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Sibling bereavement in childhood

Parental grief

Your parents/parent’s own grief may have meant they were unable to support you with your own grief. You may not have had any support from either family or professionals.

Your parents may not have talked to you about your brother or sister when you wanted to know more about the illness, the death, or to share memories.

Guilt

  • You may have misunderstood the cause of death and felt guilty that you were in some way responsible for it.
  • You may have felt guilty about things that you did or didn’t do with your brother or sister.
  • You may not have had an opportunity to say goodbye in the way you would have liked.

Family life not the same again

  • You may feel that you also lost the family life you knew before your brother or sister’s death. Some families become very dysfunctional after a child’s death.
  • The relationship you had with your parents may have changed. For siblings of terminally ill children, this may have happened some time before the child’s death.

Complicated grief

  • Some siblings find the the original bereavement of their brother or sister is intensified or relived following the death of another relative, friend or pet, and that their reaction to a subsequent death is, in their view, out of proportion to the loss. This is a frequent experience for siblings who have not had the opportunity to grieve openly for their brother or sister.
  • Childhood sibling loss can affect how adult siblings raise their own children, for example experiencing fear when their own child reaches the age their brother or sister was when he or she died.

Sibling bereavement in adulthood

Supporting parents

  • You may be supporting parents with their grief and not had the space to grieve yourself.
  • You may now have to help your parent find a new purpose in life, if all of their energy and purpose was around looking after your brother or sister. You may be very concerned about how they will cope and if he or she will be motivated to look after themselves properly.
  • Your parent may now want to get on with their own life at a time when you had hoped that they would be able to spend more time with you.

Guilt

You may feel guilty about things like – how much time you have spent with your brother or sister, having felt resentful about care tasks, feeling relieved that you will not have to care in the future, having survived…

Anger

  • You may feel very angry that services or treatments were not available for your brother or sister, or that he or she was treated with less dignity than others in hospital.
  • There may have been neglect or negligence in your brother or sister’s care which leading to their untimely death and you want to seek justice on their behalf. 

Loneliness

  • You may be the only sibling left in the family and begin to question your own mortality.
  • You may feel that a big part of your identify is missing.

Bereavement support

  • Your GP practice will be able to provide information on local bereavement services.
  • Cruse Bereavement Care run a range of bereavement support services for adults across the UK

Books on sibling bereavement

White, P,G.(2006)
Sibling Grief: Healing after the Death of a Sister or Brother
iUniverse

Farrant, A (1998)
Sibling Bereavement: Helping children cope with loss
Cassell
(Adult siblings share their experiences of sibling loss in childhood)

Fanos, J.(1996)
Sibling Loss
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
(The issues facing siblings of children who have died following a chronic illness)