Death of a Sibling

Every relationship is different and the relationship between a brother and a sister can be one of the most enjoyable, complicated, complex and sometimes horrifying ones we have in our lives. Sherry Williams White shares the unique experiences and reactions to grief when a sibling dies. Learn not only what you are feeling but how to cope with your grief. You do not have to live in the shadows of your brother or sister. Nor do you have to try to fill the empty space that person left. Be gentle in your despair and let the love you shared comfort you now. Even though death comes, love never goes away.

by Sherry Williams White

No matter what kind of relationship you had with your brother or sister, when a sibling dies, it hurts. You grieve the loss of their presence and the way the family portrait has changed.

If there were “fences to mend,” words to be shared, or memories yet to be created, you may feel that the finality of death eliminates your ability to make those changes. That additional pain may intensify your grief.

It is normal to resist giving up the feelings that go along with the childhood relationship you had with your brother or sister. That relationship can continue but it has to change. While you cannot call your sibling on the phone, you can still “talk” with her or even write him a letter. You can keep your memories alive in your heart by transforming the relationship into healing memories.

If you had a difficult relationship with your sibling and wish to change it now, you can do that by learning to forgive yourself as well as your brother or sister for things done or said. You are in charge of the relationship now and you can change it any way you wish. It is natural to want to mend the past and to pretend that the hurt never happened. Those realities cannot be changed, but it is possible to learn to live with reality and not allow it to negatively influence the present. Letting go of old feelings that no longer serve you effectively is a powerful healing action. Begin to develop a new relationship with your brother or sister.

Memories, pictures and special tokens or keepsakes are important reminders of your loved one. Work with other members of your family to decide what to do with them. As a family, create rituals that are comfortable for you concerning holidays, special days and events.

The expectations and responsibilities that your brother or sister had must now be distributed among the remaining family members. These new responsibilities are often difficult to manage because they may not “fit” you and your way of doing things. They may call for you to develop new skills or perform tasks you are not comfortable doing. Try to be flexible as you and your family learn to adapt to these altered roles and expectations. Be creative in how you take on the tasks your brother or sister once did. If you are unable to handle a particular task or responsibility, be honest with yourself and your family. Be compassionate with each other, as much as possible. You may have to work together to find new solutions for old problems.

Remember that everyone in your family is grieving in his or her own way. Respect and honor those differences. Do not use them as weapons against one another. Just as you have your own unique personality and way of doing things, each of you will find your own path through this hurt. No one is right or wrong. Do not try to protect each other by hiding your feelings. Not sharing your grief can isolate you from other family members and this can lead to additional misunderstandings. Try to keep the lines of communication open and be patient with one another.

Some families become overprotective and you may feel as though you are being smothered. Fear takes up residence in a grieving family and everyone worries about everyone else! Being five minutes late can sometimes cause a major crisis. Try to talk with one another about your fears and concerns before they become problems. Reasonable limits, clear expectations and honest communications are necessary to help a family survive.

As everyone tries to fill the empty place in the family, you may feel like you have to become your brother or sister in order to be noticed. Remember, grief can be overwhelming and even if it seems it would be easier to adopt your sibling’s role in the family, it is important to remember your own uniqueness and special place in the family. It is important to continue to BE yourself!

If you have become the only living child as a result of the death of your sibling, you may experience feelings of isolation, emptiness and despair. You may find yourself asking if you are still a “brother” or “sister”. You are! Your loved one lived, you loved him or her, and you still do. Your sibling is a part of you and who you have become. That never changes.

You do not have to live in the shadows of your brother or sister. Nor do you have to try to fill the empty space that person left. Be gentle in your despair and let the love you shared comfort you now. Even though death comes, love never goes away.

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