Concerning Siblings

Adapted From: Helping Children Cope With Loss. Buz Overbeck - Joanie Overbeck TLC Group - Dallas, TX

It's been said that when a child's brother or sister dies, actually three people are lost: the sibling and both parents. The sibling also loses a friend, playmate, confidant, role model, and lifelong companion. For the parents, the loss of a child is often so traumatic that they have little left to give to the surviving children. Yet the surviving sibling has fears, needs, and anxieties that must be explored and addressed if the child is to avoid negative long term consequences. Listed here are normal feelings siblings might have concerning the loss along with some suggestions on what to do to encourage their expression.

Normal Thoughts

• "Did I cause the death?"
• "Will the rest of my family die?"
• "Who will take care of me now?"
• "I'm all alone now."
• "Half of me died."
• "I'm different from all the other kids."
• "I'm not a child anymore."
• "I feel left out."
• "Things will never be the same again."
• "No one cares about my grief, only about my parent's grief."
• "I can't cry because it will make my parents more upset."
• "I feel guilty to be happy or to laugh."
• "Why wasn't it me?"
• "Will I die young, too?"
• "I made it happen by wishing him dead!"
• "If I act like my sibling, maybe my parents will feel better."
• "Maybe my parents would love me more if I died!"

Normal Feelings

• Impatient and angry at the world.
• Resentful over the attention the parents are getting.
• Resentful over the attention they are not getting.
• Resentful over having to do more around the home.
• Fearful of having to replace the sibling.
• Guilt for feeling relieved over the death after a long illness.
• Guilt over all the "bad" thoughts, words, and fights with the deceased.

How to Help

• The bereaved parents should constantly remind themselves to be sensitive to the feelings of the surviving children.

• The parents should strive to maintain as much of a normal routine as possible for the survivors.

• The parents should encourage grieving, openness and the expression of feelings in the children by

  • grieving openly and expressively in front of them.
  • Reassure them that they are not going to die, too.
  • Reassure them that they are loved, wanted and okay.
  • Reassure them that they did not cause the death in any way.
  • Give lots of physical reassurance in the way of touching and hugs.
  • Contact the teacher/teachers or school counselors.
  • Ask them what and how they would like the school to be told.
  • Prepare them for questions and remarks they can expect at school.
  • Encourage them to resume their normal activities at their own pace.
  • Remember the sibling's birthday and anniversary of the death.
  • Remember the sibling at special family gatherings and functions.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about the child that died.
  • Talk about all the qualities of the child that died--positive and negative.
  • Talk about the differences between the siblings--good and bad.
  • Don't promise them a replacement sibling with talks of having another child.
  • Remember: surviving siblings cannot become, or replace, the deceased brother or sister.

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