"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you." - Maya Angelou
Siblings suffer a profound loss after the death of a sibling. That loss is every bit as painful as that of the their parents. Understanding a loss is paramount if mourning is to occur. Yet, most siblings hear over and over again, that it wasn't really their loss and, eventually, they begin to believe that.
The loss is not theirs to mourn.
That is a statement that Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn in The Empty Room: Understanding Sibling Loss refers to throughout her insightful book. Often grieving parents are too ravaged by their own grief to recognize it in their surviving children. Often there is no one outside the family to recognize it and step in. Occasionally a sibling will receive a condolence card addressed solely to them, but that is the exception. Many children fear upsetting their parents with their own grief. They try to make up for the loss. According to DeVita Raeburn, "so often the parents' obvious and ongoing preoccupation with the dead sibling, which rendered them sad, distant, or downright cold, had more often than not made these siblings feel as if the wrong one -- the favorite and indispensable one -- had died. These families tended to be marked by a chronic and silent grief that could not be discussed, and which, in fact, became so much a part of the landscape of the family as to be unseen.
"Adult siblings were often the ones who suppressed their own grief. They fell into the role of caregiver for their parents and often the sibling's surviving spouse and family. They felt that the family's loss was so much bigger. Adult siblings sense a loss deep within the foundation of their beings. Most adults admit that almost no one inside or outside the family had recognized their loss. That loss was something to be carried alone. When grief is delayed or suppressed, mourning is as well. But no one gets to skip out on mourning. One either does the grief work or one risks getting stuck or frozen in their grief.
Pauline Boss in her book, Ambiguous Loss, coined a term for a loss that goes unrecognized: ambiguous loss. The losses may be life altering and traumatic (having a spouse with Alzheimer's disease, immigration loss, spouses missing in action) yet are often not recognized as real losses. There are no rituals to mark them, no wakes, funerals, sympathy cards or meals by neighbors. Without the validation the people often feel frozen in limbo, unsure how to navigate lives that no longer felt familiar.
back to sibling grief page