More Than Trains: A Surviving Sibling’s Story

Author: Kat Stanley

I first came to TAPS as a surviving sibling in 2010 after my brother and best friend, Cpl Richard Allgower, USMC, passed away after a fearless battle with brain cancer. I remembered anxiously awaiting the TAPS Magazine for articles from siblings. They seemed to put words to the feelings and thoughts swirling around that I couldn’t quite express. I read plenty of articles that shared how to continue to incorporate the love shared between siblings, to honor and to remember them, and I cherished those deeply. I also vividly remember one article saying, “I have to bury my parents alone.” That statement struck me years ago, but really came to life a few weeks ago. However, I experienced grief in a very different way than I imagined the first time I read that statement.


Kat and her brother Richard

Kat Stanley and Richard at Marine Race event


My parents have gone out of their way to prepare for, as they both say, “the day the dear Lord calls them home,” so as to not burden me. Richard had all of his paperwork in order prior to his passing; he didn’t want to make his passing any harder on us than he knew it was going to be. It’s not enjoyable at all to think about death. If you’re reading this and are a TAPS survivor, you know all too well that forever isn’t promised. You likely even had a hand in the “after” of a loved one’s passing: paperwork, accounts and passwords, funeral plans, personal belongings.

When Richard and I were kids, our family would spend every other Christmas visiting my grandparents in Ohio. In addition to bellies full of my grandmother’s cooking, the airplane ride, snow, and — last but not least — a basement were all special treats to us! Growing up in Texas, we don’t have those, so to Richard and me, it was the ultimate play place, and we had many fond memories there.

One of the things we loved most about the basement were the trains. We’d spend HOURS down in the basement with these trains! They were a tradition passed down from my grandfather to my dad and, ultimately, to Richard and me. Richard and I would play with trains my grandfather had as a child, my dad’s childhood favorites, and then, of course, Richard and I began to have our own little collection.


Trains in the basement

with Grandpa's trains


We always knew we were going to inherit the trains from my dad — a tradition continued. While I really enjoyed the trains, I think my interest in them was likely a product of being my brother’s shadow and loving them because he loved them. I think we always knew he’d be the holder of the trains.

My dad recently began deeply contemplating what to do with them. After a few weeks of thinking about it, my mom, dad, and I decided it was best to give them away to our cousins. This way, they would remain in the family and actually get used more than we would be able to use them because they take up a big footprint (and Texas, no basements). I stood in the kitchen with my parents with some of our favorite trains laid out and Dad asked, “Which ones do you want to keep?”

That question brought on a slew of emotions and thoughts. I felt deep sadness for my dad; he’s a stoic man most times. But these trains…he loved these trains. He would light up like a little kid every year when we’d get them out. They were a family heirloom he held onto for all these years for Richard and me, but mainly for Rich.

Yes, we are talking about trains, but they are a metaphor for so much more. In saying goodbye to them, we were mourning again a life we had imagined. For Dad, it was passing along his love for trains to his children and grandchildren. For me, it was Christmas with my brother and our kids playing together just like we used to do in our grandparents’ basement, many years ago.

Richard’s death was 11 years ago, yet there we were surrounding a table full of trains that were associated with precious memories made and new ones we’ll never realize. All three of us were in tears still deeply impacted by the stark reality of reimagining a life we had hoped for with Richard still here.

Going through the process with my parents was hard for the reasons above. It also was a gift. If I had to go through that discernment process alone without my parents by my side, I know it would have been so much more difficult. I likely would have trains taking up an entire closet in my house for years to come because Richard and Dad loved them so much. This process freed me of the burden of having to make that difficult decision alone.

I know it’s not easy to think about death, and parting with loved ones’ belongings and family heirlooms is hard. I’m grateful to have gone through that process with my parents by my side making the decision together. We stood in the kitchen as a family, with tears in all of our eyes longing for what could have been, but at least I wasn’t alone in the process.  If you are new in your loss, maybe you’ll remember this blog when the time is right for you and your family.


TAPS Surviving Sibling Support and Resources

TAPS understands that sibling grief is unique, and it presents its own set of emotional challenges, including those Kat mentions in her blog.

Sibling Events

TAPS is here to support siblings through our monthly siblings chat, peer mentors, and in-person connections at TAPS seminars and events throughout the year.


The TAPS Institute for Hope and Healing® has featured a number of webinars related to sibling grief:

Sibling Stories

Surviving siblings have also shared their stories with us, in the hopes of helping other surviving siblings cope with their grief.

Kat Stanley is the surviving sibling of Cpl Richard Allgower, USMC and TAPS Director of Operations, Survivor Services.

Photos courtesy of Kat Stanley.