What You Need to Know About Adult Sibling Grief

Updated on June 19, 2017
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In 2010 I lost my sister to a terrible car accident. It was the start of a journey I will never forget.


Sibling Loss, the Forgotten Grief

In 2010 I lost my sister to a terrible car accident. It was the start of a journey I will never forget. Her loss has altered my life in ways I couldn't even have imagined at the time. My life was changed in ways no one ever tells you about—and in some ways it changed my life's very purpose. You go through these immense changes and feelings very much alone, regardless of how much support you have.

Sibling grief is one of the forgotten griefs. Even with the best of intentions, the parents, the spouse, and the children are all considered to be the primary people experiencing grief—and yet we have forgotten the siblings. The sibling bond is one that goes all the way back to childhood, in the sharing of secrets, jokes, and experiences over the course of many years. It is a bond that is unique to each sibling pair, which therefore results in a grief that is just as unique.

Seeking Answers

One of the things I remember most about being in the throes of grief was that I spent much of my time seeking answers. I turned to books primarily in search of anything that could ease my aching heart. I read books on religion. I read stories on the afterlife. I searched and searched for books on sibling grief, but I found few. Those that I found spoke primarily of the stages of grief. They weighed in on what you are going to be feeling, and that just made me angry, because I didn't need a book to tell me what I was feeling. I was living it.

What Did I Need as a Grieving Sibling?

So what did I need as a grieving sibling? I needed to know that the raw overwhelming emotions I felt were normal. I needed to know that screaming, crying, throwing up until I couldn't anymore, that it was normal. I needed to know that it was okay to scream I hate the world. I needed to know that my terrifying nightmares were normal. I needed to know that it was okay to live. That washing my dishes, when the world had been so drastically altered was okay. Basically, I just needed to know that I was normal, when in actuality I felt crazy inside.

How Can You Help A Grieving Sibling?

Recognize their need to grieve, and be courteous of that. Respect their need to be alone if they don't reach out to you, but if they do be ready to listen. Let the grieving person guide the conversation. The most helpful thing I ever heard anyone say is "I'm so sorry." There is nothing more that can be said. Many of the cliche's that you hear, such as, they are in a better place, for example, may not result in any true comfort. You risk hurting the grieving person further. Remember that your behavior in this critical time of their life is something they will not forget.

Be patient and understanding of their mood changes. They are going through one of the most difficult things to process and need your understanding. They will be angry, possibly at everything and need to express that anger. If you can't handle it, it is okay too. Not everyone is cut out to be a grieving person's confidante.


Remember that even though sibling loss seems to be the forgotten grief there is always someone to reach out to and help. Someone who knows what your going through, or has been through something similar can sometimes be a comfort. You will find comfort in the most unusual places, and sometimes with the most unexpected people. I once read that when grieving, friends often become strangers and strangers can become friends. Never has there been a truer statement than that.

Do you think they need more books on sibling loss?

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Questions & Answers


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      • denise.w.anderson profile image

        Denise W Anderson 10 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

        When I was fifteen years old, my brother just older than me was drowned in a freak accident. That was the worst day of my life. I did not know what to do. I couldn't cry, in fact, I simply became numb. His death triggered a series of events that left our family devastated. My parents eventually sold their home and moved away while I was at college. Years later, when my husband's grandmother died, I became physically ill with the grief. I realized that I was not only grieving for her, but for my brother as well. Processing two deaths at the same time with people I loved closely was very difficult, but the things I learned during that time have helped me many times when people I know are grieving. You are right! Everyone grieves in their own way. The best thing we can do is love them through the process.

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        Madeline Gaffigan 10 months ago

        You hit it right on the nose.