Losing a Sibling: A Different Kind of Grief

Losing a Sibling: A Different Kind of Grief

A child’s loss of a parent or a parent’s loss of a child leads to immeasurable grief over generational loss. Loss of a sibling creates a particular kind of “horizontal” grief in which shared histories and futures are fractured, creating uncertainties and insecurities that are often unacknowledged or misunderstood.

As a result, surviving siblings may suffer from of long-term depression. Because of this, surviving siblings are often called “forgotten mourners.”

When an adult loses a sibling, especially one who lives far away, the surviving sibling is often left to mourn alone with much of the support directed towards the grieving spouse, children and parents.

When a senior citizen loses a sibling, there is often a lack of good support as society accepts death easier when it comes at an older age. But sibling loss is painful at any age. A senior who has lost a sibling is likely revisiting feelings of other losses including parents, spouses and friends, and likely has fewer family members to offer comfort and support.

Common Feelings for Adult Survivors of Sibling

  • Survivor guilt. Surviving siblings can suffer from feelings of failure to protect their sibling, or failure to be supportiveof the sibling in life.Fear. A surviving sibling may become fearful of the end of life and have anxiety of how their own families will manage without them.
  • Guilt over a rocky childhood. Siblings commonly outgrow childhood rivalries, but guilt over past tensions can surface even when the adult sibling relationship has been strong.
  • Anger. A surviving sibling may feel stress or even anger over roles that he is now expected to fulfill such as caring for the nieces, nephews or aging parents.
  • Distress. The decisions at time of death often fall onto surviving siblings who must agree on arrangements such as burial or cremation, whole body donation, organ donation, and memorial services. While Science Care whole body donation provides free cremation, transporation and filing of the death certificte, suvivng siblings are often accountable for the financial burden of other types of arrangements.
"A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost". -Marion C. Garretty

Getting over the loss, or allowing yourself not to

Siblings are always connected in the shared memories, in family discussions, and in memorials. Journaling or sharing your thoughts with others you do not know can also help healing. Remembering your sibling does not have to be sorrowful. Laugh at the memory of the time your sister tried to pierce your ears, or when your brother tried to teach you how to ride a bike.

Society often encourages bereaved individuals to feel guilty for grieving too long. There is no magic technique that will make the grief go away. There is no defined right way to grieve length of time that one is expected to move on.

Moving on with your life does not have to mean forgetting your lost loved one. In fact, allowing yourself to hold your grief in a special place in your heart can help you to be okay to move on with your life.

In this moving video, Billy Bob Thornton talks about why it is OK to allow grief in your life:

There are many ways to create a living memorial by turning grief into something positive, including continuing charitable work your sibling did, establishing a fund in honor of your sibling, and being a good listener for another person going through a similar loss.Remember your sibling by pursuing the happiness your sibling would want you to have.