Supporting Grieving Siblings: What You Should Know and How You Can Help

By Colleen Shannon, LICSW, Associate Program Director - Youth & Community Outreach, and Emily Carson Dashawetz, MFA, Communications & Marketing Coordinator Siblings are often among our first friends, rivals, and connections. They teach us and we teach them. Together we learn how to share, how to fight, and how to navigate the complexities of our families and the larger world. They play a pivotal role in our lives. They share our history; they often share our hopes for the future. It is no wonder that when a sibling dies, the surviving sibling or siblings are left to navigate a world that is forever changed. Their lives change, and often, so do their identities. It is no exaggeration to say that, when a sibling dies, a grieving sibling asks in many different ways, “Who am I without my brother or sister?” Our siblings are the people who are supposed to be with us for the long haul. We expect them at the breakfast table, kicking our feet when mom or dad aren’t looking. We plan for them to be at milestone events, like our birthdays, weddings, and graduations. They are the people with whom we were supposed to confide in, roll our eyes with when our parents are being ridiculous, and cry with when our family is struggling. When a sibling dies, all of these moments die with them. The loss of what could have been, and what we hoped would have been, can sting as deeply as the loss of our sibling’s life. The death of any important person in childhood can significantly impact a child or teen’s sense of self and being. For bereaved siblings, the death of a brother or sister has unique impacts on their lives [...]