|menu/||LOSS OF AN ADULT SIBLING|
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P.G. White, Ph.D.
There is a tendency for the bereaved to go in to hiding with their
feelings. This often results in a low-grade
depression with which bereaved siblings struggle for many years.
One of the benefits that technology has brought to the grieving population
is by providing, through the internet, a way to connect to others in
The first child may become a star athlete, while the next sibling excels
in academics. The siblings support each other by their differences.
In doing so, siblings actually loan each other their strengths, and
when one of the siblings dies, that strength is lost, and the survivor's
identity with it.
One of the most commonly noted responses to sibling loss is that surviving
siblings learn not to fear the grief of others. They have been there--they
know what it is like so they can listen to others who are grieving.
Often, they appear "brittle," speaking in short, quick sentences, while
they deny the underlying pain. The un-felt feelings then become a heavy
burden that prevents the sufferer from becoming his or her best self.
When a brother or sister dies suddenly from an accident, suicide, or homicide, this is definitely too much for us to take in at once.
Trauma may also be a factor for those bereaved siblings who helped
to nurse their sibling through a disfiguring disease,
or witnessed their suffering.
Traumatic grief must be dealt with bit by bit, not all at once.
But eventually, we remember that people can say dumb things and still
have a good heart.
Whether your sibling died recently or long ago, you may find that you still have significant emotional energy around specific issues. Here are the four basic emotions and their triggers for bereaved siblings. The four emotions are actually families of emotions, often referred to as "Mad, Sad, Glad, and Bad (Guilt and Anxiety)."
Why are bereaved siblings still mad - days, months, or even years after the death of their brother or sister? Here are some of the reasons.
- The loss of their brother or sister was not acknowledged by parents or other relatives, or friends;
- The manner in which they got the news of the death did not feel right;
- Others expected the surviving sibling to take care of the parents or to make up for the loss;
- How they were treated immediately after hearing the news. Some were ignored, some were sent to stay with a relative, some were not given any information;
- Because of the way that they, or another sibling, was treated in the months and years after the loss. For example, some were blamed for not being the one who died, some were targeted as a scapegoat for the parent's anger;
- Their peers had no awareness of the reality of life and death, so they felt as if they were now different from them;
- Because life went on as normal;
- They were not allowed to grieve or were encouraged to feel guilty for grieving;
- No one talked about the death and the dead sibling was never mentioned;
- They didn't get to see the body;
- The sibling's spouse doesn't seem upset;
- They don't agree with some aspect of the funeral, burial site, or gravestone;
- They don't feel the sibling got the appropriate care while in hospital;
- They saw the body in a broken and wounded state, after a car accident, for example;
- They were not allowed or encouraged to go to or participate in the funeral;
- They didn't know how to deal with their feelings;
- They weren't informed about the severity of their sibing's illness;
- Someone else survived who was involved in the accident that killed their sibling;
- They had to babysit, clean house, or be responsible for other chores while parents were at the hospital, sheriff's office, funeral home, etc.;
- No one ever asked how they were feeling;
- They often heard "How are your parents?";
- They had to grow up overnight;
- They were blamed for acting out and trying to get attention, when they were too young to understand what was really happening;
- They were over-protected after the loss;
- They were expected to "become" the dead sibling;
- They didn't get a chance to say good-bye; or
- The dead sibling's belongings were given away or disposed of without their consent.
Bereaved siblings still feel sorrow and sadness from the many losses associated with the death of a brother or sister.
- The loss of companionship and a future with their sibling;
- Loss, at least for a time, of the parents while they were grieving;
- Loss of parts of the self that were projected onto the deceased sibling;
- Loss of innocence;
- Missing out on peer related activities;
- Feeling left out;
- Not getting the attention they needed to deal with such a profound loss;
- Being lonely;
- There is a hole when they visit their other sibings, because it is then obvious that one is missing;
- The presence of other family members reminds them forcibly of this fact; or
- Sorry that they can't go back and make up for something they did or said.
Yes, bereaved siblings emerge from the experience glad about a number of issues. Not every bereaved sibling has the same experience, but here are some of the reasons...
- They are able to be with others who are grieving, and listen;
- They appreciate life and relationships;
- They still feel connected to the deceased sibling;
- Life is more real to them;
- Some say they no longer fear death;
- They have the sense of being guarded by an angel;
- When troubled in other relationships, they feel that their deceased sibling is always on their side; or
- When they engage in activities once shared with their sibling, they feel the presence of that sibling.
bad (guilt and anxiety)
- Fear of doctors and hospitals;
- Fear of doing whatever the sibling was doing that led to the death - swimming, driving, horseback riding;
- Fear of their own children's death;
- Watchfulness for symptoms related to the sibling's illness;
- Belief that life will never be the same again;
- Having the sense that they will not live long;
- Anxiety about their parents' death;
- Guilt about fights with the deceased sibling;
- Guilt about how they acted at the time of the illness, for example, going out with friends instead of staying with their siblings;
- Thinking they should have prevented the death, or that they caused the death, for example by giving their sibling a disease;
- Guilt about going on with life, surviving at all, or for being happy;
- Thinking they should be perfect and never complain; or
- Guilt about a number of things they did or didn't do prior to the death.
Copyright 2002 The Sibling Connection
the aftermath of loss
We could not prevent our sibling's death - we were utterly powerless.
So we pretend to ourselves that if we had been there, or if we had taken
some particular action, things would have been different.
That guilt might be:
- Survival guilt;
- Guilt related to the actual death; or
- Guilt related to our own code of conduct.
In clinical work, I see this as more of a factor in depression than
other forms of guilt. When you think about it, survival guilt is related
to our basic belief that life is fair. As kids we said, "Johnnie got
an ice cream cone - I want one too!"
Sometimes bereaved siblings punish themselves simply for living when
their brother or sister is dead. It almost feels like a betrayal of
the sibling, if we go on living.
guilt about the death
This kind of guilt stems from the dislike of feeling helpless. Perhaps there was something you could have done to prevent the sibling's death. You should have called him on the phone so that he wouldn't have been in his car and been hit at that exact time. You shouldn't have recommended the restaurant that he was headed towards when he was shot. You should have reminded her to get a yearly checkup.
It goes on and on.
Thus there are many reasons to berate ourselves when they die. Increasing
self acceptance can help us live through this kind of guilt. Perhaps
we are not the perfect person we thought--perhaps we were too jealous,
or too competitive, or downright mean to our sibling when he or she
- Exercise and feel your guilt while exercising;
- If you don't usually exercise, take a walk or dance madly around the house;
- Share every part of your guilt with a trusted friend, someone who has lost a sibling, or a therapist;
- Turn your pain into art by writing about it, painting it, or building something you dedicate to your deceased sibling;
- Forgive others and ask forgiveness for yourself; and
Remember: the key to working through guilt is to make it conscious.
ON THIS SITE
Grief: different experiences, different expressions
Anger and depression
Trauma + recovery
Illness: a new perspective
Learn about Antonella Gambotto-Burke ...
A healthy life
The healing power of hope
The laughter page
Find your own North Star
Optimism - the key
How to feel better about yourself
Feel like a hug?
An inspiring interview with Louise Hay