Losing a sibling

Losing a sibling can be incredibly painful and hard to accept, particularly if your brother or sister holds a special place in your life. It can also bring up difficult feelings if your relationship was more complicated. We explore the range of feelings you might experience after your sibling’s death, and share advice to help you cope with your grief.

How it might feel after the death of your sibling

As with any bereavement, losing a sibling can leave you feeling a huge range of emotions as you grieve.

From sadness to anger to jealousy, you may feel a number of emotions at any one time, and this can be really difficult to process. To help you better understand your grief for your brother or sister, we explore the range of factors that can affect it below. 

Your age

If you grew up with your sibling, you will have shared so many memories and experiences from your formative years. Their death can therefore feel like the loss of those memories and that part of your childhood, and that can be hard to cope with.

You may feel like you’ve lost the person you looked up to for guidance and advice. It can be hard to lose that role-model in your life, and it can lead you to question your identity and who you are who you are without them by your side.

If your sibling was younger than you when they died, you may experience feelings of guilt or regret over not being able to protect them. It can also be common to experience anger as you come to terms with the fact they have died before you.

If you can relate to these emotions, try not to worry. These feelings are normal and it will take time for you to understand and process them.

Your family

Sometimes siblings can feel like they are being left out of their family’s grieving process. Although this isn’t always intentional, often immediate support can focus on partners, parents or children of the person who died.

This can leave you feeling like your grief isn’t as important as others’, or that it doesn’t matter as much. It is known as disenfranchised grief, and it can be really difficult to cope with.

If you are feeling this way, try to be as open as you can with the people around you. It’s important for you to know that your feelings are valid, and your grief should be acknowledged and recognised.

Your relationship with your sibling

Complicated relationships

Your relationship with your sibling will play a key part in how you react to their death and how you feel through your grief journey.

If you had a difficult relationship with them, or if you were estranged from each other for a long time, it can be common to feel regret. You may find yourself wishing that you had been on better terms when they were alive, or that you had been more involved in each other’s lives.

These thoughts and feelings can be really difficult to cope with, so try to remember to be kind to yourself as you grieve.

Step-siblings and foster siblings

Different families will have their own unique situations, and some people may have step or foster siblings who have been part of their lives.

If you grew up with your step-sibling or foster sibling, their death can leave you feeling like a part of you is missing, even if they weren’t part of your life from birth.

But their deaths can sometimes lead to more complicated situations too, particularly if you only knew them for limited time. This is because they might have other family members who are grieving too, and sometimes navigating those new relationships can be difficult - especially at a time when emotions are high.

Your chosen family or someone you considered part of your family

Friends can often feel like family, and that’s why lots of people can struggle after the death of someone they considered to be like a brother or sister.

You might experience feelings associated with disenfranchised grief during this time, particularly if you find that their birth relatives aren't open to involving you in their grieving process.

This can be really difficult but it’s important to try and be honest about how you're feeling with the people around you. This can help them to understand your grief, and in turn, act in a way that is more sensitive to what you're going through.

How they died

If your brother or sister died after a terminal illness, you might experience feelings of relief now that they are no longer in pain or suffering. This is normal, so try not to feel guilty. It can help to discuss how you’re feeling with the rest of your family too, including your other siblings if you have any. This can give you the space to share your thoughts and understand each others’ grief.

If you cared for your sibling or were around a lot during their illness, you might feel lost and unsure about your role after their death. Some people can find this really difficult, but try not to be too hard on yourself. We’ve got lots of advice to help you support yourself after a bereavement

How to cope after the death of a sibling

Be open with your family

After the death of your brother or sister, you might feel that you need to take care of the rest of your family. This is often common for those who have other siblings, especially if they are the oldest or become the oldest. It can be tough to take on this new responsibility, but it's important that you still try to make time for yourself.

You also may find that your parents need support through this difficult time as they process their grief. This can feel both upsetting and overwhelming, but you may find comfort in supporting each other. This could include opening up about your feelings in grief or sharing memories of times spent together.

Remember that you don’t have to take on all of the burden yourself. Support is available, whether that’s through speaking to someone you know and trust or looking at our range of bereavement support.

Choose the right bereavement support for you

Here at Sue Ryder, we have a range of online bereavement support services to help you cope with your grief. Our Online Bereavement Community is a safe space to talk to others who understand what you’re going through. You don’t need an account to read what people are saying, but you will need an account if you want to share your own experience.

As well as our Online Community, we also have lots of information about the grieving process on Grief Guide and our website. Plus, our Online Bereavement Counselling Service offers free and professional video counselling to help you process the death of your parent and what it means for your life now.

Find ways to remember your sister or brother

Keeping your sibling’s memory alive can also help as you learn to live with your grief. Occasions like their birthday or the anniversary of their death can be difficult to face, but finding ways to remember them can help to turn those days into something most positive. For example, you might want to gather with your family and friends to share your memories together. Or, you may want to take some time alone to reflect on the moments you shared with your sibling, and how they affected your life.

Another way to remember your sibling is to create a memory box, where you can collect photographs, letters, music or objects which are special to you. You may want to add to it over time, or you may find it useful to store it in a safe place, so you know it is there if you need to revisit it in the future.

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