Sibling Loss as Powerfully Affecting as Death of a Spouse or Parent

Posted by Hospice by the Bay on Fri February 21, 2014 in Grief Support

By Cristin Brew, MFT, Bereavement Counselor, Hospice by the Bay

Cristin Brew, MFT, Bereavement Counselor, Hospice by the Bay

Cristin Brew

Shared history is a powerful bond, and few relationships reach back as far as those with siblings. Regardless of birth order or age difference, closeness or rivalry, the relationship with our brothers or sisters is often the longest lasting connection that we experience in our lifetime.

The death of an adult sibling is often overlooked as a significant loss. However, even those who weren’t close to deceased siblings can experience deeply mixed emotions and feel intensely impacted by their death.

At Hospice by the Bay, we counsel community members coping with the unique and profound nature of this grief experience. We recognize the feelings involved and ways the loss of a sibling can change family dynamics:

  • Brothers and sisters influence one another’s identities in fundamental ways. The death of a sibling typically requires that family members reorganize identities, roles and relationships. The death of an adult sibling might alter who is expected to care for aging parents, for example.
  • Guilt born from a deep-seated instinct to protect one’s sibling is a common reaction after this loss. A sibling can feel guilty because s/he was unable to protect a brother or sister from death, despite the impossibility of doing so. Surviving siblings can also feel “survivor guilt” because we are alive and our sibling is not. They may feel blame or shame because childhood feelings of family closeness changed or lessened in adulthood.
  • Fear about our own mortality naturally arises when a sibling dies. We are reminded that we too will die someday, and wonder how many years we have ahead. Death of a sibling may bring up thoughts about the shrinking number in our family group and the impact our death, too, will have on remaining family members.

To support all those coping with this too-often discounted grief, Hospice by the Bay offers individual grief counseling and, starting April 7 in Larkspur, an eight-week group for adults coping with the loss of a sibling, whether recently or in years past. The group will explore ways that grief shows up and how the loss of an adult sibling is distinct from other losses. It’s an opportunity to grieve the sibling relationship you never got to have, in addition to the relationship that existed.

For details about the upcoming group, visit our grief support calendar, or call (415) 526.5699 or (707) 931.7299.

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