Life can be messy. It can flip your world upside down in an instant and force you into situations that could ultimately break you if you let them. Lynne Podrat and her family experienced one such life altering event when her little brother, Bruce, was born. He wasn’t like Lynne and her other brother, David. You see, Bruce had down syndrome. While her parents struggled to come to terms with what this meant for their future and the challenges they would now have to face, Lynne and David saw their newest sibling for what he was – a special, wonderful gift.
For more than fifty years, Bruce lived a life full of love, laughter, community, but also pain and hardship as he battled with disease after disease. He fought his diagnosis with a smile on his face, but eventually he left to be with his parents in Heaven.
Determined to keep her brother’s memory alive so that her children and grandchildren would remember their Uncle Brucie, Lynne wrote a beautiful memoir about her life with her special brother, full of her memories and the memories of her family and those closest to Bruce.
“He became an afterthought for my parents, and I didn’t want that to be the case with the rest of my family. He was involved in our lives and we in his, and he was just as committed to us as we were to him. We all flourished alongside him, and I wanted to honor him and his story.”
Q: What is the significance of the title?
A: “‘Listen to me’ was one of Bruce’s signature phrases. People with down syndrome have larger tongues so sometimes it’s hard to understand what they’re saying. He got into the habit of saying ‘listen to me’ repeatedly because sometimes we struggled to understand him, and he would say that to make sure we were listening to him carefully. It got to the point where he would say it even if we hadn’t asked him to repeat himself.
The subtitle, ‘How My Down Syndrome Brother Saved My Life’ is in reference to the voice and passion I developed throughout my life because of Bruce. It was because I was so used to having a loud voice in honor of advocating for my brother when I was younger that I eventually learnt to have a voice and advocate for myself, which helped me get through all the hardship my parents put on me. As an adult, I had passion and a drive to make Bruce feel as normal as he could, and through that I learned patience which ultimately led me to become a teacher. I don’t know what kind of life I could have had if Bruce had been born normal, perhaps I would have become a veterinarian, but I doubt it would have been as purposeful as it turned out to be.”
Q: Have you ever written something as substantial as this before?
A: “This was my first time doing something like this. The only book I’d written prior to this was a children’s book that I wrote during my maternity leave with my first child. I forgot about it because life got busy and distracting, and then one day while packing up our house I found it again. I ended up losing it at some point after the move, so I essentially re-wrote the whole thing, but I ended up quitting before I finished because I was struggling to find an illustrator, and then Bruce got sick, and life’s distractions kicked in again. Other than the children’s book, I write poetry every now and then. Usually about whatever comes to mind when I’m in the mood, like things I have opinions about or am passionate about. Never because I need to get something off my chest. Writing about a serious topic isn’t cathartic for me.”
Q: What were the easiest and hardest parts about writing this story?
A: “The easiest part was capturing all the different memories. I would write them in a notebook or record my ramblings on my phone if I remembered something and wasn’t able to write it down in that moment. I didn’t witness every part of his life, so I had to reach out to other people that were close to Bruce to give me specifics of what happened during situations that I wasn’t present for or moments where I only knew the details how Bruce described them. Between my own memories and the memories people shared with me, I was able to fill up an entire notebook.
The hardest part was organizing the book. The individual stories flowed, but the challenge was packaging them all into a proper narrative that wouldn’t leave readers confused. My editor and I went through four different drafts before we ultimately found a way to make the narrative flow as best as it could, and while four drafts may not be a lot in the grand scheme of things, it was an exhausting process.”
Q: What was your favorite part about writing this book?
A: “I loved reading all the different memories and stories to my husband, “Big Bruce”, and reliving those moments with him. Some of the stories he had witnessed firsthand, so it was fun remembering and laughing with him. But there were some memories that he was hearing for the first time because I hadn’t met him yet at that time, so being able to share some of the older stories about Bruce and myself that I hadn’t already shared was exciting.”
Q: How long did it take you to write this book?
A: “I started compiling memories when Bruce was first diagnosed and given four to six months to live. He was diagnosed in late July/early August 2020 and I was ready to start reaching out to editors in December.”
Q: What is your hope for people who read this story?
A: “I want people to realize that having a down syndrome brother, or a child in my parents’ case, wasn’t the end of the world. When David and I were children, we appreciated what Bruce had to offer because we were young and had no expectations. As adults, we celebrated him no matter what and were committed to him. Not only did we all survive, we flourished alongside one another – and so can anyone else in our situation as long as they have the right attitude and they make the decision to be okay.”
Q: You worked with Socialbooks.io to get this book off the ground. What were you originally looking for in a partner and how did you end up working with Socialbooks.io?
A: “When I first started, I watched the webinars and joined the chat rooms that Self Publishing offered, and I was assigned to one of their great coaches to help keep me on track. Through my coach I was able to find my editor, but finding someone who was great at strictly formatting was horrible and impossible. Every formatter I reached out to had some issue.
I found Socialbooks.io during one of my many searches for a formatter. I wanted a partner who knew things that I didn’t to help me accomplish publishing the memoir. I reached out to them and they were beyond responsive. They turned out to be an amazing team for me and they taught me so much about social media marketing and Amazon KDP. They were patient and savvy and all around great people to work with.”
Q: What is your advice to new parents and siblings welcoming a down syndrome child into the family?
A: “Get involved with every kind of support system available. As a kid, I didn’t know if there were groups out there that I could go to for support. We never went to family therapy or sought out professional assistance in that way so we always felt like we were on our own. Now, there are so many resources out there. Online groups, in-person groups, summer camps, social media pages, entire websites dedicated to understanding down syndrome. There is no longer any reason to think that you’re alone in your situation, and remember that down syndrome has become much more accepted so don’t be afraid to ask for help.