What is Sibling Grief?

“Siblings will take different paths and life may separate them…but they will forever be bonded by having begun their journey in the same boat.”

– Zen to Zany

Sibling grief is not unique in itself but more so the sibling relationship is. Brothers and sisters share a history, each an integral part of the others past. We have common memories, the same childhood experiences and therefore mutual connections to the past that we will never replicate with another human being ever. When a sibling dies you are not only robbed of their presence in the here and now, you are robbed of that special co-history and, most devastatingly of all, you are robbed of all your planned tomorrows. The ensuing loneliness and grief is a heavy burden to carry for the sibling(s) left behind. 

The Sibling Relationship

The following paragraphs describe the unique relationship better than we can;

“Sibling relationships obviously vary in their degrees of closeness, love, and amicability.  Some siblings may be thick as thieves, others wonder whether they’re even really related.  Regardless, siblings are our ties to family bonds.  They have known us the longest. They understand our history and are the people with whom we have the longest running jokes.

They are our bridesmaids and our groomsmen. They are our children’s aunts and uncles.  They bail us out when we’re in trouble, they loan us money, and then we loan it back.  They are the most judgmental people we know.  They are the most accepting and loving people we know.  Siblings can never be replaced and when they are gone we miss the hell out of them.”

Extracts from Whats Your Grief

Grieving the Loss of a Sibling

Grief is a normal response to the loss of a brother or sister. But adult siblings are sometimes called “forgotten mourners” because their grief is often overshadowed by the grief of other family members, such as the person’s parents, spouse, or children.

Regardless of the type of relationship you had with your sibling, you have the right to grieve. Family members and friends may not understand the role your sibling played in your life. So it is important to communicate to them that you need their support.

A sibling’s death can have many effects on a person, such as:

The loss of a long-term relationship

Siblings are often deeply connected with each other. They have been present in each other’s lives through all of their ups and downs. So their death may represent the loss of a friend, protector, and confidant with whom you share many memories. You may grieve the loss of your past relationship and the role you pictured your brother or sister playing in your future.


Sibling relationships can be complicated. They may involve love and affection as well as rivalry, jealousy, and arguments. You may feel guilty about things you once said or did. Or you may regret that you did not maintain a closer relationship. You may also replay "what if" and "if only" scenarios in your mind. Or you may experience "survivor guilt," questioning why you were not the one who died.

The redefinition of your role in the family

Family members have different, sometimes unspoken, roles and responsibilities that may change when a sibling dies. You may take on new responsibilities, such as becoming the oldest child or an only child to whom family members look for leadership. This change can cause you to feel more stress or resentment during the grieving process.

A fear of your own mortality

Losing someone we love thrusts us into a deeply vulnerable position. We experience a range of emotions unlike anything before. We are fiercely reminded of our mortality and the precariousness of life in general. We fear more loss and more unexpected events.

Some tips for coping with the loss of a sibling

Everyone copes differently with the loss of a sibling. There is no right way to work through your feelings of grief. And there is no specific amount of time that it takes to recover from those feelings. The following tips may help you throughout the grieving process:

Share your grief with other family members

Your entire family is grieving the loss of your brother or sister. But each person grieves in his or her own way. Talking about your shared grief can help you work through your pain and sadness together.

Take care of your physical health

Help ease some of your fear about your health by focusing on developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Have regular check-ups and get medical tests as recommended by your doctor. Compile your family's medical history and share it with your doctor and other family members.

Forgive yourself

Siblings compete, argue, and challenge each other. Forgive yourself for any unkind things you did or said or for things you wish you had done or said but did not. Forgive yourself for not maintaining a close enough relationship with your sibling. It does not mean you did not love him or her.

Find support outside your family

It can be helpful to seek support from your family. But it can also be hard for some family members to provide consolation while coping with their own grief. Consider talking about your loss with people outside your family, such as a close friend, a clergy member, or a grief counsellor. Support groups can also provide a setting to talk with others who share and understand your experiences and feelings.

Take care of your mental health

Feeling extremely sad or numb are normal reactions to the loss of a sibling. But sometimes these and other symptoms of depression do not lessen over time, and feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, or anger can begin to affect your daily life. If you feel this way about your grief, ask your doctor about grief therapy. Medication may also help manage depression related to grief.

Find ways to remember your sibling

As the pain of grief begins to ease, it may feel like you are beginning to forget your sibling. Finding ways to memorialize your brother or sister can help keep his or her memory alive and maintain a feeling of connection. You may decide to make a family memory book with pictures, stories, or other mementoes contributed by different family members. Or consider volunteering with a charity that was important to your sibling.