The Loss of an Adult Sibling
One of the most painful deaths that can occur within adult relationships is that of a sibling. Unlike the loss of a spouse or child, which is acknowledged by society as devastatingly life-changing, the loss of a sibling is not typically expected to alter the course of your life. After all, you are both grown and have started lives and families of your own. No matter how close you may have been as children, you most likely do not rely on close camaraderie to get through your day of work, kids, hobbies and life in general.
Because it is not so openly acknowledged, the loss of a brother or sister can hit you especially hard. You won’t find nearly as many resources or support groups, you may not be asked to help plan or participate in the funeral, and your grief may get lost under the terrible suffering of the deceased’s spouse, children, and parents.
However, this does not make the death any easier. In fact, for many people, the lack of open support makes the loss of an adult sibling harder.
Why Losing a Sibling is Difficult
A brother and/or sister is often the first friend we have. From birth, they are our built-in companions (and sometimes enemies) who share every new experience. For good or bad, they are the ones we go on vacation with, share a room with, fight over the TV with. Even if distance and adult responsibilities remove some of that forced closeness, the memories will always remain.
When a sibling dies, many of these old memories come rushing to the surface. You may feel guilt that you drifted apart, sadness at having lost your first friend, and/or pain at the loss of someone who is genuinely a part of you.
You might also start to question your own mortality. Because a sibling is your contemporary (as opposed to a parent or grandparent, who is a generation removed), death becomes much closer than it would be otherwise. Your sense of loss could be even more amplified if your parents are already deceased.
Some siblings also experience the side effects of other people’s grief—especially that of your parents. Your parents may be so consumed by the (understandable) loss of their child that they overlook the children they still have living. You could feel abandoned or that their love is all tied up on the deceased sibling—a difficult thing when you are also reeling from your the loss.
How to Deal with Sibling Death
Because there aren’t as many brochures or support groups for the loss of a sibling, you may feel that you’re left to handle your grief alone, especially once the funeral ends. One of the best ways to cope is to increase your contact with any other siblings, as they are likely to be going through the same feelings and issues as you.
Other common ways to cope include:
- Accepting that your grief will take a different shape than that of the deceased’s spouse, children, and parents
- Taking time off to work through your feelings
- Maintaining contact with your sibling’s family
- Setting up a memorial fund or contribution in your sibling’s name
- Re-visiting your shared youth, especially nostalgic pop culture memories
- Remembering to prioritize self-care
As always, if you need outside support, do not be afraid to ask your doctor for a referral to a grief specialist or for information on sibling-specific resources. They may be less common, but they are out there.