Talk early, talk often, talk right, talk with your eyes

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Robby's Voice, Talking to kids, Tags: , , ,

talk-to-kidsWe say it all the time. Talk early, often, right; but what do we mean?

Talk early, and we don’t mean in the morning

No age is too early to have age appropriate discussions.  Get into the habit of having open conversations with your kids about sensitive subjects starting when they’re young. Four or five years old is not too young, if done right.  Remember, our kids go to other kids’ homes.  What will they see in the house, in sibling rooms or in the medicine cabinet? We don’t know what could be lying around the house or what they may be exposed to while there. Education starts young.  We help them understand right and wrong and just as important is teaching good and bad and the importance of talking to Mom and Dad (yes, they can break the silence!!!)

  • The average age of the first time pill abuse is 14 years old
  • The average age of the first time marijuana use is 12 years old


Look for opportunities to talk often

Think about this. How important is any subject if it is never talked about?  Exactly, not very and our kids know it.  There are opportunities presented regularly to engage in conversations with our kids.  The media, sports, Hollywood and school events never seem to provide a shortage of topics.  When we talk often, we create open dialogue with our kids about sensitive subjects which helps them come to us with the troubling issues…if we talk right.


The right talk track

The biggest mistake I made as a parent was talking to my kids about drugs as opposed to talking with them.  I am guilty of the “drugs are for losers” comments, never realizing that if my kids were ever in trouble, why would they want me to think they were losers?  I was wrong and that may have had an impact on Robby.

How do we talk right?  Here are a few suggestions;

  • Talk with our kids, not at our kids. Encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings about things. We may uncover fears they have or perceptions that need to be addressed.
  • Ask questions and let them talk. Invite their opinions. It shows them a different level of respect, and by asking questions we allow are able to dig deeper into what they know, what they have seen and what they have experienced. Even when we want to reach out and give them the preverbal smack to the back of the head for what they are saying, let them talk. We as parents learn, and if we get in the habit of cutting them off, we lose the opportunity to learn now and in future discussions.
  • Listen with our eyes. Watching their body language when we ask questions can tell us as much as listening with our ears. It allows us the opportunity to encourage further explanations, and allows us to uncover things they may be hiding.


We must not be afraid of learning what we may not want to know. Nobody wants to have this issue in their home, and we certainly are not prepared for it.  Talking early, often and right not only enhances prevention, but helps us uncover issues our kids are facing earlier, when help can prevent bigger issues.

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A Lesson in Conversation from Dr. Doolitte

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Talking to kids, Tags: , , ,

mother-child-talking-rexWouldn’t it be great if we had the same engaged conversations with our kids as Dr. Doolittle had with the animals? We always promote talk early, often and right, but what does that mean exactly?

I had an opportunity to really think about that as I was having a conversation with a mom about how we are “drugging” our kids from the time they are little. Now, I am not saying no to Tylenol, but I do think we miss golden opportunities to talk to our kids.

Imagine the scene:

  • Your three year old has a fever and they are hanging all over you and you give them two teaspoons of Tylenol, something to drink, and a kiss on the forehead. What have they learned; Mommy loves me (so does Daddy), and take medicine (translate when older to”take a pill and feel better”).
  • Now, let’s change the picture. As we prepare the medicine, we sit down with them and take one minute and say “let’s read the directions.”  “This is for fever and kids your age can take one teaspoon to help the fever go away, but we can only take it for two days, and we have to make sure to drink a lot of water and…”

The same goes for you and me!

This exercise applies to us as well. Kids need to see us reading the directions, locking medicines away, and respecting the power of whatever pill we are taking.  They are watching and they will learn more from what we do than what we say.

As they get a bit older, have them read the indications and directions and warnings out loud to you. Help them take ownership of the information as we continue to reinforce the importance of not embracing the “take a pill, feel better mentality.

You get the picture. They dynamic changed and we have started to teach, at a young age, understanding and respect for medicine as well as other healthy habits, and we carry that right through.  These are the little things we have to do to stem the tide and to make sure the next child isn’t yours.

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Losing a child to addiction: The Dreaded Question

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Tags: , , , ,

As I sat on a Sunday night at about 10:21pm catching up on news before hitting the hay for a 4:00am alarm when I came across this article which caused me to put pen to paper.

The article addressed “THE QUESTION,” that so many of us that have lost a child struggle with and in a strange paradoxical way, both hope gets asked and does not get asked. The question; “How many kids do you have?”

I personally struggled with this question when Robby passed. It was hard to answer. Do I say two and completely avoid the discussion? Do I say three and act as if he was still alive?

I most often answered three as I refused to add anymore guilt to my plate. I found it to be both honest and accurate until the next question came. “How old are they?” In my mind, the flares went off and that odd confusion set in as I thought to myself “damn, you had to ask that!” I may have used a bit more colorful language mentally, but you get the gist. My mental verbiage got really colorful as I knew the next question would be “how did he pass…”

 How I feel

The article made two really good points:

  1.  It is as uncomfortable to get the answer as it is to give the answer. This is especially true early in the process as trying to gauge just how deep we get and with whom tends to cause the head to spin. While we don’t mean to cause them to be uncomfortable, the mere nature of the answer, “my (pick a child) passed away,” is just uncomfortable.
  2.  The second point is one that I found profound and insightful. By answering honestly, it gives others an opportunity to share if they, or someone close to them, had the same experience.

