Sibling relationships are one of a kind. They are unique to each group of siblings…some are close…some are not….some do everything with their sibling and still yet, some spend little time with their siblings. Regardless of the closeness of the relationship, all sibling relationships share some commonalities. One of those commonalities is that typically, the bond siblings share is often one of the strongest connections we will ever experience. Sisters and brothers are a part of each other, not only because they typically share both or at least one parent, but they often share the same environment, and create a lifetime of memories together…good and bad. It has been said that this relationship is often one of the most lengthy relationships we will ever experience with another human being. Siblings share DNA which, in turn, gives them a connection that offers a sense of belonging unlike anything we will ever feel with anyone else. Our siblings are our first friend…they teach us a great deal about unconditional love, competition, anger, frustration, and how to debate fiercely for our desires. Siblings experience pain together from the death of grandparents to the shake up of familial structures and relationships or to unforeseen traumatic events. These shared experiences develop deep bonds that allow them support and strengthen each other….making their relationship closer than ever.
Since siblings play such important roles in our lives, it’s hard to fathom the death of your sister or brother. Typically, we imagine our brother or sister growing old with us and envision what our future relationships with them will be like…we think they will always be there and we never even allow ourselves to think about their death. In October of 2016, I lost my brother to cancer. I experienced the feelings of losing a friend, a confidante, a supporter and a change to our family dynamics. We had to learn how to be a family without Steve…and I had to learn and am still learning who I was and who I am in my family again. It’s a traumatic experience that most people don’t understand…and it’s often the most misunderstood type of grief. If you try to look for information or articles…anything on sibling grief, there’s not a whole lot out there that can help you through what you are feeling. And most often, siblings are considered to be secondary mourners…because the focus is on the parents’ loss. But what happens when the sibling is left out of that traumatic experience….it isolates them….it makes them feel like no one cares about their suffering…and it makes them feel like they have to be strong for everyone else. In the mean time, they are experiencing the most intense pain of their life…and they have no support system. Their parents can’t offer support because of their mental state….and really, most people out there doesn’t even think about what the brother or sister is going through. They are left to figure it all out on their own…they are deserted and neglected. And they feel a profound sense of loneliness with no one to offer them understanding, support, or sympathy.
Unfortunately, my daughter is experiencing this type of pain as well. For the first 6 months after her brother’s death…she was my strength…and I feel ashamed to say that I leaned on her. She was there when the boxes of his belongings came in…she signed the paperwork to receive them. She was there when the death certificate came….she was there when we put his military flag in the wooden box that the military had provided. She was there through so many pivotal moments…but I relied on her strength, while all the while, she had no one to rely on for her strength. I feel that I failed her in some sense…that I only thought about my grief and not hers, and I also noticed that many didn’t check in on her or ask her how she was. Maybe they did in the very beginning, but in the months to follow, I think she experienced even more loneliness than I did. As a result, she held it all in and the grief magnified and permeated every aspect of her being. But no one knew, because she kept it inside….because no one was there for her. On the outside, she was a rock of strength, but on the inside, she was falling apart. Eventually it all came out and I realized how much she needed from her family. I feel so ashamed to say that I let her do things for me that really she should have never had to do.
But, what I have seen from my daughter in the past few weeks is a beautiful display of self reflection and self searching. She knows that she has changed, just as we all have, and she knows that she will never be the same. I think she has accepted that…but now comes the difficult work….working through all of that change and the grief. The loss of her brother has shaken her world, broken her, and has exposed her to an unexpected facet of life that she will carry with her for the rest of her days. She has to face the world without her brother to experience her wedding, her college graduation, the birth of her first child, and the many exciting moments she has yet to come. She has embraced the challenge of this arduous task with unease but also with determination. The road ahead of her will still be filled with overwhelming pain, uncertainty, and fear…but I have no doubt that she will endure and persevere through this difficult journey. How do I know this? Because through her weakness, she exhibits enormous strength. I know that she doesn’t feel that way, but I see it in her and through her actions. She is learning to honor her brother’s memory in small, but significant ways…which has brought her some peace. She has displayed an enormous amount of growth in the last few months. Still, she needs support, sympathy, and someone willing to listen to her just grieve. I want to be that person, but I know that sometimes she needs someone outside of the family to be willing to be her support and to offer, if nothing else, a listening ear. I know that through all of this tragedy, pain, and shock…she will come out of this a different but stronger person. That’s just my girl.
So, if you know of a person that has lost their sibling, please provide some support for them in some way. I’m not saying that you don’t need to check in on the parents….but don’t forget that there are other family members suffering that also need your care and attention. Don’t make them the neglected mourners.
This is dedicated to you Taylor…I know your brother, Aaron, would be so proud of you and I know that he is smiling down on you….and that he is with you even if you don’t know it or feel him. He’s just on the other side of a different realm…reaching out to you in love.
Remember…your mom is always here for you.