Sibling Loss: Honoring, Not Forgetting

In the United States today, there is a natural, assumed order to the deaths we will experience in our lives. We believe that our grandparents will die first, then our parents, then our brothers and sisters, and then our children. However, that is not how it happens for thousands of people each year, and that is not how it happened for me. When my brother Scott and cousin Matthew, were just 17 yrs. old they died together in a fiery car accident. In a sense our siblings are parallel travelers in life, we have a shared history. We expect this to be the longest relationship we will ever have. Our siblings are part of our past and part of our present. We expect to grow old with them. It’s devastating to lose them before their time.

People ask “do you have closure? I remind them that “closure is for bank accounts, not love accounts.” I really don’t even understand the concept of closure. Growing up with a brother made me the person I am today, if he had never been in my life I would be a very different person. We never get over the person that died, what we get over is the intense pain. When our sibling dies we lose the relationship we once had but we don’t severe those bonds. We continue to have a relationship; my brother continues to be an important part of my life and he always will be.

The majority of siblings in the United States today will spend 80-100% of their lifetimes with each other in some capacity. Our siblings serve as our protectors, confidants, rivals, and role models. Growing up we spend 33% of our time with our siblings, more time then we spend with parents, friends, or teachers. So it is ironic that bereaved siblings are often the forgotten ones in the aftermath of death. They tend to experience their loss being unacknowledged or minimized as they try and support their parents through their grief. When a bereaved sibling discloses that they’ve had a sibling die, a common response is: “that must have been really hard on your parents,” or “you need to be strong for your parents.” There is often little or no acknowledgement of our loss. However, we have not only lost a sibling, we have lost the future we thought we were going to have.

It is important to avoid clichés when speaking with those who have had a sibling die; “they’re in a better place, time heals all wounds, cherish the memories, God doesn’t give you anymore then you can handle.” These clichés don’t help, they only serve to minimize our loss. Before my brother Scott died, when someone had a death I would send a condolence card, now I send myself.”

I along with the thousands of bereaved people that I have interviewed on my radio show and worked with have learned how to eventually find a new normal and create a new relationship with those that are no longer with us. We have leaned on others hope until we’ve found our own. The reality is that we don’t forget, move on and have closure, but rather we honor, remember, and incorporate our deceased family members into our lives in a new way. In fact, keeping memories of your loved one alive in your mind and heart is an important part of your healing journey. Thankfully, our deceased loved ones are a continuing presence in our lives and always will be. Remember, you don’t have to walk this path alone. If you’ve experienced a loss, there are many groups and organizations, such as the Open to Hope Foundation www.opentohope.com and The Compassionate Friends www.thecompassionatefriends.org, that can help you. I wish you peace, joy and love on your journey, and may your ongoing connections with those you’ve loved and lost sustain you even during your darkest hours.

 

Heidi Horsley 2012

Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi Horsley

More Articles Written by Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi

Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley are a mother/daughter team and internationally recognized grief experts. They are the founders of The Open to Hope Foundation and the hosts of The Open to Hope Show. In addition, Dr. Gloria is a board member for The Compassionate Friends and Dr. Heidi is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and has a private practice in manhattan. Their message is that others have made it through the grief journey and so can you, if you do not yet have hope lean on theirs.

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  • barb says:

    My mom died a few weeks ago. I am having trouble going on with everyday life because she was such a part of it. Even though my mom was 89 yrs. old and had a lot of health issues, she had such a big will power to get better even until the very last breath. It really hurts me to hear people say she is not suffering any more or she is in a better place. She loved life and did not want to die. She lived with me at my home for the last 6 months and everything I did revolved around her. I tryed so hard to get her better,and always thought she would pull through the last sickness. I know no one wants to lose their mom,but I loved her so much I am finding it very hard to find peace in my heart. How do I get on with my life without so much grief?