Stephen Stott, a Columbia University graduate and one of Dr. Heidi Horsley’s former students, is in the field of sibling loss after losing his own sister in 2002. Stott’s mother started attending The Compassionate Friends meetings immediately, but it took Stott over a decade to join. His mother asked if he felt comfortable going, and for the first time since his sister died, he said yes. “I think the experience was great, but I was nervous,” he says.

He didn’t know what to expect, he didn’t know the people, but found it was helpful to be around people who had similar experiences. It can be intimidating to build a support network, and having those in your corner who empathize is critical. Sometimes “outsiders” can mistakenly say the wrong things, but having people near you who know how you feel can help bridge that gap.

Healing from Sibling Loss

“How do we get our kids to go to Compassionate Friends?” asks Dr. Horsley. Today, Stott is very involved with the program, and encourages parents to just keep giving the option. Never force a child to participate even if they do attend. Stott began by hanging out, doing his own thing, and slowly got to know people and form friendships. This gave him comfort, and he began attending activities. However, there were also times when he didn’t attend the group and just met up with those from the program.

Sibling loss is unique to every person. Stott and his sister were close in age, and he says he missed out on his future with her (and vice versa). That makes it different from losing a parent or grandparent, since you expect your siblings to die around the same time as yourself. That means the majority of your life is spent without your sibling, and that type of loss is often minimized.

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Heidi Horsley

Dr. Heidi Horsley is an international grief expert, licensed psychologist, and social worker. She is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Open to Hope Foundation, one of the largest internet grief resources, with over 2 million yearly visitors. She hosts the award-winning Open to Hope cable television show and podcast. Dr. Heidi is an adjunct professor at Columbia University. She serves on the ​National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, the largest peer to peer support organization in the world. She also serves on the National Advisory Board for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS has served over 50,000 military families who have suffered a loss. In addition, she serves on the National Advisory Board for the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation. Dr. Heidi is on the VIP section of Marquis Who's Who in America, Madison Who's Who, and Who's Who of American Women. Dr. Heidi has co-authored eight books, including; Spouse Loss; Fresh Grief; Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss; Inspirational Stories of Healing After Loss; Real Men Do Cry; A Quarterbacks Inspiring Story of Tackling Depression & Surviving Suicide; Teen Grief Relief: Parenting with Understanding Support and Guidance; and Signs and Hope From Heaven. She has appeared on the ABC television show 20/20, has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, and has been a guest on hundreds of radio shows as well as quoted in dozens of media publications, including the Metro World News, Washington Post, Time Magazine, Newsday, Money Magazine, and New York Daily News. Dr. Heidi is also the author of numerous articles and academic book chapters. Dr. Heidi gives keynotes, presentations, and workshops throughout the country, and teaches continuing education workshops for health care professionals on support following trauma and tragedy. For 10 yrs., Dr. Heidi worked as a co-investigator for the FDNY-Columbia University Family Guidance Program; a study which looked at traumatic loss in families of firefighters killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Through this 9/11 study, Dr. Heidi provided ongoing intervention and follow-up to firefighter widows and their children, and facilitated groups for bereaved siblings. In addition, Dr. Heidi supervised the school social work staff at Harlem Democracy Charter Schools in NYC for four years. Dr. Heidi's early career included work in a variety of clinical settings, including; Manhattan Psychiatric Center, California Pacific Medical Center Psychiatry Dept., University of San Francisco Mental Health Clinic, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Psychiatry Dept., and Hope Haven Residential Treatment Center in New Orleans. Her doctoral dissertation was on the sudden death of a sibling. Her academic credentials include a doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) from the University of San Francisco; a Masters degree in social work (LMSW) from Columbia University, and a Masters degree in mental health counseling (MS) from Loyola University, in New Orleans. Dr. Heidi splits her time between NYC and Tucson AZ.

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