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Losing a sibling is a painful experience. That grief can be complex and long-lasting. In this insightful podcast episode, Zander engages in a meaningful conversation with Uzette Salazar, a multimedia superstar with over 30 years in local San Francisco radio. They explore Uzette’s personal journey, her tight-knit family background, and the tragic loss of her brother, Tom, shedding light on the challenges of coping with grief. Uzette’s resilience and gratitude for the hands-up she received along her path create a touching narrative. Join Uzette’s unexpected journey towards a tragic loss.

Listen to the podcast here

 

EPIC Unexpected With Uzette Salazar Part 1

In this episode, I’m going to be talking with Uzette Salazar, and we’re doing EPIC Unexpected, another chapter talking about sibling laws and stuff. Uzette, thank you so much for coming on. Maybe just share a little about who you are and what you do.

Thank you for having me on. It’s such a delight to be here with you. We’ve been talking for a long time over the years, so it’s great to be able to communicate with you and talk about your journey and what you’re trying to do. A little background on my information is that I grew up in San Francisco, Noe Valley. I was raised by my father and two brothers. My mom was still in the picture, but my mom was ill throughout my life, and so she was doing her own thing in Los Angeles. My dad brought us to San Francisco and raised us.

We were a very tight-knit family. It was us three against the world. We covered for each other anytime we got in trouble because if one got in trouble, everyone was getting in trouble. We kept things from my dad because no one wanted to get in trouble, and that’s how we formed our bond since we were little kids. Again, I was very tight with my brothers. I was the only girl, the youngest one. We were a year apart from each other, so we are very close. As far as just any other background than that, should we talk about how he passed away?

Yeah, absolutely. We’re going to get to that but more importantly, what I want to say is that Uzette is a multimedia superstar. She’s been on local San Francisco radio for more years than she and I will talk about.

I think it’s over 30 years that I’ve been on the radio or television. My dad was a broadcaster and so was my grandfather. I always knew that’s what I wanted to do growing up. I went to City College and then went to state. I did a bunch of five different internships or so around the Bay Area. I’m very grateful because people helped me along the way. That’s why when people ask me for help for things, I’m right there, “What can I do for you? What do you need? Who can I call for you? Who can I email for you to get you into that door?” I’ve always been just very grateful for people along my road not just in broadcasting but just through my life. I’ve had not hands out but hands up.

EPIC Begins With 1 Step Forward | Uzette Salazar | Coping With Grief

Certainly, that kind of support is essential, as you and I unfortunately both know, when you lose a sibling. Why don’t you, if you don’t mind, take a moment and talk about your brother, who he was, and what happened?

Tom’s Tragic Story

My brother’s name was Tom. I was 18. He was 19. My brother, Anthony, was 20. He was already away in college in Santa Barbara, so it was just at the time myself and my brother, Tom. Because we were also close-knit, we hung around the same people. We were neighborhood people. We hung around people from around the block, and kids at the park. We all just hung around together. It was December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, and this was 35 years ago. That morning, Tom had told me he was going to purchase a motorcycle. I begged him not to, “Please don’t.” He was the kind of guy that was cool with the ladies and he was just the most carefree person, which bothered me. Even though I was the younger person, it bothered me that he wasn’t thinking twice about what he was doing.

A year or so, he had a car that he bought, some hooptie he bought for $400 that he parked around the corner from our house that my dad had no idea about. He got a Grim Reaper tattoo that he had for a couple of years that my dad didn’t know anything about. He would wear a robe or cover-up when he got a shower. He was not the Grim Reaper. It was just some stupid thing he did with this idiot friend. His decisions, I was very fearful and I felt all the time I had to look out for him.

That day, he told me he was going to do that. I asked him who he was going to buy the motorcycle for, and it was this guy down the street who had a big family of his own, sisters and brothers. I went down to that guy’s house and pleaded with him to not sell that to my brother, “Please, do not sell that motorcycle to my brother.” He laughed at me like a little girl, even though he was only a couple of years older than me. I went home and I was watching some news and the Pearl Harbor footage started coming up. It wasn’t the History Channel because that wasn’t around just yet, but it was something along those lines, some kind of documentary.

