Sometimes called the “forgotten mourners,” bereaved siblings have a significant — and frequently unmet — need for support. Although some believe the loss of a sibling is somehow less intense than the loss of a child, a parent, or a spouse, this is not at all the case in a general sense. Individuals may have more or less intensity around any loss they experience, depending on their own circumstances, but siblings often feel a devastating loss. In many cases, people have never known a time when their siblings were not a part of their lives, and for this reason cannot conceive of them being gone. This tremendously confusing loss may turn one’s sense of reality upside down and lead to deep and challenging questions of trust, faith, and identity.
Here are some particular features of sibling loss that you may relate to:
- The nature of the sibling relationship, which is for many people the longest relationship in life; siblings are “life witnesses” who know us as no one else can
- The feeling that with your sibling gone you have lost past, present, and future
- The challenge of supporting one’s parent(s) through the loss, especially when extreme parental grief constitutes an additional loss for the bereaved sibling
- New roles and responsibilities for surviving siblings as the family structure shifts
- Guilt from unresolved issues or challenging sibling relationships
- For adult siblings, regret over distance or lack of time spent
- The depth of sibling connection, regardless of proximity or emotional closeness, and often despite conflict
- The tendency for others to idealize the deceased sibling
- Sense of a part of self missing, physically/emotionally and in terms of memory
Circumstances of sibling loss, and the accompanying needs, vary widely. An adult losing a sibling, for example, has different needs than a child who has lost a sibling. Someone whose sibling died by suicide experiences different circumstances than someone who lost a sibling to cancer. We can learn from one another, sometimes when we connect with someone whose circumstances resemble ours, other times when the loss of a sibling is the only thing we have in common.
BPUSA offers support for siblings:
- All existing chapters welcome bereaved siblings.
- A few chapters are exclusively for siblings, and we hope to have more. If you do not live near these chapters, we invite you to start a sibling-specific chapter of your own.
- Our Annual Gathering Conference features workshops focused on siblings as well as sibling-specific activities and a gathering spot.
- In our Resources, we have collected personal writings about sibling loss.
- We have a Sibling Coordinator on the Board of Directors who focuses on all areas of sibling support. Contact the Sibling Coordinator with your questions, thoughts, and ideas.
Finally, we continue to solicit information from bereaved parents about siblings and their needs. Chapter leaders and members, visit this link to fill out our survey about your surviving siblings.