Losing a sibling as an adult can feel like you've lost your past and your future
When death takes your brother or sister, it also takes away one of your connections to the past
The loss of a sibling in adulthood can have many meanings. It is the loss of a brother or sister who shared a unique co-history with you. This person was an important part of your past, for better or worse. Your brother or sister shared common memories, along with critical childhood experiences and family history.
When death takes your brother or sister, it also takes away one of your connections to the past. That brother or sister knew you in a special way, unlike those who know you now as an adult. A constant in your life has gone.
If you have surviving siblings, you will find that each will mourn this death in his or her own way. While you might have anticipated some of your sibling’s responses, other responses may have surprised you. Try not to let these differences alarm you or hurt your feelings.
If your parents are still alive, they, too, will have their own unique responses to the death, and you might find they struggle to talk about it, especially if they’ve buried their grief. You might get to a point before they clam up and change the subject because it’s just too painful. You can help by facilitating open and honest communication with them about your grief and theirs.
Feelings will naturally run high in your family in the weeks and months after your sibling’s death. The best approach is to be open with one another without blaming.
You don’t need to live with the inevitable pain. Finding someone outside of the family to talk to will inevitably help; someone who will listen without judgement. We also have grief specialists who are here to help professionally.
When a child loses a sibling
The death of a brother or sister at any age profoundly changes the lives of surviving siblings. But children who lose a sibling often face long-term challenges that differ from those for adults who lose a sibling. It can adversely affect surviving children’s health, behaviour, schoolwork, self-esteem, and development.
Surviving siblings may be troubled throughout life by a vulnerability to loss and painful upsurges of grief around the date their sibling died. They may develop distorted beliefs about hospitals, doctors, and illness.
Many bereaved siblings describe feeling sad, lonely, and different from their peers. The impact of loss may be felt most by the brother or sister who shared the greatest amount of “life space” with the one who died. Siblings who shared a room or who played or spent their spare time together are likely to be those most profoundly affected.
Managing feelings of guilt
Just like adults, many children who lose a sibling can experience strong feelings of guilt. When a brother or sister dies, they remember all the fights and name-calling, seeing themselves in their memory as the bad child and the dead sibling as the good one. This can result in feeling that they are not good enough.
A child’s experience of losing a sibling depends partly on their understanding of death, which is associated with age and developmental level.
Most children will take their cues from you. If you talk openly and honestly, in an age-appropriate way, they will, too. If you allow yourself to cry and show your emotions in front of them, they will understand that they are normal, natural reactions to loss.
Often, the best way to find out what’s going on with your child is to talk about what’s going on with you first, e.g., “I really miss your brother/sister and I’ve been feeling sad. I remember the time when…”
This will encourage them to think about things that happened in their relationship. Talking about your own feelings will encourage them to talk about how they feel.
It’s a profoundly difficult experience to watch a child grieve. If you need support with how to help yourself with child loss, or with how to support your child(ren), a number of our grief specialists work in this area.
Our grief specialists can also work with schools and train staff. Please email us - email@example.com - if you’d like to find out more.
Jill Attree is a Advanced Grief Recovery Method Specialist, based in Dorset. Jill has helped grievers throughout the UK by listening without judgement, analysis or criticism - so that you can move forward through your loss. To help you create a brighter tomorrow. Find out more about Jill.