I remember sitting at the very edge of the coffee table glued to it, just praying to God, thanking God that my brothers were not at war. Thank God that they were not killed at War. All these thoughts were going through my head, “Thank, God, I have my brothers.” That day, he goes off to do his thing. I think I was cleaning some guy’s house that day. After I went and cleaned this guy’s house, I went back to the side piece that I was seeing at the time since I was eleven. He was there for me when I needed someone, so we would hook up occasionally.

I went to his house and we were hanging out in his bedroom, and our other friends, Tom was going to go meet them at the pizza place. We were all going to come back and hang out. I’m in the bedroom with this boy, which is weird because I didn’t even know my dad had that boy’s number. The boy at that time lived with his grandmother, so the grandmother came knocking on the bedroom door, and it was my father. He told me that my brother had been hit by a truck while riding a motorcycle two blocks from where I was. Again, we hung out in the same neighborhood. I sat there. We went to the General Hospital in San Francisco. He was pronounced dead. I don’t know, they wheeled him out perhaps so we could say goodbye. I’m not sure, to be honest with you. I did read the death report, but mostly it was head trauma but lacerated along his front parts.

They wheeled him out and he’s bald. He had hair like me, lots of it. He’s bald just like you, and they have his hair in a Ziploc bag. Here I’m thinking the only thing I could do is grab that hair and hold on to it. I remember just sinking to the ground. That was the first time in my life. It’s only happened a few times, but I remember just literally sinking to the ground. That was what happened that night. I remember I also did one other thing. I believe they had his wallet in another bag. I grabbed the wallet because I knew that he was a donor, but at that time, I didn’t want anyone taking any piece of him, so I grabbed his wallet. To this day, I look at it almost every single morning because it’s in my underwear drawer. It’s so selfish when I look back, “There could have been some organs he could have donated,” but at that time, what I had left of him was all I wanted.

That was that night. My mom and dad were broken. I was broken. That defines my life very much. What’s bigger than a milestone? It’s something huge. That’s where I started remembering stuff. It was everything became after Tom died. That’s what happened. I can still go past that same spot. They ended up putting a stop sign there because that was not the first accident that had occurred there. There’s something stupid and funny, but my aunt who lives in LA, not too much longer, maybe a couple years after Tom died. She went a woman who called herself a bruja.

A psychic?

Whatever they’re called. By the way, we never found the person. This is why she went to this psychic person because we never found the person. All we knew was that it was an orange or red truck, possibly with a rack. There were investigations that went on. My dad had friends in the police department, but no one ever found anything. There were times when I would go through the neighborhood looking for a red truck and just looking around, and someone has to know something, someone knows something. There were so many times when I wanted to go to Unsolved Mysteries, all these things that someone had to tell me to let go.

Anyway, my aunt asked, “Where is this person?” They said that the person killed themselves after this happened. I still can’t say that I totally forgive this person. I don’t know if I wish they were dead or alive. If they’re alive, I hope they think about it every single day. Sometimes forgiveness comes rough for me. Even though it’s been 35 years, there are some days when I go, “Yes, I forgive them.” There are other days I’m like, “No freaking way.”

No one wants to mess with the wrong Mexican, right?

Especially a family of them. That’s Tom’s story.

Thank you so much for sharing. The interesting thing is that my sister, Lucy, was killed on December 9th. You and I just had the angelversaries, whatever you want to call it. I’m just interested because I’m 24 years into my loss year, and 34 years into yours, just a question, when December 7th comes, do you find as the years go on that some years are easier than others, or is that day always challenging for you?

That is always very challenging. This angelversary is the first time, since social media’s been around, that I did not post anything. Usually, I would post a picture or something like that. This year, I didn’t want to read people saying they’re sorry. I didn’t want the pity. I just didn’t want it and I wanted to keep it to myself.

