When Dr. Heidi Horsley was in college, she lost her 17-year-old brother Scott in a car accident. “The loss was so severe for me and the pain was so great, I honestly didn’t know how I was going to survive or if I even wanted to.” She remembers the early years, and how many people told her she needed to be strong for her parents. Not only was that advice unhelpful, but it was also hurtful. Today, as an industry expert on grief and loss, Dr. Horsley shares the best tips for coping and healing when you experience a loss. First, make sure you validate your feelings. No matter what you’re feeling, it’s valid and important.

She points out that it’s extremely difficult to live without a sibling. Assuming you’re close in age, it’s assumed that you will have your sibling for life. No matter what your age when they die, it comes as a shock. “I thought that I would die before my brother,” she says, since it was only natural as he was younger. Having a new type of relationship, and continuing that bond after death, doesn’t come easily.

Sibling Loss Hurdles

It’s easy for sibling loss to be disenfranchised since much of the focus is on the parents. Dr. Horsley urges everyone to find support if you’ve lost a sibling. A support group and being surrounded by those who understand your pain is critical. She considers her brother her guiding light to this day, and says he’s the inspiration for everything she does.

Fortunately, she’s now in the position to help others through a similar loss. The field of death, dying, and grieving has evolved in the past few years, but we still have a long way to go.

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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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