Losing a Sibling is Unique

Losing a sibling is different from other losses. At times I find myself becoming extremely nostalgic, and it is difficult not having a cohort with whom to share childhood memories.

On some level, we know and expect that our older relatives will leave us eventually. However, our brothers and sisters are the connection between the child we were and the adult we become. They know the good and the not-so-good details about us, and if we are lucky, they love us anyway. They are part of our childhood frame of reference.

Losing them hurts any time, but when this tragedy occurs when we are young, the whole picture changes—not just the frame. As a survivor, I hope to emphasize that we remaining siblings can continue with our lives. Yes, we have lost a big piece of ourselves, but we have memories and connections to fill the holes and keep us intact.

Grief Loves Company

It is a cliché, but I like to think that our siblings would want us to emerge stronger. I love my brothers, and I wanted them to be happy. I have to assume that they would desire that contentment for me as well. And I believe that they would ask me to smile when I hear their names. So I try.

That is the least I can do, and smiling does get easier with time. Then after a while, you know that you are not really alone.

No experience is a cause of success or failure.  We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences, so-called trauma – but we make out of them just what suits our purposes. –Alfred Adler

While researching the topic of childhood grief, I came across this quote from the esteemed psychologist Alfred Adler which struck me as relevant. Adler was of the psychoanalytic persuasion and theorized about many topics, including the importance of birth order and sibling relationships in determining personality traits.

We are Not Alone

In discussing the impact of losing a sibling and the emotional trauma it can cause, this sentiment surely can ring true. Over the years I have found that one purpose I seek is to use any insights I have learned to help others treading the same waters.  I hope that my experience can, at the very least, assure someone reading that he or she is not alone. Misery may not only love company, but it needs it, too. Let us we travel together along this road of loss, growth, discovery, and recovery.

Vincent van Gogh (a sibling-loss survivor himself) once said, “I put my heart and soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.”  For me, this book is the path to finding my mind. I hope it has this potential for others as well.

This is an excerpt from Turning the Page: Helping a Child Cope with the Loss of a Sibling, by Sue Trace Lawrence.

Read more by Sue on Open to Hope: https://www.opentohope.com/sibling-survivors-need-connection/

Sue Trace Lawrence

Sue Lawrence is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology who began teaching at Ursinus in 2011. An alumna of Ursinus who graduated with a B.S. in psychology in 1983, she earned her M.Ed. and certification in School Counseling at West Chester University. At the present time she is working toward a graduate certificate in neuropsychology from Ball State University. While a student at Ursinus, she served as the teaching assistant for Experimental Psychology and earned Departmental Honors for her research on learned helplessness. In addition, her original sociology research was published in Pennsylvania Folklife. In addition to teaching psychology at UC and other colleges, Sue has worked as a counselor and educational consultant, along with holding teaching and administrative positions in early childhood programs. She is a certified PQAS trainer for the state of Pennsylvania and provides professional development trainings for early childhood and school age staff in her position as Assistant Childcare Director for the Pottstown Branch of the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA. Sue has written and self-published a book of poems and short-stories in collaboration with her late brother entitled Sob Stories. Currently, Sue has been conducting original research with UC students on the topics of childhood loss, grief, and trauma. She is currently working on a children’s book on sibling loss and has published a handbook for adults entitled Turning the Page: Helping a Child Cope with the Loss of a Sibling. Her future research interests lie in further exploring how early childhood traumatic grief experiences influence children into adulthood.

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