If your brother or sister dies, you immediately lose someone you may have grown up with, laughed with, argued with, and have a lot of memories with. You may be feeling a lot of things, including guilt or that you should have protected them. You may feel hurt that they did not ask you for support, or that they’ve left you. You may feel that you have to look after your parents, before looking after your own grief.
Everyone responds differently to loss because of the special relationship they had with that person – how you grieve may be different to a parent or a friend. This kind of loss is life changing and can alter your perception on life and the decisions you make.
The loss of a member of your family unit can change the family dynamic as you become the eldest, youngest or only child and responsibility and roles are distributed differently. You may feel overprotective of your remaining siblings and/or parents and they may become overprotective of you.
How you may be feeling
Everyone grieves differently so there is nothing you “should” be feeling and the grief you do experience can come and go.
Guilt – This can manifest itself in thoughts such as ‘I didn’t do enough’ and ‘I should have stopped it’ and can feel like overwhelming failure, not diminished by reminders of all the good things you did for that person. Remember only the person who died knows why they couldn’t cope any longer. Guilt may also be due to unsettled arguments or the fact that you were the one to survive not them.
Abandoned – You may feel as if the love and care you have given to your sibling has been rejected by them. You may feel distressed that they have left you. The same sentiment can be applied to those around you, if you feel as if they are failing to support you when you need them most, because they are grieving themselves or they don’t know how to help.
Unresolved – Questions such as ‘what if’ and ‘why’ as well as recalling last conversations can be hard to resolve as you try to make sense of the situation. The causes of suicide are complex and only the person who has died really knows the reason why.
Numb – Sometimes people don’t feel anything. They cannot express their grief and this can cause guilt for not crying or showing physical expression. Numbness is completely normal. It may change if the pain takes a while to break through.
Angry – This can be directed towards multiple people, such as the loved one you have lost or someone you thought should have looked after them. There may be various reasoning behind the anger, such as being the cause of pain or feeling let down by them. This is a common, especially while trying to deal with so many strong emotions.
Depressed/suicidal – You may feel as if you are losing control of your mental health as the grief is so intense. You may experience suicidal thoughts yourself, wanting to join your sibling, thinking that you cannot live without them. In this case you should seek professional support to help you overcome these emotions.
Unable to express your grief – You may feel that you should be supporting your parents, or that their loss is seen as “greater” than yours. Suicide affects people in different ways, and your feelings are valid. It’s important that you know you can grieve your loss, and that you should talk to someone about how you are feeling.
It can be difficult to ask for help – those close to you, who understand the situation, are also grieving and those outside the family may lack understanding. Not everyone will know how to respond sensitively so you may be faced with hurtful comments usually due to ignorance rather than intentional spite.
- Don’t avoid talking about the situation and how you are feeling
- Don’t use drink and drugs to blot out the pain as this can make it worse
- Avoid making life changing decisions and taking risks
- Look after your needs, making sure you eat and sleep enough
- Create an ‘emotional first aid kit’ to help you when you feel bad, sad or mad
Don’t become a substitute. You may feel the need to fill the space your sibling left and make up for the things your sibling didn’t get to do but this can cause unnecessary pressure. You can learn from the person your sibling was while continuing to be who you want to be.
Supporting your parents
Not only do you have to deal with your own loss and confusion, but that of your parents. They might withdraw themselves from you and others. They may seem to have a loss of purpose and become very ‘fixated’ on their lost child and the cause of their death. You may feel like you have lost your parents as well as your sibling.
As your parents are also in a lot of pain, they may say things that they don’t mean – even going as far as to blame you or other family members. This is a natural response to such an extraordinary situation, but it also obviously hurts and does not mean that it’s true.
Your own grief may not feel valid, you may feel as if your emotions are not as important as theirs, especially as others ask you about your parents, not acknowledging that you too are grieving. You may feel you can’t “burden” your parents, but it’s still important to talk about how you are feeling, and to grieve yourself.
What you may find helpful
Remembering the sibling who died – this could include making a memory box, looking at pictures of the person, going to their special places or doing things you did together.
Talking to others – this allows you to express your feelings and discuss memories, alternatively you could write your feelings down in a diary or a letter to your loved one.
Doing things you enjoyed before the death – including spending time outside, playing sports and going to social events.
Preparing yourself for the question ‘How many siblings do you have?’ – you may not want to recall the story of your loss to people you meet but it may feel disloyal to write them out of your family history, making it a difficult question to answer so one you should prepare yourself for.