Picturing Her

Fourteen years ago, a good friend of photographer Thomas Roma died unexpectedly, and it made him afraid of dying, too. He suddenly felt an urgent need to connect with his 8-year-old son Giancarlo, so he gave him a stack of his photographs and asked him to pick his favorites and write down his interpretations. They put their photos and writing together in a book called Show & Tell. I did a story about the Romas and their book for Studio 360 twelve years ago—they held hands for almost the entire interview. Here’s that story, and yes, we all sound twelve years younger.

Giancarlo is 22 now. He and his dad now have a new book called the Waters of Our Time. It’s a beautiful little object, full of Thomas’s black-and-white photographs and a fictional story that Giancarlo wrote from the POV of an old woman.

The story starts smack on the front cover

The story starts smack on the front cover

The pictures in this book are the most meaningful ones from Thomas’s life—he pulled 142 from 38,000 images over a lifetime of shooting. Mostly, they’re pictures of Giancarlo going backwards in time—from young man, to boy, to baby.



The other recurring character in the book is Anna, Thomas’s wife. The sequence below shows up at the end of the book.



These photos represent Mary, Giancarlo’s sister who died the day she was born. (That dress was hers.) He was only four years old. After Mary’s death, Giancarlo spent the rest of his life imagining what it would’ve been like not to be an only child but to be an older brother. He says that that loss pretty much trained him to be able to write from the perspective of a female at the end of her life in Waters.

When we think about pregnancy loss, we tend to think about the mom. And maybe also her partner. In this episode, Giancarlo tells us what it’s like to be the sibling.

Resources for Grieving Siblings
In a previous episode about stillbirth, we posted some resources for pregnancy loss. Here are some more, specifically geared toward siblings.

The Dougy Center provides support to grieving families locally, nationally, and internationally, with a focus on children, teens, and young adults.

The Compassionate Friends supports families after a child dies.

Good Grief is a New Jersey organization that helps children and teens cope with loss. The CEO, Joseph Primo, wrote the book What Do We Tell the Children?: Talking to Kids About Death and Dying. If you have another great local resource, post it in the comments.

Camp Erin is a free camp specifically for bereaved kids.

This blog post on the 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Siblings & Grief by Dr. Christina Hibbert spells out how a sibling’s experience of loss is uniquely different from their parents’ experience.

And, finally, listener and member of our Facebook group, Emily, has these words of advice: “I lost my 12-year-old brother when I was about 16; I strongly recommend a family vacation within 2 months of the death. It’s a good opportunity for the rest of the family to reset and grieve together outside of an everyday setting. It’s also a way to remind ourselves that there is still beauty and joy in other places if you seek them out.”

Have you lost a sibling?
How has it impacted YOUR life? Tell us in the comments.

Photos: Thomas Roma

8 thoughts on “EPISODE #35: Picturing Her

  1. My brother died the summer he graduated from high school, a month before I turned 8. Thirty years later his existence and death touches everything about me. It is true that that the siblings are the forgotten grievers when a child dies. No word for a parent who lost a child. No word for a sister who lost a brother. Since no one knows I lost a brother it becomes a secret by omission. When do you tell some one, what do you say? Why didn’t I tell them before?

    1. I lost my 21 year old brother when I was 10. I agree that the sibling is often a forgotten griever. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found I reveal this fact about myself less and less when I make new friends. It used to feel like a very defining aspect of my being, but life has moved on, and there are other things at the forefront of how I define myself (particularly since becoming a mother). I also have found that the grief wells up freshly as milestones come up in my life. But, again, my mental energy is so invested in learning to mother that I find my mind isn’t wandering to my brother’s death as often as it used to.

  2. My older sister died 4 months before I was born. She was my parents first and was born with a heart condition, living to 2 years old before succumbing to her illness. This sounds strange, but even though I didn’t grow up with her, I’ve always felt my parents’ grief as well as the specter of a gap created in our family (I have a younger sister as well). I always wondered who this person was and how I could fill the hole. Further, I wondered how much grief it is you are allowed to take on for a sibling you never got a chance to grow with. When I finally transitioned to the “trying to become/becoming a mom” stage, my sister’s non-presence really became an issue for me– I spent so much time worrying about losing daughter in a similar way. I’ve developed so much more empathy for my parents, though, and remain amazed they were able to keep it all together.

  3. My older sister committed suicide almost 2 years ago. She was 5 years older than me and would have been 49 this month. We had grown apart in that past several years of her life so I didn’t realize just how depressed and unstable she was at the time of her death. I’m still very angry with her along with the heavy sadness that remains. I’m even more sad and angry for how her death affects my mother. I believe she was my mother’s favorite, even though parents aren’t supposed to say they have favorites. I’m sad that my sister is gone but I’m more angry that she’s left me and my brother to take care of our mother in her now devastated and fragile state.

  4. My 7-year-old brother died when I was 10, and it has taken a long time for me to come to terms with the far-reaching impact this has had on my life. As previous posters have commented, it is a decision you have to make each time you meet someone new–Do you bring it up? If so, when? There are people I consider good friends who I’ve never told because it didn’t come up naturally at an early stage of the relationship and it seems weird to bring it up now.
    When I was younger I was more hesitant to tell people because revealing the information usually led to an awkward/depressing derailment of conversation. Also, I perceived it more as my parents’ loss than as my own–even though I was also deeply affected by it. Nowadays I’ve turned more toward “owning” the loss, and when people ask if I have any brothers or sisters more often than not I take a deep breath and tell the whole truth.

  5. Open to Hope is a website and organization created by Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley to help people regain hope after loss. It has many articles on dealing with grief, and is a wonderful resource. The doctors also post podcast interviews with grief specialists.

  6. I recently found this podcast and have been binge listening to every episode. This episode, in particular, struck a cord with me. My little brother died following surgery to fix a heart defect when he was 3 months old. I was 3 years old. Every year around his birthday my mom gets depressed, and so do I. Yet , so as not to upset my parents I never discuss my feelings with them; however, I never feel like I can talk to anyone else either. Most people don’t know I had a brother who died and it’s not an easy topic to bring up. I had a particularly difficult time when I was pregnant with my son. I was so nervous he would be born with a heart defect I couldn’t relax and enjoy my pregnancy until my husband and I spoke with a genetic counselor and had an anatomy scan done at 21 weeks to check his heart. Thankfully, my son was born healthy last year, 2 weeks after my brother’s birthday. This year on my brother’s birthday I told my almost one year old all about his uncle, and I didn’t feel quite so sad.

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