Grieving the Death of a Sibling | The BridgeMaker

Grieving the Death of a Sibling

By on Mar 02, 2014


sibling grief

There is no grief like the grief that does not speak. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Some days it seems like the light has burned out. Anxiety fills the spaces where the light used to shine before Eric died. I wait patiently for a tiny spark – a glimpse of my old self. But it doesn’t come. Those days are the dark days.

And the dark days are happening too frequently.

Unprepared

I was unprepared for my brother’s death. He died suddenly and without warning on October 9, 2011. It wasn’t accidental or intentional. Eric’s death was a tragedy no one saw coming.

In the months following his death, it was difficult finding grief support. Other than my wife, children and friends, I couldn’t find resources to help me grieve my brother’s death.

So, I moved on. And that decision has been haunting me since because

I didn’t grieve fully. I didn’t receive the help I needed. I was left with a wounded heart that wept for my brother. But with God’s grace and the love of my family, I’m learning a few things about sibling grief.

These things may not be clinically correct or what a professional grief counselor would recommend, but they are helping me heal a little more each day.

Cry

After hearing the news, I went into management mode. There were phone calls to make; flight arrangements to coordinate and hotel rooms to reserve. It took a few hours before the reality brought me to my knees. Eric was dead. That was when I let the tears come.

More than two years later, I’m learning not to manage the tears, but to let them flow whenever they want.

Cry for your brother or sister. Cry as much as you want.

It’s okay.

Accept

A year or so after Eric died, I accepted he was gone. There would be no more weekly calls, no more visits and no more times when he would call me, “Mouse.”

Eric was dead. I accepted that fact.

But what’s been more difficult to accept is the person I was before he died is gone, too.

The brash optimism is gone. Feeling strong, vibrant and invincible is gone. My enthusiasm is tarnished and my spirit feels cornered.

After a difficult day recently, I asked Mary Beth if we could go to the neighborhood bar to have dinner and grab a beer or two. She agreed.

Sipping Harps, my wife told me directly, but compassionately, that I will never be the person I was before Eric died. Mary Beth suggested my anxiety would improve once I accepted that fact.

His death has left holes in me – holes that will never be patched because there’s only one person who can do it and he isn’t here to fill the holes back in.

When grieving the death of a sibling, accept that how you see and experience the world will change.

When you lose a sibling, you also lose a piece yourself, forever.

Accepting this somber truth is taking me closer to healing.

grief quote

Breathe

There’s something about losing a sibling that makes you feel vulnerable. Maybe it’s the proximity in age or knowing the DNA strands are similar, but the death of a brother or sister can evoke feelings of panic and anxiety like no other life event can.

Since my brother’s death, I’ve been obsessed with my health. Not knowing how he died makes me suspicious of every cough, itch or ache. To make it worse, I have a atrial septal aneurysm, which magnifies even the smallest cardiac or stroke symptoms.

My health concerns reached a crescendo last summer when I experienced frequent panic attacks. Along with taking medication, I found that meditation helped the most.

Meditation helped to center my thoughts. It separated my rational thoughts from the irrational ones. Each meditation session began with a simple command – breathe; simply breathe.

When the pain or anxiety over the loss of your sibling feels suffocating, remember to breathe.

I’m still taking daily medication, but I’m not meditating as often as I did last summer. Instead, when I feel the anxiety begin to rise, I close my eyes, think of Eric and breathe.

Simply breathe.

Forgive

When a sibling dies, forgiveness becomes a two-way street.

Months after Eric left us, it was clear I needed to forgive myself for his death. Thoughts like, “Why didn’t I do more? Why him and not me? What signs did I miss that could have prevented his death? consumed me.

But my rational mind has helped me realize an important truth, “His death wasn’t my fault.” He died as a result of his conditions – his choices – and perhaps his destiny.

After finding the way to forgiveness, the need to forgive surfaced again. This time, I had to forgive Eric for leaving me.

Anger at the Universe shifted to anger at my brother for not taking better care of himself. I viewed his lack of self-care as selfishness and I was pissed. Remembering my self-forgiveness journey, it was clear that my brother deserved forgiveness just as much.

Invite forgiveness into your heart so you can begin forgiving yourself and your brother or sister.

He is gone and I am here. My faith tells me there will be a day when we will see each other once again. Eric will probably give me a big smile, give me a hard time for wearing my hair too short and then call me, “Mouse.”

