“Don’t tell Mom!” my sister warned. She was afraid the pain in her side would spoil our upcoming vacation. I kept her secret, but a week later she was rushed to hospital. We learned that she had rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She was thirteen; I was fifteen. She suffered so terribly that we prayed for her to be released from the pain. When she died four months later, my parents told us that everyone in the world had sorrow and talking about it just made people feel sad. They did not know about the healing power of those sad feelings of grief, nor of the devastation caused by a sibling’s death.
The death of a brother or sister at any age profoundly changes the lives of surviving siblings. Research shows that it adversely affects surviving children’s health, behavior, schoolwork, self-esteem, and development. Surviving siblings may be troubled throughout life by a vulnerability to loss and painful upsurges of grief around the date when the sibling died. They may develop distorted beliefs about hospitals, doctors, and illness. Many bereaved siblings describe feeling sad, lonely, and different from their peers. Most are troubled by guilt due to the ambivalent nature of the sibling relationship. Upon the death of the brother or sister, they remember forcibly all the fights and name-calling, seeing themselves in memory as the bad child and the dead sibling as the good one. This split in self-concept results in the feeling that they are not good enough.
In order to heal after the loss of a sibling, it is important to educate yourself about sibling loss. This gives you a way to understand what happened. It is also important to connect with other bereaved siblings. This helps you to feel that you are not alone, that others understand what you are going through. I created The Sibling Connection to help bereaved siblings with both of these healing tasks – to learn about sibling loss and to connect with others. The site includes information for siblings who lost a brother or sister during childhood, adolescence, college age, or adulthood. There is a comprehensive lists of books about sibling loss, articles about the healing process, about ongoing connectedness with deceased siblings, and information about the long-term effects of early sibling loss. There is a message board, through which many individuals have found support and friendship.
I learned firsthand about the profound value of support when you have lost a loved one. Anyone who touches the life of a bereaved sibling has the opportunity to offer healing. I remember a friend who faithfully sent my sister a card every day for a month. I remember a hospital aide who carried my sister in his arms to her radiation treatments, because the gurney ride was so painful. I remember my mother telling me, “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to spend much time with you. When this is over, we’ll get to know each other all over again.” It is my hope that the Sibling Connection will provide some of that comfort and support for others who are grieving.
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