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Supporting Each Other After the Loss of a Sibling

By Molly Stevens January 07, 2017 Family

Having lost both parents I was no stranger to major loss, but in 2012 when my sister Linda died I knew this parting was unique. I looked for support but found more information about coping with the loss of a pet than how to handle losing an adult sibling.

I wrote about my experience in a piece entitled How Losing a Sibling Changed My Life Forever. I was overwhelmed with the responses from the Sixty and Me community and humbled by how many shared their stories with honesty and gut-wrenching emotion.

Longing for Connection

I learned from reading and responding to readers’ comments how much we long for connection with others who have shared this ordeal. While society may relegate us to the shallow end of the grieving pool, what we experience in real life is an overwhelming sadness and emptiness.

And these emotions can remain for decades, giving us a sense that something is missing in our lives that can never be replaced. As Lee shared, “Losing a sibling is a distinctly different experience than losing your parents. They are ‘us’ and it feels as if you’ve lost a part of yourself.”

Similarly, Kathi related, “My sister and I have been bonded together longer than anyone else… there are people who can’t understand the depth of my grief… When she left she took our childhood with her. I have no one that shared that time with me any more.”

Suppressing Grief to Support Others

Those who still had living parents when they lost a sibling disclosed how they suppressed their own grief process while supporting their parents.

Gail reflected, “I read this post with tears in my eyes. I lost my only brother when he was 48 and I was 40. I felt at the time that I had to be strong for my parents, so couldn’t show my true grief. Also at the time I had two small children so life had to go on. Although almost 30 years since he died, I still think about him daily and wonder what he would have been like as an ‘old’ man.”

Experiencing Shock After the Loss of a Sibling

Some readers lost siblings to diseases or illnesses that gave them time to say goodbye whereas others lost them suddenly to trauma from accidents, suicide or violence. All losses resulted in shock whether there was time to prepare or not.

Rosemarie revealed, “My parents are gone as well as my husband, but losing my big brother, who had been in my life for 63 years, was almost diabolical in that I truly believed that I would never, ever lose a sibling. I hadn’t ever even considered this…”

The Last One Standing

Some, like Christine, found themselves the last remaining member of their family of origin, “I lost my only sibling two years ago. It was very traumatic and I still miss her every day. But the really big adjustment was realizing I am the only one left…”

Coping Strategies

Respondents shared a variety of coping strategies. Roseann shared that she “went to counseling and almost 13 years have gone by. I have beautiful memories that comfort me.”

Linda commented, “I coped by myself, drank too much and filled my days to keep busy, I can’t ever remember talking about her much to mum and dad after she died…”

Others kept their siblings in their thoughts, like Ellen who wrote, “I’ve felt obligated to live the best, most fulfilling life I could because I know that’s what my brother would want me to do…” or Joann who related, “My sister’s name was Robin and we used to call her Robin Red Breast. She hated that. But every time I see a robin bird I stop and think about her…”

Some shared reminders and traditions such as Jacqueline who explained, “When I returned home from Kentucky where my brother passed, I randomly found a note he had written me years ago. I keep it on my dresser where I can see it.”

Jennifer shared, “I lost my older sister when she was 39, and I was 35… She was born on Christmas Day and died on Maundy Thursday. In the eulogy, the minister said ‘She was born with Christ, and she died with Christ.’ My parents shared a champagne toast each Christmas to celebrate my sister’s birth…They have also passed now, leaving me to carry on that tradition.”

Keeping the Relationship Alive

A common thread in the comments was the desire to pick up the phone and call our lost sibling, to have a chat about details of our lives, from the monumental to the mundane.

Many of us still have our sibling’s contact information in our phones, unable to delete it. Some of us do have conversations with them, either aloud or in our minds and hearts. For example, Kara shared how she writes stories in rhyme to her brother.

Personally, I find great comfort in this quote from Tuesdays with Morrie:

“Death ends a life, not a relationship. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.” – Morrie Schwartz

Have you or someone you know lost a sibling? How do you keep your relationship with your siblings who are still alive? What traditions and rituals have you developed? Do you long for connection with others who have shared this loss? Let’s continue the conversation.

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The Author

Molly Stevens is a nurse by profession and began writing in 2015 at age 61. She lives in Central Maine with her younger husband who is watching for early signs of dementia, and will have her put in a home when she shows an enthusiasm for camping.

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