Dr. Kay Fowler: Adult Sibling Loss

Adult sibling loss is a common disenfranchised loss. Dr. Heidi Horsley interviews Dr. Kay Fowler at an Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference. Dr. Fowler is the editor of the ADEC Forum, and she lost three adult sisters in a 15 year period. The deaths of Jenny, Ann, and Mary Grace have largely impacted Dr. Fowler’s life and work.  Mary Grace died of a heart attack at 44, and Dr. Fowler just couldn’t process it. There was no language or way to make sense of the situation. She felt invisible, with all the focus on her mother and her sister’s husband. However, she had lost a person she’d known and loved her entire life.

The two shared memories nobody else had. Mary Grace took Dr. Fowler’s sense of immortality, and left her as the eldest and most responsible, but also with a host of memories. Jenny was ten years younger than Dr. Fowler, and was almost like a daughter to her. When she died, she left four young children and it was as if the color left the world. Dr. Fowler had no time to grieve because the children were in need, while simultaneously Ann was dying of cancer.

Big Losses

Ann was Dr. Fowler’s closest friend. They got married at the same time, had children at the same time, went to graduate school at the same time, and she was a cognitive psychologist with dementia who died a slow and painful death. When she died, everything crumbled. Dr. Fowler had lost a big part of herself, but couldn’t find a way to grieve.

Dr. Horsley lost her brother in college, and empathizes. They both agree that their grief wasn’t acknowledged enough. The focus is on parents, spouses, and children, where it needs to be—and siblings get lost in that.



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  • Lisa says:

    My brother died March 9, 2016… 2 days ago. It is so hard. I am crushed. I cant help but feel even worse by the fact that his grandmother has 200 condolensces on her facebook page, which also mention the loss my mother and father have experienced, but none mention me or my other brothers. On my own facebook page, only 3 people commented and wished me well. I feel like the grandmother is an attention hog.

  • Luann says:

    I am the youngest and only girl of four siblings. I am 60 I have lost two brothers unexpectedly within eight months. So now it’s just my oldest brother (69) and myself left. Our parents died many years ago, and the four of us had become very close in the last 10 years. The younger of the two (63) died in a terribly tragic farm accident which my other two brothers witnessed. They administered CPR and tried everything until the ambulance arrived, but his autopsy revealed he was killed instantly. My other brother (age 66) died March 8, 2016. His cause of death has yet to be determined, we are awaiting the autopsy results. Losing my brothers has been devastating for me, however, many of my good friends really do not understand as they are not close to their siblings. I feel lost and alone with no one to talk to about my grief. I don’t want to talk to my surviving brother, he already has enough on his plate. He suffers from PTSD (Viet Nam) and also has flashbacks/nightmares from the tragic farm accident that killed my 63 year old brother. I’m trying to be supportive of my nieces and nephews who have lost their dads, but I feel ‘invisible’ when it comes to my grief. No one seems to understand…