6 Things I’ve Learned About Sibling Grief

loss of a sibling

There aren’t many resources that exist related to sibling grief. This fact has caused me to begin my own research. Who better to ask than those that have experienced this heartbreak first hand. The forgotten grievers themselves. While each has had their own journey, many themes stand out.

I am a big believer in the statement, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” How could you? It isn’t possible. This unknown is the root of our inability to connect and understand. Without experiencing something firsthand we just don’t have the capacity to show empathy.

I came across the saying, “Siblings are the only people we know cradle to grave.” It affected me. Talking to sibling grievers this statement came up. Our parents are expected to die before we do. Spouses and friends do not enter our lives until we are older. Siblings are a part of every memory we have growing up. They are intertwined with us from the beginning. We expect they will be there at our side up until the end.

What I am learning is eye opening. I expected it to be. There were also some great points I feel I should share. As I think about the path my daughter’s will walk, I want the world to know they are also grieving. Their path will look very different than what we expect. This is what we all need to know.

1 – Siblings Suffer 2 Losses

My girls not only suffered the loss of their brother. They have also suffered the loss of their parents. We have changed. Our daily normal has changed. The family we once were is gone. That will never return the way it was. I know at my house the first 10 months were very difficult. My oldest felt it. A LOT! Regardless of how hard we tried, it was just not the same. It still isn’t. I am told it is normal for siblings to wonder if their parents would be this upset if it had been them. We had that question asked of us. New normal is a daily struggle for everyone.

2 – Don’t Make Them Feel Different

They do not want to be known as the girl whose brother died. They want to be normal kids, just like everyone else. Please don’t ask your kids not to talk about it or bring it up. Please don’t tell your kids to be nice to them because it happened. Their brother’s death is a normal part of their life. We talk about it all the time. You don’t need to avoid the topic. However, you also don’t need to draw attention to the fact to make them feel different.

3 – They Struggle With The Same Questions

Just as I hate the question, “How many kids do you have?” They hate the question, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” This had never even crossed my mind. I personally have spent a lot of time crafting my response to my question. Yet, I still get anxiety when I meet new people. They will inevitably ask this basic question. I want to answer truthfully, but then it can get awkward because people get uncomfortable with my response. I am still navigating that road. We had never even discussed that question with my girls or how they would want to answer it in the future.

4 – They Feel Like A Bystander To Parental Grief

When a child dies, people immediately think about the impact to the parents. Second is typically grandparents. Someone said they were told to “be strong for your parents”. Rarely are they asked how they are doing. Do they miss their brother/sister? On milestones their parents received cards and support. Nothing was directed to the siblings. One of the pieces of advice I got that really stuck with me was to encourage those around us to send a milestone card directly to my daughter. Acknowledge that they know it is tough on them and make them feel like they are part of the grieving process. This thought had never crossed my mind.

5 – Anxiety Is Real

Learning about death in such a traumatic way as the loss of a sibling can cause anxiety. The constant fear that someone else is going to die. This is not always shown in normal ways. I know I hadn’t thought about it until we had a breakdown at my house. My daughter was begging to move out (age 5) and live with someone else. She was terrified that my husband and I were going to die next. There is only so much you can say to eliminate that fear. I can tell her all day long that we aren’t going to die. However, we never in a million years expected her brother would die. So the anxiety can be quieted, but we should expect it to rear it’s ugly head again at an unknown time.

6 – Life Stages Impact Grief

Throughout life there will be moments my girls will be impacted by their grief. It will come without us ever being prepared. As they learn more about death and what that means. As they grow up and hit their own milestones. At times feeling like they take a back seat to our grief knowing we will always be thinking of their brother and what we missed out on with him.

The sibling bond is incredibly strong. It is only fair their grief be acknowledged. I will continue to remind myself my girls are grieving. I hope those around us will do the same.

4 Comments on “6 Things I’ve Learned About Sibling Grief”

  1. Dear Emily, what you have written is an excellent and necessary reminder for others regarding the loss of our living children’s siblings. Siblings do seem to be the forgotten mourners, I can attest to that. When my adult son died I watched my two adult daughters get pushed into the background of my grief and that of my husband. I knew it was happening but I was emotionally unable to protect them or persue the path to lead them back to the forefront. I regret that they were the forgotten mourners during the first few days and weeks following our son’s death and that I was unable to feel past my own pain to reach out far enough to make sure they were not forgotten by the friends and family who were a help and a hand to us, his parents. Your artlicle is correct in saying their lives will be impacted with each milestone they reach, each change in situation and each passing relevant date. I’ve watch it happen. How could it not be. As sibling mourners they continue to be left out unintentionally and I find myself having to remind others to include them as our “family” grieves not just us, his parents. My son’s birthday is this month and I’ve planned a package to send to each daughter to celebrate the life they shared with their brother as his big sisters. I’ll also ask anyone who calls to be sure to acknowledge the girls. Unfortunately that’s the only way it will happen. Thank you for your timely article (for me) and for sharing your family’s journey.

    1. Thank you for your comment and insight! I love hearing from other’s on this topic specifically. I always approach it with an “I don’t know what I don’t know” attitude. So I listen to what other’s say and try to pay attention to them. It is awesome you will be celebrating his life together like that. Much love to you all!

  2. Thanks for this. I’m going through something of this nature, over many moons as cancer slowly claims another victim. I already hate the question “how many siblings do you have?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *