Losing a sibling can have a huge impact on your life. Siblings are often constants, with you throughout childhood and into adulthood. While relationships between siblings can be complex and messy at times, that complexity makes grieving a sibling important. However, a parent’s or a spouse’s grief often take a front seat in everyone’s mind, and you may feel left out or forgotten.
Unfortunately, sibling grief is not talked about as much as other forms of grief, but your grief for your sibling is just as important as grieving a parent, a spouse, or a child. There are a lot of things you might have to wrestle with when your sibling dies, but it’s necessary to take time to grieve, both on your own and with others.
Here are 5 things to keep in mind if you are grieving the death of a sibling.
1. Remember the Good Times
When someone you love dies, especially if the death is unexpected or if the person is close to your age, thoughts about what might have happened in the future can be overwhelming. While it’s important to grieve those lost moments, you don’t want to lose sight of the time you did have with your sibling.
Taking time to reminisce about good memories can help you treasure your sibling’s life and memory. Plus, focusing on the good times will prevent you from solely dwelling on time lost. Another way you can keep your sibling’s memory alive is by visiting a place that was special to you and your sibling or doing one of their favorite things, like watching their favorite movie, playing their favorite board game, or listening to one of their favorite songs. Doing those favorite things can be especially helpful on significant dates, like your sibling’s birthday, the day of their death, or holidays, and they can even become rituals you use to honor your sibling’s memory.
2. Come to Terms with Unfinished Business
Barbara Karnes, a registered nurse and end-of-life educator, points out that when we grieve, “it is the unfinished business, the unsaid words that we carry heavily within us.” If you were unprepared for your sibling’s death, you may feel a lot of emotional turmoil during your grief journey. You might struggle with things you wish you had said or done, or perhaps you made plans with your sibling that now won’t come to pass. In these situations, it’s natural to struggle to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve suffered.
Talking to a grief counselor or therapist is a great way to help you process your emotions and come to terms with your loss. Additionally, writing a letter to your sibling can help. While they won’t see your letter, you can say the things you wish you had said to them, and you can also be honest about your feelings. Acknowledging less obvious aspects of your grief can help you move toward reconciliation and learn how to incorporate the loss into the story of your life.
3. Initiate Interactions with Your Other Siblings
If you have other brothers and sisters, your one sibling’s death might affect your relationships with them. Your other siblings are likely struggling to understand and process their grief, just like you. While it might be difficult, gathering together can help all of you in your grief journeys, and it might be up to you to initiate these gatherings.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally renowned and respected grief expert, says that each family member mourns the loss of a sibling in , saying, “While you might have anticipated some of your sibling’s responses (for example, your emotional sister has probably been emotional), other responses may have surprised you. Try not to let these differences alarm you or hurt your feelings.”
Some siblings might feel angry, sad, guilty, or even numb. By talking to your siblings, supporting them, and spending time with them, you show that you acknowledge their grief and struggles. Opening communication with your siblings can also create a supportive environment within the family. But remember, bringing your family together isn’t all on you—there’s only so much one person can do. Don’t feel guilty if your siblings resist attempts to help them or mediate arguments.
However, spending time with your siblings isn’t just about helping them heal—it can help you heal, too, by reminding you that you aren’t alone in your grief. After all, your siblings know your family history, so they can remind you of moments with your sibling you’ve forgotten and provide unique understanding you might not find anywhere else. By taking the first step to open up to your siblings, you can create a supportive space for everyone’s grief journey.
4. Take Time for Yourself
When your sibling dies, it might be easy to distract yourself by helping your parents, living siblings, or other family members, but it’s essential to take time for yourself. It can be tempting to bottle up your feelings, and at first, you might feel guilty about needing to spend some time apart from your friends and family. However, taking time for yourself is an essential part of the grief journey. Time spent by yourself gives you space to process and acknowledge the emotions you are feeling. Depending on the situation, you might feel a variety of emotions: anger, sadness, relief, guilt, shock, fear, or any number of other emotions. There’s no right way to feel after a loss, and acknowledging your feelings is a necessary part of grief.
There are many ways you can take time for yourself. You can focus on “me time” and simply relax by taking a nap, reading a book, or going for a walk. If you’re feeling more active, you could spend time outdoors or do something creative, like journaling, painting, or gardening. Some people like to make scrapbooks or memory boxes honoring loved ones who have died. No matter what you choose to do, take time to care for yourself.
5. Get Support
When someone you love dies, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost as you try to navigate your grief and the grief of those around you. Joining a support group or visiting a therapist can help you process your feelings and show you that you are not alone. Getting support is especially important if you are a twin whose brother or sister has died or if you find yourself without support from your family. While seeking outside support might seem scary at first, it can also be extremely beneficial to you in the long run.
Every family is different, and grieving any loved one is never easy. While the journey ahead will be difficult, as you work through your emotions and grieve with your family, you will find a way to move forward and treasure your sibling’s life and legacy.