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How to grieve and cope with losing a sibling

Sibling relationships can be complicated. Some brothers and sisters grow up to become best friends, while others rarely speak — all of which can make sibling grief especially difficult to navigate. 

No matter how close you were, if your brother or sister recently passed away, you may be struggling with the loss. While we understand everyone mourns differently, in our guide below, we address a few ways to help you cope with the death of your sibling. 

Why is losing a sibling so hard?

First, let’s discuss why losing a sibling is so difficult. If you’ve recently lost a brother or sister, you may have noticed that others tend to focus solely on your parents and forget that you are also grieving. 

Surviving siblings, sometimes called “forgotten mourners,” often experience “disenfranchised grief,” which refers to a kind of grief unacknowledged by society. Because their grief isn’t always acknowledged, surviving siblings may feel unsupported and even alienated while mourning their loss.

Though it sometimes falls under the radar, sibling grief is a valid form of grief. After all, siblings have a unique bond and connection as from growing up together, sharing the same experiences, and forming their identities and personalities together along the way. 

When your brother or sister passes away, as a surviving sibling you now have to face life without one of your closest relatives — you’re mourning the loss of history and the loss of a future with them. Moreover, losing a sibling disrupts the birth order and can shift your responsibilities in the family, which may cause you to have to reevaluate your identity and role within the family. 

In addition to experiencing disenfranchised grief, surviving siblings aren’t always given the space to mourn because they’re focused on caring for their parents. They often believe it’s their responsibility to be strong and comfort their parents to keep the family together, which can be an even bigger burden if they’ve lost touch with their parents over the years or have a strained relationship. While this need to protect and care for their parents comes from a place of love, it can delay or derail their own recovery if they don’t allow themselves to process their own grief. 

How to grieve and cope with losing a sibling

Regardless of whether you’re dealing with the death of a sibling in adulthood or childhood, losing them can bring up a wide range of emotions. On top of the grief associated with the death of your brother or sister, you might be experiencing other complex feelings, such as regret for not mending your relationship sooner or guilt over not preventing their death. 

While grief can come in all shapes and forms, it’s important to find ways to handle and process this heartbreak. Below are just a few tips for helping you cope with your loss. 

Give yourself time and space to grieve 

Many people wonder, how do you get over the death of a sibling? The unfortunate truth is that you may never fully recover after losing a sibling. It’s possible that you will always hold some sadness in your heart, but that’s not to say you won’t eventually heal and find a sense of peace. 

While mourning the loss of your brother or sister, you may go through the stages of grief as you work toward acceptance. During this time, allow yourself to feel — it’s okay to be angry and upset. Give way to your emotions and let them run their course. 

It’s also important to let yourself process this grief on your own time. Don’t feel like you need to hurry up and feel better. Allow yourself all the time and space you need to cope with the loss of your sibling. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help 

Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone in your grief, but that’s never the case — there’s always someone to turn to in your time of need. 

If you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to, reach out to your friends and family members. Just because they didn’t lose their sibling doesn’t mean they’re not mourning the loss of your brother or sister, too. Getting together to reminisce on the good times or talk about the hard times can be a deeply cathartic experience.  

Another option is to join a support group. See if your community offers any grief support groups, especially ones tailored toward sibling loss, or look into online support groups. These provide you with an opportunity to engage with others who are experiencing a similar sense of loss. be

For additional support, you can always turn to a grief therapist. These professionals provide bereavement counseling with grief therapy techniques and coping strategies designed to help guide you through your mourning period. Meeting with a grief counselor can be especially constructive if you’re struggling with feelings of guilt, anger, or regret.

Read more: What is grief counseling, and how can it help? 

Celebrate their life 

Your brother or sister may be gone, but they’re certainly not forgotten. One way to cope with their passing is by celebrating and remembering their spirit. There are countless ways you can go about this. For instance, you could host a party on your brother’s birthday and invite all your loved ones to commemorate his life while eating his favorite foods and listening to his favorite music. Or may you decide to take a trip to your sister’s favorite campsite, where you spend the weekend fishing, hiking, and boating in her memory. 

Find ways to continue their legacy

Losing a sibling is a painful experience. However, some people find comfort in continuing their sibling’s legacy. Contributing to what they loved is a way to feel close to them while healing yourself in the process. For example, if your sister was passionate about volunteering for the Humane Society, you could make a donation, host a fundraising event, or even adopt a pet in her honor. Or perhaps your brother felt strongly about planting community gardens, in which case, you could complete his projects, find new areas to tend to, or plant a tree or vegetable patch in his name. 

Overcoming sibling grief isn’t something that occurs overnight. During this difficult time, be kind and patient with yourself, and you will slowly but surely begin to heal.

Read more: Learn how to deal with grief in a healthy way

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