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.
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.