When a Sibling Dies

When parents lose a child, the whole world grieves with them. But what about the grief of surviving siblings?

"How many brothers do you have?" That's a pretty simple question--unless you had two brothers once and now, thanks to a car accident, you have only one. How do you answer it? Do you say, "One" and ignore the fact that you used to have two? Or do you go into the whole sad story of how your brother died. What do you do?

If you have had a brother or sister die for any reason, you may have been confronted with this question. It's just one of many that teenagers have asked me through the years. In each case my advice has been to gauge your response by your relationship with the questioner. If that person is a close friend, of course you would want him or her to know what has happened. But if that person is a casual acquaintance at best, he or she probably doesn't want to know all that, and you have no obligation to tell him. The short answer will suffice.

Have you had a sibling die? If you have, please accept my deepest sympathy. This is a terrible loss that will remain with you always. Do you sometimes wish you had died instead? Perhaps you and you brother had a special relationship; he was your confidante, and you were his. Now he's gone. On the other hand, you might have had a big argument, and he died before it could be settled. Now you're feeling terribly guilty.


You may also feel that nobody cares how you are dealing with your grief. When young people die, who gets all the sympathy? The parents! It may seem unfair, but that's usually what happens. Siblings are generally expected to support their parents, who are seen as doing most of the suffering. Sometimes there is even a role reversal, with older children assuming the role of parents to their own parents. Making matters even worse, parents may be so devastated by the death of a son or daughter that the deceased becomes almost a "saint" in their minds, setting a standard that siblings can't hope to match.


When this happens, you have to realize that the death of a loved one throws people off balance. I know of a father who was shocked to learn many years after his wife died that his little daughter felt abandoned at the time. "You mean I didn't put you on my lap and hug you? I didn't tell you how much I loved you?," he asked. Something like that could be going on with your parents; don't write them off.

Did you like this? Share with your family and friends.
Helen Fitzgerald
comments powered by Disqus