I would like to take some time to focus on parents who have lost a child and have other living children. I plan to talk about the sibling survivor experience to give you an idea of what they are going through.
I would like to start by talking about their grief. While I was attending The Compassionate Friend’s National Conference and the Bereaved Parents of the USA gathering this past July, the question I heard most was, “Are my children grieving, because I do not see it?”
While I can’t speak for all siblings, what I can say in general is “yes, they are most definitely grieving.” You as a parent may not see them grieving because they may not necessarily be doing it in front of you, but they are grieving. It is important to understand that they feel the loss of their brother or sister just as acutely as you feel the loss of your son or daughter. Think about it for a moment — their brother or sister was close to them, perhaps even their best friend, someone who might have understood them better than they understood themselves.
As a two-time sibling survivor, I can speak to what this is like. When my sister was murdered in 1996, I was totally unprepared for it. This was really not something I thought I would ever deal with in my life. I just naturally assumed that my older sister would be there for me through all of the milestones in my life. I thought she would be there when I got married and when I had children. She would be there to be a sounding board when I wanted to change careers or when something was bothering me and all of that suddenly, so abruptly ended. I had never even given a thought that my sister would not be here.
Luckily, I have a younger sister who can talk to about some of these things but as you know, every sibling relationship is unique and you have different one’s that you go to for different things. Therefore, are we grieving? Absolutely without a doubt, we are grieving.
Where are we grieving? Well, it all depends on the age. As for me, I was 28 years old, so I lived on my own, had my own apartment. I grieved away from my parents, in my own home and talked with my friends and colleagues and even my therapist. However, we are grieving with our friends. In this day and age with all of the social media websites and the internet, we have many more places where we can go to find like people. There are multiple groups on Facebook for siblings and this is a great thing. I did not have all of that in 1996 and I felt very alone.
Nevertheless, it can be a very lonely experience for us. It is lonely because a lot of times, no one acknowledges our loss. No one asks how we are doing. My experience was like this. I was living in Boston, my parents are from Boston, and people would come up to me and ask how my parents were and understandably so, but no one asked how I was.
I started to question whether my loss was less significant than theirs was. Think about that for a moment; is your living child’s loss less significant? Absolutely not. It is different from yours but it is no less significant. It is hard when our loss is not acknowledged, when people are not asking how we are.
What can you do to help your children with their grief? Ask your children how they are doing. Share how you are feeling. They know you’re grieving. They know that you are sad and that can be really tough for your children to see. No matter how young or old your child is, no child wants to see their parent hurting, just as a parent does not want to see their child hurting.
In future posts, I will talk more about your grieving and how that affects your children. However for now, what I would like you to know is that yes, our children are grieving.