Sibling Grief - Have We Forgotten Them?
by Maureen Hunter
by Maureen Hunter
The broken pieces of my heart came out with my tears as I thought of you...Bonnie Hutchins
This article was inspired by my daughter Bonnie, whose idea it was for me to write about sibling grief. Instead I decided to interview her and here I share her heartfelt and inspiring responses to what it means for her to lose a brother. She describes herself as one of the forgotten bereaved.
Bonnie, can you tell me briefly the circumstances surrounding the loss of your brother?
I got a phone call early on a Saturday morning telling me Stuart had been in a car accident. My first reaction was to worry but I remember thinking, "At worst he will have broken his leg".
I met family at the hospital and saw Stuart, I knew in that moment he would die. From then on I concentrated all my energy on looking after Stuart and doing what was best for him. 5 days later we turned off his life support.
How did that loss impact on your life?
It changed a lot in how I viewed things. I found it much harder to be sympathetic or understanding to what I felt as being trivial worries. Compared to losing Stuart, everyone else's problems felt trivial. In time I have become more understanding of grief, people's own pain at loss and how I deal with certain problems. Before Stuart died I was not confident in my abilities to be a strong and confident person. In losing him I realized if I can deal with that, I can deal with anything.
What did you find most helpful or comforting to you during that early time of grief?
For me, I concentrated on other things. I had a young daughter so struggled to deal with my grief. Instead I found life motoring on without really allowing myself to grieve. I found practical things helped most. Keeping and putting up lots of photos of him, talking with friends and I even ordered his medical records to look over. This would not help everyone, but it helped me to know my decision to fight for Stuart's life support being turned off was the right one. It was. Even now, 4 years later, I know deep down that how I have grieved was not the most productive, and I often feel the need to grieve. The time will come, for now I feel content that I grieved how I could, and best I could at the time.
What did you find least helpful or caused you additional worry or distress?
After a time, certain things added to my sadness. Milestones, seeing others little brothers grow up and even simple TV shows I couldn't watch. They are all things I have learnt to adjust to. A lot of how I grieve is in private so sometimes I felt bombarded with it all. People asking how I was? Or in fact, forgetting me altogether and just asking how mum and dad were. As a sibling, you do sometimes get forgotten in it all.
Was there one aspect of grieving you found particularly difficult?
I had a lot of guilt. As a sibling, quite often the love is unspoken. I felt tremendous guilt about how I had treated my younger brother. I teased him growing up and I felt so guilty about it. Also guilty that I didn't call him enough see him enough or support him enough. All of which I see now as completely normal. When a sibling dies you automatically feel you didn't see them enough, or speak to them enough or perhaps you treated them badly. You didn't. You just had a normal sibling relationship, only now, you have been cursed with hindsight. That's another reason why I tell my loved ones I love them almost whenever I think it. I don't want the feeling of "should have" again.
Grieving is acceptance. A lot of that is accepting the sibling relationship you had for what it was and knowing you loved them and even if it was unspoken, they loved you too. Once I truly accepted that our relationship was what it was and we did our best at the time, and once I accepted Stuart knew I loved him (which all siblings I feel have a knowing of) I was on the road to being content again.
Do you feel the loss of your brother has changed you or how you view life, if so in what way?
Yes, very much so. I look at losing my brother and its accompanying grief as sort of a disease, like diabetes. You can treat it, but it's not curable. Grief and the loss are always with you, but you find ways to "treat" it. Losing my brother is a big part of who I am and how I got where I am. I love the people I love more, and make sure to tell them more. I appreciate the simple joys in life, whereas before he died, I know I took them for granted. I have a deep understanding of my own strength now, and the strength of our family. To go through the loss of someone so special changes you, and for a family to come through and survive loss, makes them closer. It did for us anyway.
What do you think has helped you most in your grief overall?
Support and Understanding - I remember feeling sorry for my friends and extended family because they simply had no idea how to help or what to say. Then there were the people who didn't say anything. If I cried, they just hugged me. If I needed to talk they just listened. A grieving person doesn't need much, just to know they are not alone. I got a lot of that and it helped the most.
I also found my own way to honor him. I got his name tattooed on my wrist, have a special Xmas ornament to bring out every year, so he is with us. And I make sure my daughters know of him and recognize his continued importance in my life, and theirs.
What would you say to someone else who is dealing with the loss of a brother or sister?
Grieve how you can. If you don't feel ready to cry but want to scream, that's ok.
Talk to your other sibling if you have one. They understand.
Don't be forgotten. If you need help or need a hug, you still have your parents and you are still their child. Tell them.
Do special things. Write down your favorite memories. Put up photos. Plant a tree. Get a memorial tattoo. Whatever makes you feel they are close to you...they are.