Helpful Tips for Adults Grieving the Loss of a Sibling

  • Published: August 31st, 2012
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By the Center for Grief Care and Education

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Adult siblings share the common bond of childhood so when the death of one of the siblings occurs, it often leaves a hole in the surviving sibling’s life, future and personal history. Due to this, the surviving sibling(s) commonly express feeling like a part of them has also died. Unfortunately, adult sibling grief is too often overlooked by society and, often, more attention is placed on the grief of other members of the deceased person’s family, such as their spouse/partner or children. Additionally, the surviving sibling(s) may feel  – or others may express to him/her – that they need to be “strong” for the deceased’s partner/spouse or children, which can undermine their grief.

While everyone’s grief is unique, it is common for adults whose sibling has died to experience a range of thoughts and emotions. These include having guilt over being still alive, especially if the deceased sibling was younger or the surviving sibling(s) assumed the caregiving role in the family dynamic.

Also, because sibling relationships are maintained through several phases of a person’s life, they are often complex and experience different evolutions. As such, it is common for surviving sibling(s) to regret past actions, such as speaking in anger to their sibling, or in-actions, such as not calling often enough or not forming a deeper relationship with him or her.

The surviving sibling(s) may also feel angry and blame the doctors or someone in the family dynamic for their sibling’s death. Also, since the sibling relationship is usually the longest relationship in a person’s life, often longer than even the parent-child relationship, feelings of loneliness, isolation and despair can occur.

Below are some helpful tips for adults grieving the loss of a sibling:

  • Give permission, time and space to grieve
    The death of a brother or sister is not just the loss of a person that was loved, it is also the loss of a shared history, shared future, and a change to the special, unique culture within the family. Honor that by recognizing it takes time to grieve these multiple losses.
  • Seek support from those in your circle
    Siblings often share the same networks of friends and family members. After his/her death, it’ may be  a good idea to reach out to this circle for support. It may help to talk to others who remember the same stories or share the same history. If distance is an issue, utilize the phone, set up a social gathering or use social networking sites or email.
  • Seek professional support one-on-one or in a group
    Talking to professional, or a group who understands this specific type of loss, can be a source of comfort. Consider going to individual counseling or attend a local support group. San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine offers both of these options to the community, even for individuals’ whose sibling died without the benefit of hospice. Click here for a list of our open and specialty support groups. There are also helpful online sites that focus on the issue of adult sibling grief, such as Legacy Connect.
  • Memorialize the sibling
    Because the sibling relationship is often built on sharing – starting with toys and stretching throughout life to include experiences and memories – memorializing this relationship can help the surviving siblings move through their grief journey. Scrapbooking, creating a collage or a memory box are ways to remember the sibling who has died. It may also be beneficial to create a ritual that marks the sibling’s birthday, or date of death. This will help continue the bond even though the physical presence of the sibling is gone.

Above all, be kind to yourself as you touch on the loss in your own way, and in your own time.  For more information or support regarding sibling loss, contact a Center for Grief Care and Education counselor at griefinfo@sdhospice.org.


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