Learning to Live After Losing a Sibling

Sibling relationships play a unique role in our lives. Siblings combine the warmth of parenthood with the playfulness of friendship. Our brothers and sisters can often become the first person we confide in, the first relationship we share a solid history with, feel understood by, learn constructive conflict with, and provide emotional support too. They’re both our teammates as well as competitors.

We often assume that our siblings are going to stick with us through thick and thin, that we will share our life with them till the end. So, when we lose a sibling in an untimely fashion, the grief can be complicated and hard to navigate.

Siblings as the Forgotten Mourners

One thing that makes the grief of a sibling’s loss harder to express is that the loss isn’t one-sided. You are grieving the loss of both the childhood validation as well as the loss of an imagined future you had thought you’d share.

Life, as you knew it, changes irreversibly. To add to the complicated nature of this gut-wrenching grief is survivor’s guilt. Often siblings can feel guilty for outliving their brother or sister. 

What’s more, nobody tells you what to do when a sibling dies. Instinctively, people will ask how the parents are doing, but siblings — especially if they’re an adult — are somehow understood to be dealing with the loss more valiantly or differently.

This disenfranchised grief can make siblings (especially the adult siblings) the forgotten mourners. The truth, however, is that no loss is less than another and if you’ve lost a sibling you deserve support and validation, too.

Here are some ways to help cope with the loss of a sibling.

Give yourself permission to grieve

First and foremost, know that your grief is valid. You just lost a person whose life was intertwined with yours for years. It’s okay to feel like you lost a part of yourself, because, in a way, you did.

Grief can also feel confounding if you’re experiencing it for the first time. But don’t push the grief away or avoid it. The longer you delay feeling it, the more painful it becomes to confront. As it’s said, the only way around is through.

Try to find an outlet for your emotions

Mourning is the outward expression of grief. If you are to heal, you must also mourn. Mourning, or coming to terms with the loss, can look different on each person. Many people find talking about the deceased person, helpful.

“Telling the story” over and over again can also be helpful. You may want to consider keeping a Grief Journal to document your feelings about your sibling’s death and how it changes over time.

Material memory of linking objects is also very powerful. Perhaps you find ways to get creative when celebrating your sibling’s life. You can do this by creating an online memorial where people can contribute objects or volunteer for a cause that was dear to the person who died.

Join a support group

Grief support groups can be a healing safe space to share your thoughts and feelings with others who have common grounds rooted in this loss. It may help you feel like you’re not alone. Here are some tips to help you choose the right support group for yourself.

Take care of your physical health

Grief can take a physical toll on your body. Fatigue is common, sleep gets disrupted, appetite might get affected. Remember that your body and mind are more connected than you can imagine.

Your physical health also has an effect on your emotional management, and you need it now more than ever. An adequate amount of sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise can be extremely helpful during this time.

Be compassionate to yourself

It may seem like your parents’ grief is somehow bigger or that you have to be there for them, but your grief is valid, too. Taking care of your parents through this shared loss might put a strain on your emotional reserves, so remember to keep some time for yourself. And don’t feel bound by what anyone suggests is the right timeline or right way for you to mourn. Yours is going to be a unique journey out of this loss, shaped by the nature of the relationship you shared, the age of your sibling, your age, your support systems, your life situation, among other factors.

Seek a grief counselor

You may feel hesitant to reach out to family members for support because the loss has impacted them too. So, a grief counselor can help you accept the loss and figure out coping strategies.

The right grief counselor will compassionately support you during your grief journey, whether it involves identifying grief symptoms, embracing your new reality, channeling your emotions into commemorative rituals, or giving you a safe space to talk about the loss.

Getting over the pain of this loss is not easy by any means. But having healthy support systems, professionals and coping mechanisms can make a world of difference.

Photo credit: Pixabay, Nerivill