, not being able to protect his child from the gunman who took 28 lives yesterday; 20 of children, in Newtown, Connecticut.

I couldn’t help thinking of my own father running home so many years ago when a plane crashed into that home where he and his wife and two daughters lived. Running on foot, forgetting his car was just a block away. Arriving on the scene of chaos, much like the one we saw on the news yesterday. Trying to identify himself to firemen who still fought the fire from the crash; searching for a daughter who was not to be found.

We all bring our own past to bear when we are witness to a tragedy like Newtown’s massacre.  The immediate shock for the families is on my mind, and they are in my heart and prayers. But, I also know that these kinds of wounds for a family have long tentacles. Long after these headlines fade, and others take their place, these parents of lost children will struggle with their grief, and siblings will miss their sister or brother every day. And, from experience, I know that even future generations will feel the loss.

President Obama brought it home when he said that there will be birthdays, holidays, graduations and all the mundane events of everyday life when these children will be newly missed through the years to come. And, as a minister said on the scene, these families have “had their joy stolen today.”

Saying prayers today for all those lost, and all those left behind.

Getting a Book Deal After Self-Publishing

Check out my guest post on Jane Friedman’s great site:

“Flight” Put Me in the Cockpit of 6780

My parents' home just after the plane crashI had a visceral reaction to the beginning of the superb film, Flight, while the pilot (Denzel Washington), struggled to keep his plane in the air after a mechanical failure. I’m sure many moviegoers felt the tension and related to the panic of the passengers, but I believe something else was also at work here for me personally.

Spoiler alert for the rest of this post, in case you haven’t yet seen this terrific movie.

I thought immediately of all the people who would be devastated by the crash, by the deaths of however many people might die in the plane or on the ground. About the long aftermath of any tragedy in which children, parents, wives and husbands are killed. When they are missing from their families forever. When those left behind try to make sense of the senseless, just as my mother and father did when a plane crashed into their home and killed their eldest daughter.

Watching that plane go down in Flight, I couldn’t help but think of the plane crash that killed my sister Donna when it nose-dived into the house next door and ripped the roof off of the apartment where my family lived. Surely, Captain Reid, the real-life pilot of that flight, 6780 from Buffalo to Newark in 1952, went through similar anguish depicted in the film, along with his passengers. He was unable to land, or find a clearing that would spare lives on the ground. He lost his life. All the souls on board were killed, along with my sister and others on the ground. But, he was able to steer clear of a school, saving the 300 students still inside that afternoon. We’ll never know if that was a conscious decision, but I like to think it was.

As Denzel Washington soared over the heads of the gathering in the field in the movie, I thought of the split second decisions that save lives, or forfeit them. The teacher that kept his class after school so that he didn’t arrive home to his apartment above my parents until after the plane had decimated the building. My mother’s decision to send home the girls meeting at her apartment a half hour earlier than usual. And the fateful choice my sister made to come home from school an hour earlier than planned.

Flight was, of course, about much more than a plane crash. It was about a life that was careening out of control, speeding toward inevitable implosion that could only be stopped by facing the truth.