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Coping with the loss of a sibling

Family members holding hands providing support whilst having a cup of tea.

‘How many brothers and sister do you have?’ It’s a normal question to be asked when meeting someone new, but when your sibling has died, it’s not always easy to know how to answer.

If you've lost a sibling, you might be referred to as a 'forgotten mourner' by some grief counsellors. This is because your grief can be overshadowed by the grief of your parents or your sibling’s partner and children.

If you’ve experienced the death of a sibling, here are some things that can help:

Give yourself time to grieve

Seeing your parents or sibling’s family in pain can be extremely distressing, but it’s important to remember it’s hard for you, too. Try not to feel that expressing your sadness makes it harder for others. Talk to people about how you’re feeling. Talk together about how they were and share memories together. How this affects you will also affect those that love you. And your parents will want to know how you are.

Don’t feel guilty

When someone dies it’s not unusual for those left behind to feel guilt for still being alive. This can be especially so when it’s your sibling. ‘Why them and not me?’ Feeling this sort of guilt can be harmful to you as you go through your grief. And it's important to know that your friends and family will not be thinking this. Remember, grief is hard enough without feelings of guilt making it harder on you.

Talk to people who knew them

The way our friends know us can be very different to how our family knows us. Talking to your sibling’s friends and hearing their stories and memories of your brother or sister can be heart-warming and even helpful in the grieving process. When people know you’ve been bereaved, they can find it hard to say the name of the person who died for fear of upsetting you further. But if you want to talk about them, let people know. They will take your lead and probably enjoy sharing stories themselves.

Talk to someone who can help

If you find yourself struggling to cope, it might be time to speak to someone who can help. There are many charities offering bereavement counselling online or over the phone. Or your GP can refer you to a counsellor near you to support you through. It’s important to ask for help if you need it, so try not to bottle up your feelings for fear of upsetting people. There are people that can help.

Next time, when someone asks you if you have brothers and sisters, tell them. Tell them about all your siblings and don’t be afraid to talk about the one who died.