Siblings are the forgotten mourners of family loss.

How to Cope When a Sibling Dies

by Kristina de la Cal

Coping with the death of any loved one is never easy but the death of a sibling is often more challenging than most. The nature of the sibling relationship, coupled with unrealistic societal expectations about how that loss should be mourned, makes coping with a sibling’s death particularly poignant.

1. Forgotten Mourners

Surviving siblings are what grief experts often call “forgotten mourners” because attention and words of comfort are generally aimed at the parents, spouse and children of the deceased. Societal expectations dictate that you, as a surviving sibling, are responsible for supporting your parents and the deceased’s immediate family members throughout the grieving process, leaving little time or energy to process your own grief. However, your grief, whether acknowledged by society or not, is valid, too. Failing to process your own grief makes it more difficult for you to help others through theirs, which is why it is so important for you to take care of yourself before you can be there for somebody else.

2. Acknowledge Your Pain

The first step in coping with the death of your sibling is to acknowledge your pain and give yourself permission to grieve the loss. Unprocessed grief is not conducive to mourning and will prevent you from developing effective coping strategies, which is why you should not suppress your grief or put it on hold. Acknowledge your pain by admitting and gradually accepting that the loss of your sibling is traumatic and inevitably life altering.

3. Let Go of Guilt

Guilt is a common byproduct of grieving a sibling’s death and comes in many forms, says Pleasant Gill White, director of The Sibling Connection. You may experience survivor’s guilt because you get to continue living even though your sibling does not. Perhaps your parents' grief makes you wish it had been you who died instead. If you had a strained relationship with your sibling before his death, you may feel guilty about how things were left or about words left unspoken. You may even feel guilty about moving on with your life after the death of your sibling. Regardless of the reasons for it, forgiving yourself and letting go of the guilt is a crucial part of the grieving process.

4. Seek Support

Talking to others about your sibling is a powerful way to work through your grief. Reach out to trusted friends and family members for support or schedule an appointment with a grief counselor. Other bereaved siblings who have experienced the same things you are going through can also serve as an extremely helpful source of support. Many communities offer grief support groups designed specifically for bereaved siblings. If you can’t find a group in your area, the Internet offers a wide variety of online support groups for surviving siblings.

5. Honor Your Sibling's Memory

Your sibling’s body may have passed but your memories of him remain. Honoring your sibling’s memory can alleviate the pain and can also help you navigate the future special occasions when his absence will be particularly painful. You can honor your sibling’s memory in a variety of ways, like telling stories about good times shared, making a scrapbook about his life or volunteering for a cause that he believed in.

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