The most neglected loss in adult life is that of the death of a sibling. Though many of us will face this loss, society believes that the loss of a sibling during our adult life has little to no disruptive effect on surviving brothers and sisters. This couldn’t be further from the truth! The loss has significant meant and mourning the loss can be very difficult.
A relationship between siblings has unique and very special characteristics. Much research has been conducted and it has been concluded that brothers and sisters greatly influence each other with regards to identity, self-concept and personality. The sibling relationship is more complex than most other relationships. There is a mixture of affection and ambivalence, camaraderie and fierce competition. There is no one else who knows us better other than our parents and, just like our parents, our siblings have been there from the very beginning. However, unlike our parents, our siblings are people we assume will be part of our lives for the rest of our lives. In terms of the span of time, the intimacy, and the shared experience of childhood, no other relationship rivals the connection we have with our adult brothers or sisters. From bullies in school to teenage broken hearts, from careers to marriage to unfulfilled dreams, our siblings have been there through all of it. They were beside us through our journey through time. Our siblings are our keeper of secrets, they are our first friends as well as our rivals for our parents’ affections. They are a secure and familiar constant in an often precarious and uncertain world.
The loss of a sibling in adulthood is the loss of someone who shared your childhood history with you. Your sibling was a major part of your past and is part of the roots to your past. Your sibling shares common memories as well as critical childhood experiences and family history. For this reason when you lose a sibling, you also lose one of your major connections to your past.
Your sibling knew you in a different way, a way those who know you as an adult will never understand. Consequently and unfortunately, a constant is gone. This can cause you to feel anxious and insecure. Even if you didn’t have constant contact with your sibling, you still had the security of knowing another member of your family was there. Your sibling has a symbolic spot in your life even if they weren’t part of your day-to-day life.
When you lose a sibling in adulthood, it can make you feel older and cause you to see that your family is dwindling. Sometimes this may cause the surviving sibling to be concerned about their own death if they lost their sibling to an illness or disease.
Mourning after the loss of a sibling can be complicated. The ambivalence that is normally present in a sibling relationship may bring on guilt and guilt in turn, will complicate mourning.
Depending on the relationship, you may feel guilt and regret if the relationship was not what you had always wished it would be. There may be guilt because you feel you did not spend enough time together or that you argued too often. Many siblings experience survivor guilt especially when they remember times that they wished their sibling would just disappear.
The adult who loses a sibling shares many similar issues with parents who lose adult children. You may find you do not have much part in decisions pertaining to the death and the funeral. The lack of control is combined with the failure of others to recognize that you too are profoundly bereaved. Much of the attention will go to the deceased’s parents, spouse and children.
How many times did I personally hear “I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. How is your Mom?” Or “You need to be strong for your Mom. She is hurting so bad and needs you so much right now.” These are just a couple of unhelpful and quite honestly, hurtful things that bereaved siblings often hear. People tend to give their focus of their sympathy to the surviving parents, spouse or children. They often ignore the grief of the sibling. Siblings are unfortunately overlooked in their own heartache and grief. Do you realize there are actually more books on losing a pet than losing a sibling?
Adult siblings often suppress their grief. They immediately fall into the role of caregiver for their surviving parents or for the sibling’s spouse and children. Adult siblings sense a loss deep within the core of their being. Siblings after all, are the lens that we look through often to see our childhood. Many adults admit that no one inside or outside of their family recognized this.
When grief is delayed or suppressed, often due to falling into these roles, mourning also gets delayed and suppressed. No one gets to skip mourning. You either need to complete the grief work or risk getting stuck or frozen in your grief. The latter may cause significant consequences, such as anxiety, depression or illness.
If your sibling lived in another state, it may be extremely difficult to accept their death since there is no acute absence to signal that he or she is permanently gone. This will even further complicate grief.
Death of a sibling changes family roles and relationships. This can greatly cause additional losses or extreme stress. The death may change your position in the family. You now may be the eldest and expected to care for your parent. You may have instantly become an only child, or both.
The fact is when a sibling dies, you lose both the past and the future. When you lose your sibling, you grieve for what was in the past and you grieve for what should have been the future.
My brother’s death shook me to my core but I choose to live each day to its fullest. Perhaps I am strong but the truth is my brother’s loss will remain with me for my entire life, just like he was supposed to.
Please remember you are not alone and you are not forgotten. Just like me, you will carry your sibling with you throughout your life. They will forever remain in our hearts, thoughts and memories.
I am deeply sorry for your loss.