Like it or not, there is still a stigma surrounding addiction. Many people keep walls built around their families where addiction is concerned, carrying the burden alone, not realizing they don’t have to.

 What I have learned

Here is what I have to pass along to anyone it might help.

  1.  It gets easier to answer as time goes by. Figure out how you want to answer the question(s) and stay with what is comfortable. Over time, your answer becomes “normal” and you will feel better as you give it.
  2. You are not alone. If we tell 10 people that Robby passed of a drug overdose, only one looks at us like we are the worst people in the world. The other nine almost immediately launch into conversation about how addiction has hit their family. It is as if we opened the door for them to discuss because we get it. We understand. Often, they are looking for help for themselves or friends and we are able to engage with them and offer some help. The other “one” that passes judgement probably doesn’t even know addiction has hit someone in their family or is just not ready to face it, but when they are, they now know where to find us.

Easy isn’t in our vocabulary

Truth is, it is still not “easy” when I know that question is coming. There are times when I still fumble and feel like I have betrayed Robby’s memory. But this is what I do know. I know who my son was, and I am proud of whom he was as a person. Yes, he was an addict and as a result, did some things that may have violated a few laws, but that was the drug talking, not Robby. If you choose to pass judgement on him or us as parents, that is on you, I won’t carry that burden.

So, if you ask me how many kids I have, the answer is three. If you want more detail, you will learn that my eldest would have been 25 this year, but he passed almost four years ago. If that makes you uncomfortable, I am not sorry. I am and will always be the father of three amazing young people, and that is how it will always be.

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Venturing into the light of life

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Tags: , , , ,

vacation brandtsVacation. We all need one, even us.

Last week, the Brandt family took some time away and went on vacation; the first vacation we have taken without Robby. I started to write this post last week from the third floor of the home we rented in the Outer Banks and realized we live in a world where I have to wait until we return before I can let people know we are gone – now that is crazy!

I did want to take some time and share our thoughts on this trip as it is another “first” that we are encountering, and firsts are part of what we all (that have lost) live with regularly.  As I talk with families, we spend a lot of time talking about firsts.

So here we go.

The vacation house

I have to acknowledge that there was some awkward trepidation in the house as this week approached.  It is just different to be doing a family vacation without Robby as he was part of every family vacation we took, and all the places we went to for the “first” time.  Yet, I think in a way we all needed a get-away, and at some point, we are all confronted with these firsts.
The questions are really simple; will you take that step and do it and if so, how will you handle it?  I can’t answer that one for you; that is all up to each of us.

You may not be moving…but the world is

What I do know is that the world moves on, whether we want it to or not, it continues to spin and the sun comes up every day.  We choose to take the next step or not and if I knew the how’s or why’s around that, I would bottle it and sell it.  What I do know is that the choice is each of ours and nobody has the right to tell us to make it or when to make it.  Grief walks its own path on its own time, and it impacts each of us in its own way.  It is ours and it is personal.

I do believe that sometimes we need a nudge or just have to have faith and force ourselves to take that step back out into the light.  When we get there, the world is undoubtedly different, painfully incomplete and foggy, but it is there.  And so for us, the world last week was the Outer Banks and we will build new memories and lament the fact that Robby is not with us the way we would like (wait for the Barney blog).  It is all part of our new reality.

Comfort in others

We are not alone, and we don’t walk this path alone and neither are any of you reading this.  Together, we are strong for each other as we continue to venture out into the light –

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Memories: Unexpected, Unexplainable, Treasured

Posted by Anne Browning, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Tags: , , , ,

This was Robby’s car, and with everything Robby, there was a story. robby car

On his way to a rehab session, Robby had a fender bender.  Unfortunately, the damage to the car was far greater than the value of the car so we decided not to have it fixed.  We gave it to my sister and her husband as he tinkered with cars as a hobby.  Four years later, I received this picture from him, as he finally finished repairing Robby’s car (it will always be his).  The picture came over as a text message, and the wave of emotion that hit me was staggering.  I feel the need to share these as I know many of you struggle with seeing these things as well.  There is also a great story to tell and I have to share it!

The moment I saw this picture, my mind hit hyper-drive, and a flood of memories cascaded, one at a time, vivid as the day they happened.  I remembered the day I saw this car on the lot and knew that the red convertible Saab was all Robby.  I remember bringing it home and seeing the look on his face (he paid for a large part of it; it was his car!).  I remember how he washed it every day and how he lived to ride with the top down.  This car was freedom, pride and personal for Robby.

I remember receiving a call while I was in Boston as he told me about the accident; it was OK because he was OK.  I remember the sadness when he knew that fixing the car was not an option.  I remember seeing the car at my sisters, a few weeks after the funeral, as all of these memories hit me for the first time.

I know that this was not an easy job for my brother-in-law.  But I also know that I don’t know how I feel about it.  I don’t know that I want anyone driving it.   Don’t know that I want to see it on the road or in a driveway.  I don’t know that I want anything but for it to be destroyed.  I don’t know how I feel about it at all, but I do know that when I see this car, it is my trigger and the memories all come alive.  What I do know is that all these feelings and the lack of “knowing” are OK; they are normal and they are my feelings.

This is part of what we live with – think about everything in your home or life that reminds you of your kids.  For those that have lost a child, every one of those things resurrects memories and far too often we just don’t know how we feel about them.

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