How To Help Someone Who Has Lost a Sibling
Sibling loss is often called the "forgotten grief" because it is generally treated as secondary or even unimportant compared to the grief of other family members, particularly the parents and spouses of the deceased.
Children who lose a sibling may merely be told to be "extra good" because of what their parents have suffered, and in turn, their parents, ravaged by their own loss, can sometimes overlook the need to comfort and reassure their surviving child(ren).
Adult siblings are often forgotten entirely by those offering condolences, other than a cursory, "I'm so sorry, how are your parents doing?" Siblings can be left feeling as though the loss isn't really "theirs". In fact, sibling loss is just as devastating to surviving siblings as other types of loss, and siblings need and deserve to have their grief honored.
Read more about Loss.
Read more about How To Help Someone Who Has Lost A Child.
Read more about How To Help Someone Who Has Lost A Partner.
Read more about How To Help Someone Who Has Lost A Friend.
If You Have Lost A Sibling:
Understand that your feelings are just as valid and important as those of loved ones. You have every right to grieve the loss of your sibling, to cry, to feel angry, to feel crushed. A loss is a loss, and this loss is yours to grieve.
If well-meaning friends or relatives gloss over your loss, don't be afraid to politely speak up for yourself by saying things like, "This has been hard on the whole family, including me. (Sibling) and I were very close."
Don't feel guilty about needing to take time off work or school. Many employers offer bereavement leave for the death of an immediate family member, allowing you to travel or assist with final arrangements without having to worry about your job. Even if such leave is not offered, talk to your employer or school about getting time off if you need it.
Don't feel like you should "get over" the loss of your sibling much sooner than, say, your parents or your sibling's spouse or partner. Don't feel as though their emotional pain is more important than yours.
Grief doesn't have a timeline.
Seek out the assistance of a therapist or grief counselor if you feel like your grief is too much for you to handle alone.
Search for loss and bereavement support groups in your area or online. There may be groups dedicated just to those who have lost siblings. Talking with people who have experienced the same kind of loss as you have can be a positive step toward healing for many people.
If You Have Children Who Lose a Sibling:
Even though your own grief is understandably devastating, don’t forget that your surviving child(ren) are also sad, confused, and anxious.
NEVER imply in any way that surviving children are somehow to blame for the deceased child's loss, or that if they had been "better" brothers or sisters that they could have prevented their sibling's death. Reassure them that any negative feelings they had about the deceased sibling are natural, and had nothing to do with their sibling's death.
Surviving children, observing their parents' overwhelming grief, can sometimes be left with the impression that the "favorite" child has died, and they are merely poor substitutes. Comfort your surviving child(ren) often, telling them that you understand that they are sad too, that you love them very much and are happy that they are with you, and that they can come to you at any time to talk about their feelings.
If your surviving child seems affected in ways you don't feel as though you can address on your own, such as symptoms of clinical depression, seek a qualified child therapist for extra help.
If an accident or other event has occurred (such as an accidental shooting) where a sibling WAS involved, seek professional counseling for the child as well as the entire family immediately. Reassure the child involved that you still love him or her and that you will work through the loss together.
For especially younger children who may not yet comprehend the loss, it is important that they understand the sibling will not be coming back. Younger children may look for the missing sibling simply thinking it's a game of hide-and-seek, or feel the sibling is just at school. But understanding the loss will help the child accept that the sibling will not be coming home.
If A Friend or Loved One Has Lost a Sibling:
Send flowers or a card specifically to the surviving sibling, showing your sympathy for their loss.
Ask surviving siblings how THEY are doing. Then really listen to what they have to say and acknowledge it.
Even if you don't know what to say, sometimes, a simple, "I'm so sorry, and I'm here for you," means a lot and goes a long way.
Talk about the deceased sibling with the surviving siblings, if they are up to it. Share stories and happy memories. Often recalling the good times helps a person to heal.
If the surviving sibling is a child, be sure to acknowledge him or her personally. Offer a hug or handshake, tell them you're sorry and you know they're sad.
Even if a child doesn't want to talk about the loss, you should still acknowledge their pain. Often children don't know how to process their loss, but knowing that people are there for them may help them to deal with the pain.
What NOT to Do or Say When Someone Loses a Sibling:
If your child is suffering the loss of a sibling, do not attempt to replace the loss with a pet. The fluffy cute puppy may seem like a good distraction, but you cannot fill a hole in the heart with cuteness.
Don't say, "Well, if you're sad, your poor parents/brother-in-law/sister-in-law must just be out of their MINDS." Do not turn their pain into a competition against other family members' pain.
Don't imply or say that the surviving sibling(s) is overreacting or doesn't really feel as devastated by his or her loss as they claim to be. A loss is a loss, period. We all have the right to grieve in our own way, and on our timeline.
Don't tell surviving sibling(s) that they should "get over it already" because it was "just" their sibling. Often, our siblings are our first real friends. They grew with us, and watched us grow, and they often know more about us than other newer friends. It's a big loss and it takes time.
Don't tell the surviving child sibling(s) that they need to be "extra good", to take care of their parents, or to fulfill the deceased child's potential or role in some way. For example, if the deceased child was a star baseball player, the surviving child shouldn't be made to feel as though he has to reach the Major Leagues "for Johnny's sake". Children are individuals, and should be treated as such.
Don't forget the surviving sibling(s) entirely, sending condolences to everyone BUT them. The parents aren't the only ones who have suffered a loss. There may be a sibling, a spouse, children, cousins, and more who have suffered this same loss.
If you have any other tips or suggestions, don't hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org!