An Open Letter, From a Grieving Sibling

When a parent dies, you lose the past. When a child dies, you lose the future. When a sibling dies, you lose the past and the future.” -Unknown

Dec. 11, 2018- The whirlwind of emotions a person goes through after the loss of someone to suicide can seem unbearable, and everyone will experience grief in different ways. Sibling grief in particular can often be forgotten, misunderstood, or overlooked.

As a person struggling with the loss of my brother, there seemed to be sparse resources out there to help a grieving sibling.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, these “stages” of grief, may be our responses to the strong emotions accompanying a loss. But we don’t enter each stage the same way our friends or family might, and we also may not experience each stage in a linear fashion.

I felt stuck in my anger for a long time. I was so angry with my brother. I was angry that he did this, angry that he left me behind. I was angry with myself for not knowing how much pain he was in. I was angry with his friends for their not having seen his signs of struggle.

The worst was watching my parents mourn the loss of their son. Seeing them in so much pain broke my heart, and I found myself hating my brother.

I realize now that the anger and hatred I felt was a product of my grief. I was in so much emotional pain, and everything reminded me of him. I loved my brother. I wasn’t angry at him; I was upset that he would never do anything to “anger me” again.

I was guilty of neglecting my own grief. I felt as if I couldn’t allow myself to be sad, under the weight of the sorrow those around me were feeling. After all, how can I be sad for myself, when my parents had lost a child?

My experience has provided me with some insights into what someone who loses their sibling may feel. The death of a sibling is a unique loss, and the emotions involved can be complicated. There are a few key points I want to highlight, that are important to remember for those grieving a sibling.

Your Own Grief is Valid

Sibling grief may feel pushed aside by the grief of other family members, but it is okay to focus on your own grieving process.

After my brother died, people continuously came up to me saying how sorry they were for my parents, having lost a child. They often mentioned that they could not imagine what they were going through. The focus on my parents‘ loss caused me to believe my own feelings for his loss should not be as strong.

Thankfully, my parents themselves often checked in with me, and asked me how I felt. Before I moved out, we would talk about my brother often. These days, we reminisce about him, and talk about what we think he would be up to now.

Having an open dialogue and the freedom to express your own emotions about your loss is a good way to ensure you aren’t devaluing your own grieving process in lieu of another’s.

“What I want people to know about my brother isn’t how he died, but rather how he lived.”

Answering Some Difficult Questions

If you are now learning how to be an only child, like I am, it takes time. Take time to think about how you may want to answer some difficult questions.

“Do you have any siblings?” This was a tough one for me. Do I say I’m an only child and pretend he just never existed? Do I say yes, change the subject, and not go further into the topic? Or do I respond that yes, I had a brother, and wait to see if the person wants to delve deeper into the conversation?

Personally, I am honest about it. I don’t want to hide the fact that I had a brother. A sibling is the first friend you make in life, and often your longest relationship. You will witness more life events with your sibling than anyone else. You share genetics, family, and culture. You learn how to communicate with others through talking to your sibling, as well as how to function in society. This is not something I could ever pretend didn’t exist in my life.

Additionally, if people want to ask about my brother, I want to answer about him. I want to share how amazing he was. I don’t want his death to be the only thing people talk about. I want people who didn’t know him to know it’s ok to ask questions, and I want people who did know him to share their stories with me.

Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a loved one to suicide. What I want people to know about my brother isn’t how he died, but rather how he lived.

Surviving Siblings May Face Tension

Perhaps you were closer to your sibling who passed, and now your other brother or sister feels as though they missed out on some of those moments with them. Maybe the sibling you lost was closer with your surviving sibling than with you, and you find yourself wondering how they could’ve missed any warning signs of struggle.

The most important thing to remember is that everyone grieves differently. What you may be feeling in your own grief process might be wildly different to what someone else is, even another sibling. Open communication is a key element for navigating through this tumultuous time. It is always better to talk about it with each other, rather than holding it in.

You Will Be OK

At first, it may not feel like it, but you will be ok. People who die by suicide aren’t malicious, nor are they doing it to hurt you. They are in a great deal of pain and feel there is no other choice.

As to why it happened, it wasn’t your fault. Don’t blame yourself.

Take everything one day at a time, and know most importantly that you aren’t alone. Talk openly about your feelings and be kind to yourself and your own needs. It may not seem like it now, and it may take some time, but you will be ok.

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