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Coping With the Death of Your Brother or Sister


When a brother or sister dies, we not only grieve the loss of a blood relative, we experience a metamorphosis. Our life position has changed. Your expectations and the responsibilities, which your sibling had always assumed in the family circle, are tossed up in the air. Who within the family will take on their role and the responsibilities associated with that role?

For better or worse, each family member assumes a place in the pecking order. Certain things are expected of the “big brother”, “little sister,” or local sibling. They may be the family handyman, peacemaker, or the “smart one” who tackles the big decisions.

When a sibling’s death occurs, the shuffling of new responsibilities are often difficult to manage because they may not fit you and your particular way of doing things. Is it an honor or an imposition?

For example, if an older sister took care of your aging parents: paid their bills; managed the home they built together over 50 years ago, etc., and did it willingly — what now? This was a responsibility you counted on her doing. With her death, will the “job” of managing your parents’ affairs fall on you? What happens if you are not used to this role and are not particularly good at it?

Reality Check
If there are other children in the family you may be able to redistribute the duties. First, be sure you are being realistic about what you and your siblings can and cannot do. If someone outside the family is better suited to handle affairs, let them do it. Try not to take on a burden that will only add to your stress. Keep in mind that you are going through a grieving process.

Am I an orphan?
Once your parents and their siblings have passed, the role of family matriarch and patriarch passes as well. It may be hard for you to accept a new family title.

If your brother or sister was all who was left of your original family, their death can be more difficult than you imagined. You may experience a sense of being truly “alone” in the world. When you lose the only hold on the family you knew as a child, it can be frightening. “Why,” you might ask, “am I feeling so lonely and isolated when I, a grown adult, am surrounded by my children, co-workers, and friends?” The reason for this is that the child within us never quite grows up. Our “inner child” allows us to laugh, sing, dance and be silly at times — it also makes us cry and become sad. We never quite get over our need to be taken care of by Mom or Dad, even when we are parents ourselves. Our inner child likes to keep the “child-like” relationship we had with our brother or sister even when grown up. Old jealousies may linger or hero worship may remain. While it may not make sense to our “conscious self,” the feelings are still there. Death creates an unconscious void, which is impossible to fill because the relationship with our brother and sister is so inborn.

Gut Feelings
The feelings that may result from your loss of a sibling are often filled with confusion — feeling cheated, anger, or a more pronounced sadness that the past is truly gone. You may feel a sense of injustice when a younger sibling dies. You may question your faith.

Working Through Your Grief
Try to remember that the feelings of a child have a lot of power, but you are an adult with many coping tools available to you. Try several of these techniques to work through your feelings:.

  • Create a journal about your brother or sister who has died. Recall milestones in your growing years. What stayed the same as you entered adulthood, and what changed? Keep adding to it as memories are rekindled.
  • Write down the responsibilities your sibling took on within the family circle.
  • Write down the responsibilities you have been handling within the family circle.
  • Write down new responsibilities you willingly want to accept.
  • Identify responsibilities not suited to your personality.
  • Write down names of professional advisors who can guide you in decision-making.
  • Seek guidance from a trusted professional and your friends

Eric and Reid Trimble, licensed funeral directors and embalmers for Trimble Funeral Home & Crematory, encourage families to discuss pre-planning options. To receive a complete pre-planning kit and price list or to make an appointment, call 309-764-1144.

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