Coping with the Death of a Sibling

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Coping with the Loss of a Sibling

Losing a sibling can be a particularly painful experience. Find out ways to support yourself and others after the loss of a brother or sister.

Our siblings often share our family history and form an important part of who we are. The death of a sibling can therefore bring about a lot of painful feelings.

You might have been very close to your brother or sister, or had a difficult relationship, but there's no doubt they occupy a unique place in our lives and there is nothing like that person and that relationship.

Common feelings and experiences after losing a sibling

  • Confusion: Our siblings share our family history and formative years. The loss of a sibling can therefore lead us to feel insecure about our place in the world.

  • Loss of youth: The death of a brother or sister can damage our relationship to the past and our memories. Sometimes it can make us feel like we are no longer youthful, as we were in the days when there was more time to laugh, cry, play and argue together. For children and teenagers, the death of sibling may also mean taking on more adult responsibilites including caring for parents or younger siblings.

  • Shock: For both children and adults, the death of a sibling can be very hard to process.  We are often told that our brothers and sisters are people who will be alongside us when our parents are no longer with us. To have this taken away can be deeply unsettling.

  • Disenfranchised grief: When someone dies, it is common for people to focus their support on the parents, partner or children of the person who died.  Siblings, whether as children or adults, can sometimes be left aside and made to feel their grief doesn't matter.

  • Change in responsibilities: Losing a brother or sister may mean you have to take on an increased role caring for dependent family members. If you have been left as an only child you will have no-one to share this burden with, or who can discuss issues from the same perspective which can be particularly stressful.

Learn more about different feelings after a person dies.

Supporting yourself after the death of a sibling

1. Talk to someone

 Talking to friends and family can be really helpful, even if it is over Zoom, the phone or even by text. You might also be able to talk to someone in your community, or to a faith or spiritual leader. If you're find you're struggling to cope after the death of a sibling, you can call our National Helpline for support.

2. Find ways to remember them

It can help to think of ways you can remember your sibling, and keep them as part of your life. This might mean keeping a few special possessions, creating a memory box or special album of pictures, or organising a time for family and friends to come together and remember.

3. Plan ahead on anniversaries 

Birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations can be difficult after someone close to us dies. It can help to think in advance about how you are going to manage. Read our tips on coping with anniversaries.

4. Journaling and writing

Many people find that writing letters to the person who has died can be a real comfort. Others find that journaling helps them to clarify their thoughts and record memories of the person they've lost. Find out more about the benefits of journaling through grief.

Supporting someone else after the death of a sibling

1. Stay in contact

If you're supporting someone after the death of a sibling, try to stay in contact  and let them know you’re thinking about them. If someone has lost a sibling in old age or after a long illness, try not to say things like ‘at least they had a good innings’ or ‘it must be a relief they are no longer suffering’. If you're stuggling to find the right words, take a look at our list of suggestions of what to say when someone is first bereaved.

2. Let them discuss their feelings

When someone is bereaved,  one of the most important things you can do for them is give them space to discuss their grief. Allow them to be open about their grief and about their sibling– talking can be one of the most helpful things after someone dies. 

3. Be there for important dates

Make sure that you reach out at significant dates like birthdays or the anniversary of the death. For those who celebrate, the loss of a sibling might be particularly hard around Christmas or other religious festivals. Make sure to and let them know you are thinking of them.

4. Suggest useful organisations

Offer practical help if you think they need it, or let them know about the different ways Cruse can offer them support if they are struggling.

Stories about the Death of a Sibling

Julie Bentley and Simon Blake joined us for a discussion on their book, Sisters and Brothers: Stories about the Death of a Sibling on 15th March 2021. The book is a collection of short contributions discussing sibling loss. It tells the very individual story of 12 people's individual experience of bereavement when facing the death of an adult sibling. 

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