The Loss of a Sibling is Unique and Complicated
“When a parent dies, you lose the past. When a child dies, you lose the future. When a sibling dies, you lose the past and the future.” – Unknown
They are often our first playmates, our first confidantes, and our first rivals. Siblings enjoy a unique relationship with one another that cannot be duplicated. “In general, parents serve the same big-picture role as doctors on grand rounds. Siblings are like the nurses on the ward. They’re there every day,” psychologist Daniel Shaw of the University of Pittsburgh told Time in 2006. That’s why the loss of a sibling can be so devastating, but at the same time, confusing, negated, and misunderstood.
Siblings are The Forgotten Mourners
When a sibling dies, it can be easy to think of the parents who lost a child or the children who lost a parent. With others focused on the parents, children, or spouse, siblings may believe their grief is not as justified or as painful. Instead of permitting themselves to grieve, they stay strong for those around them and deny their own feelings of loss.
Click here to find more support to guide you when your loss feels “overlooked”.
4 Emotions Experienced By Adult Siblings
Siblings may experience guilt for being left behind or for unresolved conflicts leaving them with thoughts of “should have” or “what if”. They may feel guilty for lack of communication and apathetic feelings toward a sibling as adult lives often move in separate directions.
More like This: Survivor’s Guilt: 12 Ways to Cope with Grief After Trauma
2. Anger and Abandonment
A sibling may feel anger at being left behind to care for elderly parents. A remaining sibling may inherit guardianship of nieces and nephews which was not part of their life plan, or they may step into the role of family matriarch or patriarch which can feel overwhelming as others turn to them for guidance.
3. Fear and Anxiety
When a sibling passes, it can cause fear of our own mortality. The passing of a brother or sister is a tangible sign that time is limited and death is inevitable.
Click here to learn 5 reasons to plan ahead for your own funeral and provide your family peace of mind.
Once parents and siblings are gone, life can seem very empty as we mourn our past and realize the future is forever changed.
Coping With The Loss Of A Sibling
1. Share Your Grief and Seek Support
Talking about loss can help us navigate and release difficult emotions. If you are not finding the support you need from family or friends, look to outside providers such as grief counselors, clergy members, or support groups.
2. Forgive Yourself and Exercise Self-Compassion
You just experienced a significant loss. It is normal to have confusing thoughts and feelings. The relationships we have with siblings are complicated and often comprised of competition, disagreement, and long-held grudges. This doesn’t mean our sibling wasn’t loved or dear to us.
3. Take Care of Yourself
A death is emotionally and physically draining. This is a good time to pamper yourself. Eat nutritious foods, take naps, indulge in your favorite activities, go out with friends, and exercise.
If you notice signs of depression, seek professional help.
It is important that we not only take care of our physical health, but also our mental health.
Suggested Read: Importance Of Self-Care — Why It Is Not Selfish
4. Memorialize Your Sibling
Once you are ready, find ways to honor your sibling. If they passed of cancer, volunteer at a charitable event. Write down funny childhood stories or create a memorial through the Everdays app. Think about what was important to your brother or sister, and find a way to act on it. Paying tribute to a sibling is a therapeutic way to express grief and to remember him or her.
5. Give Yourself Time
Siblings are among the closest relationships we will ever have. They are our best friends, enemies, protectors, secret sharers, competitors, and teachers. Give yourself as much time as you need to mourn and recover from their death.
Carol Ann Albright Eastman beautifully states, “Sisters and brothers are the truest, purest forms of love, family and friendship, knowing when to hold you and when to challenge you, but always being a part of you.”