I didn’t want the pity. I want to keep it to myself.

I always say that most days I talk about Lucy, but there are days when I don’t want to talk about Lucy. Just Sunday night, my girlfriend and I were watching this CNN show talking about the mass shootings and the survivors and stuff. Then they were going to go to Chicago, and I had to stop watching because my sister was murdered in Chicago. Normally, I’m okay, but I was like, “Right now, I can’t do that.” Watching them interview the parents and people who survived some of these shootings and stuff, I can identify with all of that pain and I was in that space where I’m like, “I don’t want that right now.”

Christmas in general, I just don’t feel an appreciation for it.

They do get that.

What happened to your sister?

She was a second-year law student at John Marshall Law School. She was in her apartment and a maintenance worker in her building who had spent eight of the prior ten years in Joliet State Prison and stuff. As far as we can put together, he let himself into her apartment just to do some petty theft. Normally, she wouldn’t have been there but it was exam period, and she was there. They surprised each other. He ended up strangling her, jumping out her fourth-floor window on the second-floor roof where he broke his ankle. The police had him right away. There was never any question about who did it. Ten days later, he hung himself from the Cook County Prison.

You were talking about forgiveness and stuff like that, and I was just reflecting and thought I don’t forgive him for killing my sister. However, I think there’s karmic payback that he died the same way that he killed my sister, so I can let go. In working with lots of other sibling survivors, or obviously lots and lots of us out there, there was an article I saw talking about how the unacknowledged grief of sibling survivors is really detrimental. I don’t know your experience. I’m interested to hear about after Tom died, do people ask how you were or were people asking how your mom and dad were all the time?

Right after it happened, my dad let me go to a neighbor’s house, a lady neighbor. The boy I was telling you about that I was hanging out with, he let the boy stay with me for a week at that house because there were so many family members at our home that he didn’t want me dealing with that. I’m one of those people, and I think I always have been, that’s like, what do they call it? Keep your cards close to.

Keep your cards close to your chest as it were.

I’m one of those people already. I suppose people were asking, and I’m sure I said fine. Really, was I fine? Of course, not. Probably with that boy, I would cry with him or just cry in my own bedroom. I think my parents were trying to be strong for me and my brother. I would cry with my other brother.

Because you were an adult child, you were 18, and I was 28, but still not a little kid, but obviously still a child. I know for me, it was really hard to see my parents so devastated. I talked about this a lot how with people who are like, let’s say, 15, 16, or older, there’s this vicious circle where you see your dad sad and you’re like, “I want to take his pain because it kills me to see him in pain.” He sees that you’re sad, he wants to take your pain because that’s what parents do. Everyone’s trying to take care of everyone else and no one’s taking care of themselves, and therefore, everyone’s just spinning around in this circle. My experience was lots of people asked how my parents were. I get that question.

EPIC Begins With 1 Step Forward | Uzette Salazar | Coping With Grief

However, what about me?

Absolutely. Your sibling relationship is the longest one you’ll have in your life. From what it sounds like, you were really tight with Tom and you’re still tight with your brother, Anthony. For better or for worse, I think our siblings are some of our best friends. They know us better than we know ourselves. They know all of our secrets. They’re the person we can talk to. All of a sudden, when that person is gone, you’re like, “Now what do I do?” I think when people aren’t generally acknowledging our loss and the significance of our loss, I think as you said, it shaped your life. Everything is since Tom’s death.

Certainly, the work I’m doing, and here I am talking to you the work I’m doing on behalf of other sibling survivors trying to race that awareness, that comes because of Lucy, because I found that there really weren’t any resources for us. I was like, “I need to do something about that.” I wrote my book. I’ve got another book coming out, which is for parents to understand their living child’s grief. Every day, there are little things that remind me, and I’m sure there are things that remind you.

There are so many times when even the way his hair and he would walk it. It’s just little things.

