Peninsula/South Bay POMC, Santa Clara, California

Sibling Grief

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By: Janice Lord, TCF, Anne Arundel Co., MD

     The death of a child is a family crisis no less for the siblings than for the parents. Surviving siblings may feel abandoned because grieving parents no longer have the emotional energy to care for them. They may feel unloved as they experience family friends putting the deceased child on a pedestal. They may feel incredibly guilty, remembering every bout of sibling rivalry, every unkind word and every slammed door. They may feel unworthy to be alive, longing for answers to explain why their brother or sister died and they didn’t. And they may, therefore, seek conscious or unconscious was to self-destruct; running away from home, using alcohol and other drugs, or taking on characteristics of the dead sibling and thus diminishing their own image. The following are suggestions children have shared about how parents can help them with a brother or sister had died:

     Allow siblings to participate in any memorial activities (chose some of the music, write and/or read something, etc.) Let them decide whether or not they want to go to the cemetery with you or alone – or not at all.

     Share with the siblings all factual information as it becomes known. Being "left out" only enhances a growing sense of not being important to the family.

     When you see children who remind you of your dead child, point them out to the siblings and explain the grief spasm it has caused. Mysterious behavior enhances the sibling’s fear of being left out.

     Allow the siblings to be with you occasionally as you grieve. If you always grieve in private, the emotion distance between you will widen.

     Talk with sibling about both the pleasant and unpleasant memories of the dead child. This prevents pedestal placing.

     Don’t tell siblings to "be strong" for someone else. That is too great a burden to carry.

      Understand that it may be easier for siblings to talk to friends or another trusted adult than to parents. They desperately do not want to add to their parents’ devastation so may seek counsel and understanding elsewhere.

     Remember that you can’t change the past, but you can face the present and guide the future. Your family will forever be changed – but it does not have to remain devastated always.

Peninsula/Southbay POMC
215 Liberty Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060-6514