Grief Unrecognized: Loss of a Sibling

Echoes of each other’s being.
Whose eyes are those that look like mine?
Whose smile reminds me of my own?
Whose thoughts come through with just a glance?
Who knows me as no others do?
Who in the whole wide world is most like me
Yet not like me at all?
My sibling.

(Faber & Mazlish, 1989, p. 114)

So often the death of a sibling is dismissed, unrecognized or even ignored. The assumption is that perhaps it is not as devastating as a parent losing a child, a wife losing a husband, or even a child losing a parent. Yet, our siblings are one of the longest lasting relationships we will ever have.

Siblings define our past, are key in our “evolution” of our identity, and they know all of the intricacies of our families. Our siblings saw us in the best of times and in the worst. There is no other relationship like the sibling connection. In an instant your world changed when your brother or sister died. In an instant, your entire family changed forever.

The impact of losing a sibling has many layers and hits on many levels. You might feel guilt that you are the one that survived, you may feel confusion about what role you now play in the family, you may be angry that your family has changed so drastically, and the sadness you experience can be indescribable.

To quote the title of a superb book- Invisible Heroes (Naparstek, B), which outlines the impact trauma has on the body, this title also represents survivors of sibling loss. Many often feel invisible as their grief is so vastly overlooked.

In efforts to combat feeling invisible, make your loss and your grief known. Educate others about how  sibling grief shapes you. Just as there was a connection before your sibling died, there can be after the death as well.

Pay tribute and honor your brother or sister often. Say their name, tell their story, do random acts of kindness as a means of memorializing. Just as the poem suggests, don’t allow the “echo of your being” to be forgotten. It was an important relationship and will forever be.


  1. Elen said on September 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm ... #

    It has been good to read the messages from siblings who have been bereaved.
    I ‘lost’ my sister 45 years ago when she becanme unwell with a severe mental illness and she was experiencing psychotic episodes and running around the country causing chaos and confusion. She is still physically alive but mentally still unwell. She has tried so much to try to get well enough to live her life more fully but this has not been possible.
    It took me some time to realise that when she became so unwell that I lost a child and that my grief was similar to a parent losing a child.
    I had to research this for myself as it was too difficult for ‘other’ people to understand.
    I have got used to it but the pain never goes away. I remember my maternal grandmother saying that she had lost her brother during WW1 in 1917 and she never got over that – she wanted to get over it – but could not. My paternal grandmother lost her younger sister during the 1919 flu epidemic and my grandmother was in her 30’s and out in the Far East where her husband was working. There was no chance of her going back home for the funeral or to see the body and so grief for her was made more difficult as those around her did not understand the depth of her feelings and her loss.
    I became tired of people saying to me ‘it must have been terrible for your mother, losing her daughter to a severe mental illness!’
    It was terrible for all of – all in our own unique ways.
    It took me years to find spaces and people (the right ones) to talk with and be with – who could understand.
    By chance I came across a letter written by a great uncle who had written to his parents after his brother was killed in action during the South African War and the letter is dated 1900. He was writing home from the Far East where he was working to show support and sympathy for his parents as their son and his brother had also been killed in action during that war. It was well written and showed the depth of feelings that he felt for and had felt for his brother and no doubt would continue to feel for him now that he was dead.
    I am so glad that I remember the comments made by my g/parents all those years ago — so that I can think about them retrospectively at least and their comments go someway to explain the univsal experiemnce of loss, for what ever the reson.

  2. Suzy said on September 10, 2013 at 10:25 pm ... #

    This was a great article to read and seeing all these stories about people who have also lost a sibling really help me feel less alone. I lost my only brother 3 weeks ago to a very sudden and serious case of bacterial meningitis. It literally took all of 3 days for him to go from perfectly healthy to being dead. He was only 24 years old. I’m 19 and he was my only sibling. I honestly can’t describe the pain I feel whenever I try to think about the future. I try my best to just take it a day at a time because thinking about the fact that I am forced to live the rest of my life without my big brother is absolutely brutal. He was one of my best friends. We both love sports and we went to countless basketball and hockey games together. I sit here and play back memories like I’m in a movie. Because it doesn’t feel real. I feel like I’m in this horrible nightmare that never ends. I feel very alone sometimes. My brother has a lot of good friends that love and miss him as well as the rest of our family. I understand that their grief is also very difficult. But I feel like nobody gets just how tough it is for me. He was my big brother. I’ve admired him and loved him since the day I was born. He was my partner in crime. Now that he’s gone I feel like half of me is gone. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We just need to learn how to live all over again. I made a promise to him that I’d live my life to the fullest for the both of us. So I can’t give up.

    Thank you for writing this, it really strikes a chord with me now. May you all find some sort of peace within yourselves.

  3. Lyn said on October 21, 2013 at 9:28 am ... #

    I was ten when my little sis was born, two years later our dad died, mum remarried two years later and had three more children, my little sis died when she was 45, and I feel like an only child now, even though I love my siblings, I feel a mile apart from them.

  4. Brooke Matthews said on October 29, 2013 at 8:58 pm ... #

    Thank you, Jill

    I lost my 31 year old only brother on Feb. 10 2012 to murder. It is now almost 2 years since his murder and to this day it haunts me! I still remember that morning as if it happened yesterday. I can not help but to speak of him all the time and it still feels as if I still living a nightmare!

  5. Nancy said on December 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm ... #

    Thank you for your article, Jill. I lost my sister recently. It was very sudden. She had a sudden cardiac arrest. I was with her until the very end, when she took her last breath. We were very close. We’ve been through so much. She was my best friend, my go to person, my everything. Life, as I know it, is dead. No hope, no happiness. I miss her immensely.

  6. Elizabeth Nelson said on February 22, 2014 at 1:13 pm ... #

    I lost my brother when I was 14 and he was 19. I idolized him. He was killed in a car accident. I hadn’t seen him for two weeks before he died. I am now 37 and sometimes I miss him so much. I wish I could just see him and talk to him. Books and people seem to imply that after a certain amount of time, you are suppose to get over it or be okay with it. I am not. It is comforting to read about other people who have lost their siblings a long time ago, and are feeling the same way I do. It does become something you live with. All of the comments have been very comforting and have validated my right to still be grieving. Thank you.

  7. Sarah said on March 3, 2014 at 3:30 am ... #

    I lost my brother 14 days after his 25th birthday. I was 20. He was a difficult, moody, troubled person but I loved him dearly. His last words to me as I left the house were “I love you” — at that point he clearly knew they were his last words to me. I said “I love you” back, and I’m grateful that our last words to each other were words of love. He hung himself in our mother’s basement, and had to have known I would be the one to find him. I can’t forgive him for that, but more than anger, I just have so much sadness. I miss him so much. Daniel, I still love you. And miss you. And wish you were here.

  8. Sarah said on April 3, 2014 at 2:13 am ... #

    I lost my brother due to liver cancer. He was only 18 years old. He died a horrific and painful death that we all witnessed. He received his diagnosis and declined steadily in health until his death 9 months later. I am left an only sibling. It seems unfair because he never did anything to deserve liver cancer or did anything to cause it. I can’t sleep and am always thinking of him. It really seems unreal that this has happened. It has been two years and my grief has not improved. I am always thinking of everyone who does not care for their health or are bad people and wonder why this happened to my brother.

  9. ellen said on January 14, 2015 at 7:05 am ... #

    Thank you for these post. I lost my only sibling 9 months ago. My Olney brother by 2 years. My world fell apart. It feels like my past is gone. My history is gone. My protection is gone. My safe haven from everything. We fought,wE bickered but we loved each other and understood each other. I feel like I can’t breath and that’s scary. .

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