Grief and Loss
When your brother or sister dies
It's not fair.
- You may be thinking they were young and had their whole life ahead of them. It seems unreal and you can’t help asking “why?”.
- It feels like life will never be the same again – and in many ways you’re right. Not only have you lost your brother or sister, but you may have lost your family as you know it.
- You will be dealing with your own grief as well as that of your parents and this can make it twice as hard for you.
There will be a heap of mixed up, confusing and really intense feelings. They may be the same as others in your family or they can be completely different.
Relationships between brothers and sisters often swing between being the best of friends to the worst enemies. This doesn’t necessarily change when they are dying.
After they have died you may:
- regret things that were (or weren’t) said or done
- feel like the worst brother or sister ever
- think about nothing else
- worry that other people will think badly of you
You already know that nothing you said or did made them die but this won’t necessarily stop you having deep feelings of sadness or regret. This may be made worse if you didn’t get the chance to talk openly with them before they died.
You might be angry with them for dying. They have now left you with:
- parents who aren’t the same, who may have shut down or now fight a lot
- a big mess that you feel like you have to clean up
Remember: Nothing you said, did or thought made them die
Your parents' grief
- Children are not supposed to die and parents expect to see their children grow and mature. The death of a child messes that all up.
- Just when you really need your parents, they may not be able to give you the support that you need as they will be struggling to cope with their own grief.
- It can be really hard to understand and deal with their behaviour. You may feel that you have to hide your feelings and not share your grief in order to protect them.
- Understanding some of what they are going through may help you.
Even though they knew that your brother or sister was going to die there is still a sense of disbelief that they are no longer physically here.
This can be so strong that just getting out of bed each day and doing the simplest things is too hard. They might stop laughing and have trouble finding anything to be happy about.
Your mum or dad may feel that they didn’t do all they could, or they may question some of the decisions that they made regarding your brother or sister’s treatment. Parents expect to be able to protect their children and when they can’t they may feel guilty about it.
If they are struggling with their own grief they may also feel guilty because of the effect this is having on the rest of the family.
This is a very normal reaction to something that seems so unfair and so out of their control. Their anger may be aimed at themselves, each other, you, the doctors, God or anyone. How they deal with that can have a huge impact on you – especially if it is not the way you are used to them behaving.
Your parents may suddenly want to know where you are or what you are doing all the time. This can be seriously annoying, especially if you are used to a certain amount of freedom or going out and doing things on your own. The slightest cold, bruise or ache you get may trigger a real sense of panic in them.
Some parents may go the other way and not seem to care what you are up to. While this might be okay to start with, after a while you will want them to care about what is happening in your world.
Your parents may feel that no-one understands what they are going through. (And, like you, they will also get tired of people telling them they know how they feel.) They may stop going out or wanting to spend time with other people because of this. And, just like you, they may feel that after a certain time people expect them to be "over it" and "moving on" (don’t you just love those terms?).
Feeling like they have to pretend and keep things inside can be really isolating.
Remember: These strong feelings can affect the way your parents behave. And this in turn can affect your relationship and what home feels like, and can make things unpredictable. But it doesn't mean they don't care about you.
Hey, I’m still here!
Sibling grief is not recognised by everyone – there will be a lot of focus on your parents and how they are dealing with it. Everyone gets that the death of a child is a huge thing but losing a brother or sister doesn’t seem to get the same attention.
Everyone in your family will be under a lot of stress. Like so many other things, having some patience and understanding and finding ways to communicate will help all of you adjust to this new situation.
I am still me
You may have felt that you were competing for some attention with your brother or sister while they were going through treatment and this can get worse after they have died – strange as that sounds.
After having these thoughts you might feel guilty because you’re not supposed to think like that when someone dies – but lots of people do.
You may feel:
- like you can never live up to your brother or sister – it is really common to only focus on the good things about people who have died.
- that nothing you do can compare to them – but you are still you and you will still have the normal hassles that young people have.
- like you have a responsibility to do something ‘special’ with your life – this can put you under a lot of pressure. Living someone else’s dream is not easy.
- that you have a totally different perspective on things
It’s important to make decisions that are right for you and not simply to please others or because you feel like it is what is expected of you.
Remember: You have a right to still be you. You can’t replace your brother or sister who has died.
For my parent - when your sibling has died
Below is a tear off tip you can download and print to give to your parent when your sibling has died, to let them know that you know it’s hard for them and you appreciate their support.
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