While all families are unique, most families have an established order of operation or the way that they function. In other words, certain family members may take up specific roles and responsibilities. So what do families do when they experience a loss and their whole world changes, and their entire family dynamic shifts?
The Ever-Changing Family Roles
The loss of a sibling can drastically impact how a family functions. For example, if the sibling who died usually took charge, the family might be scrambling to figure out what to do next. And if the sibling who died was the youngest and needed the most attention, parents might not know who to give their attention to now.
How you’ve traditionally shown up and taken care of those in your family can shape and define who you are and that all changes when there’s a loss.
And if your sibling was the person who was your counterpart and helped to balance you — it might be hard finding your place without them. After they’re gone, it might feel like you’re figuring out who you are all over again. You might also be figuring out what your role in the family looks like now.
When Emotions are Running High
No one grieves in the same way, and when a family experiences a shared loss, emotions and tensions may be running at an all-time high. So it’s essential that everyone learns to respect those around them and their boundaries.
While it’s okay to be sad together as a family, it’s also okay to be sad apart. And what’s most important to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Because grieving is a process that everyone reacts to at their own pace.
If different family members turn to you to see how you’re coping, it might be because it’s hard for them to process what they’re feeling. So talk to them and see how they’re doing. Most people just want to know they’re not alone in what they’re feeling. And the emotions everyone is experiencing probably feel overwhelming, which is why it’s important to seek out counseling and support groups.
Don’t Let One Person Carry the Weight Alone
When a sibling dies, most people might expect the loss to hit the parents the hardest. But everyone experiences grief in their own way, and all grief is valid.
If there are other siblings involved, they will also be feeling the weight of the loss.
If an older sibling dies and a younger sibling is left behind, it could be the first time they’re experiencing grief, and they might not know how to process everything they’re feeling. So they will need support too.
It’s often the case that when a sibling dies, other siblings will be asked or feel a responsibility to step in as a parental figure while their parents take the time they need to move through their grief. But like with all things in life, there needs to be a balance. No one person should be carrying the weight of a loss all on their own.
And if you feel like you’re the family member who’s taking care of everyone else around you and putting yourself last, it might help to talk to an experienced grief counselor who can support you on the best way to move forward.
The Opportunity to Grow Together
The loss of a sibling does not have to tear a family apart; it can actually bring a family closer together. Families, by nature, are interconnected and often interdependent. While viewpoints may differ, there is a shared history there.
And even though the loss of a sibling means losing a future with them, it does not mean that you lose your memories of them. So in grieving their loss, you can also celebrate their life and remember how they made you smile, laugh, and love.
Because in mourning and grieving, we can still find healing, and remember how to live, love, and be there for ourselves and those who still need us.
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