I will savor that moment. No doubt it will melt away the pain as the dark days surrender to the light and quiet my grief forever.

Need to talk?

I’m not a life coach or a therapist; I’m still learning how to grieve my brother’s death. If you need someone to talk to, you can reach out to me at alex@thebridgemaker.com. I look forward to sharing my experiences and receiving your support, too.

The BridgeMaker Founder Alex Blackwell is the author of Letting Go: 25 True Stories of Peace, Hope and Surrender. Join the community to connect, share and inspire: Twitter | Facebook | More Posts

  • Jordon Ferber

    Thanks so much for sharing this Alex . . . it’s so hard for a lot of people to understand what we as bereaved siblings go through, which is why it’s always so comforting to read about it from someone who does. My brother Russell was killed in a car accident in 2002, at the age of 21. It has been nearly 13 years, and I am still struggling with it, because ultimately even though I’ve accepted the facts, it will never be ok that he’s not here.
    Finding support is always an issue as well. I facilitate a support group for bereaved siblings in NYC through The Compassionate Friends. We meet twice a month, and I honestly dont know what I would have done without having a place to vent. It boggles my mind to know that so many of the TCF chapters around the country do not have an active siblings group.
    Talking about it has been the most helpful thing. The ONLY helpful thing really. I know I’m going to have to walk the most of this journey alone, but it’s easier when people acknowledge what what I”m going through is real.
    I just followed you on twitter, and I wanted to mention that I recently started a podcast focused on grief called “Where’s the Grief?” and if you’re ever in the NY area, feel free to reach out.

    • Jordon,

      Thank you for reaching out. It’s comforting to know that my almost four-year struggle isn’t odd or out of the ordinary. You brought tears to my eyes when you wrote, “it will never be ok that he’s not here.” That’s exactly how I feel – and it’s good to know that I’m not alone with that feeling.

      I appreciate the info about The Compassionate Friends. It sounds like a great resource. I am in NYC now and then so maybe we could meet for coffee and talk.
      Take care on your journey,
      Alex

  • milissa depetro

    I thought of my brother all day today after seeing an old photo emerge from my timehop app and the rest of this day has been filled with signs n songs at weird moments when I needed to know he was around the most. I then look thru Facebook tonight to clear my mind and click on this article- honestly I never do because it depresses me but I immediately clicked on this and lo and behold your brother died the exact date, year etc mine did! I truly feel the signs I’ve received today r from him n I feel I read thus article and saw this date to help me end this day off w some encouragement and support on how to get thru. I ALWAYS fiht my tears… And your first paragraph was on crying. U will never know how reading thus today has meant to me and how the chills I had in my body when I read that dreaded date if Oct 9th, 2011- the last day I was me.. The last day he was here.. The beginning of the end to such a great friendship and family. Thanku for your expressions and thanku for being a part of the signs he had given me today to help me.

    • Milissa – I’m so happy your brother helped you find some comfort. When you write, “the last day I was me” expresses exactly how I feel. The death of our brothers have left a hole, but through the fellowship of our common experience we are slowly finding healing and peace. Take good care of yourself. – Alex

  • Angela

    Alex, thank you for sharing such a painful part of your life. I’m so sorry for your loss. But can I say how lovely it is that you found a way to use your pain to help us? In healing others, you will heal yourself. And it’s true Alex….you will never be the person you were before your brother passed. You will be better. And because of that, so will we. Sending love and light and eternal blessings to you and to your brother. <3

    • I feel humbled by your gracious words Angela. Even though I’m trying, I still don’t feel better than I did before he died – different for sure, but working on thinking I’m a better person. Grateful for your sincere support….Alex

  • Hi Alex,

    My heart goes out to for the loss of your brother. You put it so well that you cannot go back and you will never be the same person. Our life experiences shape who we are and who we become. I’m sure your brother would be proud of the man you are today! Hugs to you.

    • That is a wonderful thought Cathy, I hope he is proud – I’m trying to honor his life and spirit the best I can. Thanks for your hugs, too!

  • Jessica Sweet

    Alex, I’m sending you a virtual hug. It’s the best I can do, but sometimes it’s a good healer. My heart goes out to you and I wish you love and peace.

    • Virtual hug happily, and gratefully, received. Thank you Jessica!