I find that, not every day but probably now or at least once a month, there’s something little that comes along that reminds me of Lucy. Some days, it takes the wind right out of my sails. You’re like, “Oh my God.” It could be a song or a smell. It is a big thing, whether it’s perfume. Sometimes you’re just walking down the street and maybe you see someone who is walking the way Tom walked.

The Challenge Of Coping With Grief

This helped me a lot is that I did have a dream about him maybe, I don’t even know, let’s say a couple of months after he died. We were playing in the playground down the streets. I remember I was jumping rope and playing with some girls. I looked over and he was standing right there. Of course, I stopped jumping rope. I try to run to him, and the closer I run to him, the farther he gets back and says, “I can’t.” He wanted to let me know that he was okay. That helped.

Of course, it does. Right after my dad called and told me that Lucy had been murdered, and I was living in my apartment, so I got my car to drive to my parents’ house. I had a similar thing where I figured this is the worst thing and my parents are going to be catatonic in the corner, so I’m going to have to take care of everything because my younger sister was in Florida and lived in Florida at the time. I’m like, “She won’t be up for at least a day. I’ve got to take care of everything.”

Luckily, my parents were stronger than I gave them credit for. Funny enough, children underestimate the strength of their parents. I got thinking about in lieu of flowers, what do we do? As I remember this as clearly as day, and I have to say this was Lucy just niggling me to say, and I’m like, “We’ll have donations go to Jane Doe,” which is an organization in Boston that helps abused and battered women. I knew nothing of this organization except for the fact that the year before my sister had done a fundraising walk and I had given her money, and sponsored her, that was all I knew about it. It was one of those things that as I’m driving, I’m like, “Okay. Yep. Click. Move on to the next thing.” I get in, I tell my parents, “Look, in lieu of flowers, let’s have donations go to Jane Doe.”

Seriously, I’m in the phone book looking up to go. I don’t even know a phone number. I don’t know where they are, any of that. Jane Doe ended up getting $30,000 in donations from Lucy. They built a resource library from that money, which is awesome. That whole thing is like why on Earth what it’s one thing if you’re like this person was really involved with ASPCA or something, so it’s logical, “That makes sense.” I can say that it’s like, “I’m okay. Here’s where I want you to do it.” Seriously, I can only say that was something from the other side.

I believe in that stuff for sure. Even if it’s not so, let me believe it if it helps.

I’m sure that your dream, whether it’s real or not, it’s real for you, and I’m not in any way questioning that. It helped you to be as okay as you can be.

Your dream will give you some clarity, whether it’s real or not.

To process it a little bit more.

Just that circle of, “He’s okay. I know that he’s okay.” That’s cool. In the last 34 years, are there things that you’ve done for and/or because of Tom, whether it’s supporting anything?

Not necessarily because I support all kinds of organizations. For one reason or another, I support so many organizations, but honestly, no, I don’t think anything really that I could relate to that was for Tom. He was a 19-year-old kid. It wasn’t like he was making moves in the world. I graduated high school. We started going to college classes together. It really wasn’t anything particular like that.

That’s fine. Sometimes people also know like, “I do this or I do that.” Do you ever have those moments, and I know I do where I wonder, ‘What would Lucy be doing?’ and wonder what Tom would be doing?

I always worry about him. Like I said, he wasn’t the best decision-maker. I always assumed that I would be taking care of him. I don’t know what he was going to be doing, but I knew that I was going to be taking care of him, which I didn’t have a problem with oddly enough. He’d like to do some drawing. I know that. Like any boy at that age, he wanted to be a rock star, so he did a little drum. Other than that, I think he was also interested in broadcasting like I was, perhaps something like that. I don’t know. He was just so carefree and didn’t give a crap about much. Hopefully, that wouldn’t change. He would have done well during classes and gone on to do something really great.

I’m sure he did, and if nothing else, he’d still be your big brother.

What do you think Lucy would be doing? She would be a lawyer, right?

Yeah. When you look back, sometimes you go, “Wow, that was really fortuitous and stuff.” At the time that Lucy was killed, my dad was a judge in Massachusetts.

 

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