Adult Siblings’ Grief May be Overlooked

Yes, it is dreadful for our parents when our sibling, their child, dies. Horrific actually, made even more so because we know. We see it in their faces and feel it in their words. We know because we may be parents ourselves and the thought of losing one of our children is unfathomable. It’s also awful for our sibling’s spouse and their children. We see and feel it in their faces and wonder how they will survive.

And, it is dreadful for us too. We’ve lost our mirror, our confidante, in some cases our anchor and the person we expected to be with us forever. Our families are changed, scarred; the absence of our sibling, and sometimes their entire family at holiday events, cuts to the core.

And, for many bereaved siblings, we’ve lost our stories. Our parents, so traumatized by the death of their child, can no longer bear to speak their name. There are no “remember when….” stories ending with laughter;  we learn that just mentioning our sibling’s name causes too much pain. As one bereaved sibling said to me, “You quickly get to know what you can and can’t say.”

This place or role as “grief observer” versus “griever” is lonely. It’s easy to make the leap that our own grief must somehow be less than that of other “closer” family. “You hear it enough; you start to think maybe you really shouldn’t be feeling so bad. Maybe something is wrong with me,” a bereaved sister said to me.

Losing a sibling at any age matters. It is a profound loss and just hearing the words, “this must be so hard for you,” can mean so much. For me, writing and finding ways to continue sharing stories about my brother were and are the best gifts anyone could offer me. When I talk about him, he’s with me. And I like that.

Brenda Marshall 2012


Brenda Marshall

Brenda Marshall

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Brenda Marshall, Ph.D., CT is a well known executive coach, speaker and founder of the Solacium Group. Her interest in grief work came after the sudden death of her younger brother in 2006. At the time, she was a senior level business consultant at a busy management consultancy. Recognizing the challenges she faced grieving her brother’s death while carrying on in her role, she decided to create a resource to support others. The Solacium Group is the first Canadian consulting firm dedicated to supporting and guiding leaders and their teams after the death of a loved one. Brenda now splits her time between general organizational consulting through FLOW Learning Group, Solacium consulting, and a busy writing and speaking schedule. She is a sought after expert in the field of Adult Sibling Loss and Grief in the Workplace, speaks at international events across North America and consults with professionals and individuals dealing with loss. Her book, Adult Sibling Loss: Stories, Reflections and Ripples, by Routledge Publishing Inc. has received wide praise. Her second book, Sibling Loss Across the Lifespan, by Routledge launched October 2016. Brenda holds a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Toronto, an M.Ed. in Teaching and Learning from Brock University, a BSc. in Psychology and Criminology from the University of Toronto and has advanced training in Solution Focused and Narrative approaches to coaching and counselling. In addition she is a certified thanatologist, a designation held by fewer than 900 practitioners in North America.


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  • Nancy Miller says:

    I did not find much information on grieving my sister’s loss back in 2006 when she passed away, so I wanted to thank you for your articles. Tomorrow is the 8th anniversary of her passing and you’re right, although my folks are still with me, they don’t want to talk about it. Thank you so much for recognizing the pain of losing a major part of our past and our future, our brother or sister. I am learning to recreate my dreams for the future and that this is something life requires of us. My sister used to do that for me, but I am learning how to re-write my story.
    Thank you.

  • Nancy Miller says:

    See, I’m re-writing history already. She passed away in 2004. Duh.

  • Randy Sinai says:

    I lost my brother Zach in 1993, an my other brother Phil in 2007. It’s true most people were much more concerned about my parents. I understood why, but it didn’t an doesn’t take away from my pain. It seemed like most of my friends stopped coming around cause they didn’t know how to act or what to say. I felt very isolated. Then being the only kid left an every one telling me I had to think about my parents an had to be extra careful not to let anything happen to me cause they couldn’t go threw it again, What about me? It really wasn’t till last year when a friend suddenly lost his brother that I really ever talked to anyone about it. So yes thank you for your articles, I wish i would of found them years ago!

  • Nikki R says:

    My brother didn’t have children. He was only 26 when he died in February. There was just the two of us, and I’ve never planned to have children. So not only have I lost my best friend of 26 years, I and my parents have lost any possibility of a future generation for our family. No I can’t relate to what it must feel like to look at a sibling’s spouse and child(ren) and see their sorrow; all I feel is bitterness that I don’t get to experience that facet of grief. At least your brother left a piece of himself behind in the world. My family has nothing.