Our sibling is part of our early years,
our formative years, and part of who we are.
Siblings know us like no one else can.
Pleasant Gill White, Sibling Grief
The death of a child leaves a family devastated with unimaginable grief. Parents are not the only ones who grieve. Siblings grieve, too—even the very young.
The child who has lost a sibling goes through life with unseen grief. No one sees the empty space where the deceased sibling is supposed to be—but it's there, and the sibling feels it.
The bereaved sibling is a "sibling by heart."
The sibling bond is never broken; when one sibling dies, siblings become siblings by heart, no longer together in physical presence.
The sibling relationship gets little recognition for the deep significance it holds in a child’s development. Yet the sibling relationship is one of the strongest, most enduring relationships we have. The childhood loss of a sibling is a profound loss.
Barbara D. Rosof, The Worst Loss
Few people consider what it's like for a young child whose brother or sister dies.
Imagine a day in the life of young siblings growing up together; they share life space and experiences throughout much of their day.
Siblings' lives and developing identities are intertwined. Even before a newborn arrives, "big" brothers and sisters anticipate their new role.
When one child goes missing, everything is disrupted. Surviving siblings need to make sense of the absence and come to terms with a void that can never be filled.
They are now a sister or brother left to grow up without the other, and that is a confusing place to be. The single surviving sibling wonders, "Am I still a brother or a sister?"
During the formative early childhood years, the sibling's very identity is shattered when a sibling dies. When my 6-year-old son died, my 3 1/2-year-old daughter said, "Mommy, half of me is gone."
She was not too young to know that when her brother died, a huge part of her self was severed. She would never have that precious part of her self back.
The young bereaved sibling has unique needs. How can parents help them find wholeness in spite of an irreplaceable loss?
Deanna, sibling by heart, age 4
When your child dies leaving a sibling to grieve, your heart is twice broken. You grieve your child—and your living child's life will never be as it was meant to be. Her sense of who she is and where she fits into the world has been shattered.
Comforting and caring for your child in the face of this unspeakable new reality while bearing your own grief seems an impossible challenge.
The journey of parenting a sibling by heart is uncharted territory. Other parents simply cannot understand. It is so much more than simply helping your child to cope with a loss.
Childhood sibling loss has deep lifelong ramifications that few people recognize. It touches all the important areas of the sibling's life and impacts the most basic of day-to-day interactions.
Studies of sibling connection have found that the connection between surviving and deceased siblings is ongoing, and that surviving siblings perceive the connection as a good thing.
Fostering the sibling bond in healthy ways can help your sibling by heart heal and move forward in life.
They have lost a part of themselves.
They often feel as though they have lost their parents, too. Parents overwhelmed by their own grief may not be able to be responsive to their child's needs.
Young children may feel their loss as intensely as their parents do, yet never speak of it. They often process their grief through play.
They don't want to upset their parents who are experiencing their own grief, so they may suppress their feelings.
Their loss isolates them from other children; they feel different from their peers. Their painful feelings aren't something young children talk about with friends.
They may feel guilty, believing that somehow their thoughts or actions caused their sibling's death. It's important for adults to give a simple honest explanation of what happened and be sure the child knows it had nothing to do with them.
They have lost their family as they know it, and with it their sense of safety, security and well-being.
There is no time limit on their feelings of loss. They will feel and process the loss at different times throughout their development and growing up.
Bereaved siblings are not doomed. With the help of caring adults they can grow the lost part of themselves through the grief process and be restored to wholeness.
Recognize the unique needs of your sibling by heart.
Nurture your child's sense of self while honoring the relationship of siblings by heart.
Learn healthy ways for you and your child to grieve and hold the memory of your deceased child.
Discover your own heart-led wisdom and the confidence to advocate for your sibling by heart's unique needs.
Gain life skills that will equip your child and yourself to face inevitable losses and manage difficult emotions well.
Take care of yourself while taking care of your child.
Create a hope-filled family environment with possibilities that lead to wholeness and thriving beyond loss.
I help families heal and live forward with grief after the death of their child. With the Good Grief Parenting Approach parents get in touch with their parenting wisdom so they can be confident that they are helping their bereaved young child grieve well and can be hopeful about a future for their family bright with possibilities and even joy.
You turned my mourning to dancing and my sorrow to joy. Psalm 30:11
Good Grief Parenting
Siblings by Heart
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