While losing a loved one is a difficult experience, the death of a sibling can be a unique and painful loss. When you lose a brother or sister, other people may not realize how the death has affected you or know how to provide the support you need. They may not understand your relationship with your brother or sister, or they may focus on comforting a surviving spouse or children. For this reason, siblings are sometimes forgotten or overlooked in the grieving process. This article explains how losing a sibling is different from losing other loved ones, how to cope with your feelings and where you can find additional information and help.
Why losing a sibling is different from other losses
The loss of a brother or sister can have a deep impact, whether it occurred suddenly or after a long illness. As we get older, most of us become more aware that we will someday lose our parents. But you may expect siblings to live as long as you do, especially if they are younger than you are. When you lose a brother or sister, you may feel that you have lost part of your history, a good friend, a sense of the fairness of life or all three. If you have a child, you may also be upset that your child has lost an aunt or uncle and the experience of growing up with and getting to know him or her.
Losing a sibling may also mean losing someone who would always love and care for your parents. The loss of a brother or sister may mean that you will eventually have more responsibility for your parents, especially if you had only one sibling. This knowledge can raise new concerns about how you'll care for your parents if or when they need support.
Ways to cope with the loss of a brother or sister
Because the loss of a sibling involves special challenges, it's important to be especially kind to yourself and to take care of yourself physically and emotionally during this time. Here are a few suggestions that may help you bear the emotional burden of your loss:
- Feel the loss instead of trying to escape or dismiss it. Although painful, actually experiencing your grief instead of trying to avoid it is key to your long-term emotional well-being. As you provide support to family and friends following the loss, be sure to take time for yourself to grieve or reflect.
- Understand that people grieve in their own ways. For example, some of your sibling's loved ones might find it comforting to view photos or share remembrances or thoughts about your sibling as part of the grieving process, while others might find those things acutely painful immediately after the loss.
- Get the support you need. Painful feelings are part of the grieving process, but if at any point you begin to feel overwhelmed, unable to function, depressed or hopeless, seek help. You may want individual or family counseling, or you may want to participate in a support group that allows you to talk with others who have lost a brother or sister. You can check a community newspaper or local hospital to find an appropriate group. You can also ask your primary care physician for a referral.
Resources and support
No one has to struggle alone. Sharing your grief with family and friends and reaching out to clergy or counselors can be productive and therapeutic. Keep in mind that though friends and family can provide an enormous amount of support, you may also wish to talk with a counselor or professional therapist instead. Recognizing that you need this help and taking action to get it is a form of personal strength that can help you progress through your grief and care for yourself until you feel more able to cope.
If your sibling died serving in the military, you can get grief support through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a national organization that provides support, mentoring and other services to those who have lost a loved one who was on active duty in the military. The Page for Siblings is especially for the brothers and sisters of service members who died while on active duty. You can also browse the Military OneSource articles and resources in the Casualty Assistance page for additional information and support.
Although the death of a sibling is a significant loss, many people and organizations can provide comfort and support as you move through the different phases of grief. They can help you recover and move on from your loss even as you grieve, celebrate the life and cherish the memory of your brother or sister always.