When a Brother or Sister Dies

“I was just an average teenager. I had my friends and school activities. My family was just my family. Then the worst nightmare imaginable happened. My sister died.”

                                               Jennifer, age 17

In a world suddenly gone crazy, how can you keep your balance? How can you cope with something that is shattering to you as well as to those adults most important to you?

This brochure is meant to offer some direction and choices in order to help you find your way in a world that perhaps seems unfair and unpredictable.

The emotions you are experiencing may be the same as or completely different than those of other family members.

Please remember:

     Your grief is yours, not theirs.

     Your grief is different because of the unique relationship you had with your brother or sister.

     Your way of grieving is just as important, however you choose to express it, as long as it is not

     destructive.

Remember that before this sad experience, there may have been times when you felt jittery, hyper, or depressed when you were nervous or worried about different situations. Grieving can be very much like those times, but it may take longer to work through your feelings of loss and hurt.

You may experience:

     Sleep disturbances;

     Tiredness or restlessness;

     Anger toward yourself, other people, God, even the one who died;

     Fear for your safety and the safety of those you care about;

     Feelings of rejection from parents who are distracted, irritable, or inattentive;

     Trouble paying attention and remembering;

     Mood swings between feeling very good and very bad;

     Guilt about what you did or did not do for your brother or sister, for enjoying yourself, and even for just surviving.

You may feel emotions like those listed above at different times, maybe even long after your brother or sister’s death. It can be frightening to suddenly think about such things. But other young people, just like you, have had a brother or sister die. They struggled through feelings very much like yours. They have survived, and so can you.

“But I feel so strange sometimes. I can’t talk to my folks. I just keep my feelings to myself so I won’t upset them anymore. They’re so overprotective now. They probably wouldn’t let me out of their sight if they knew how I felt. Mostly I just want to get away with my friends, but they aren’t the same anymore either. Sometimes they pity me. I hate feeling so mixed-up.” Bill, age 16

It is hard to talk about emotions, especially to parents. If you are concerned about upsetting either your mother or your father and feel your friends won’t understand, seek out a sympathetic listener (relative, teacher, counselor, minister, or another bereaved brother or sister). It may surprise you how much they can help you through this ordeal.

You are faced with a situation for which you have had little or no preparation. At an age when just growing up can be a struggle, this experience may make you feel like a little kid again. Don’t be ashamed! Even adults need to hug and be hugged and cared for when they are hurting.

Sometimes you might think you have to fill that empty place left in your family. You don’t have to be just like your sister or brother. We are all unique and have good points that are worthwhile.

It’s okay:

To cry and feel depressed. You’ve lost a great deal.  If the feelings get too scary or overwhelming, find a caring friend (no matter what age) to talk it out.

It’s okay:

To want to copy some of your brother’s or sister’s habits and interests, but be yourself, too.

It’s okay:

To live “in the past” for a while. This is one way to keep alive the memory of your brother or sister. However, you have a life, too–one that should be lived to the fullest.

It’s okay:

To have fun and enjoy life, to laugh again.

It’s okay:

     To forgive yourself for the fights, arguments, and mean things that you said or did to your brother or sister.

It’s okay:

To go on living.

But it is NOT okay to ease your pain and hurt by:

     • Using drugs or alcohol. It will take longer to accept the hurt. These can only hide the pain, not heal it.

     • Acting out your frustration with reckless driving or skipping school.

     • Doing things out of anger to hurt others because you hurt so much yourself.

     • Experimenting with sex just to feel close to someone.

     • Protecting your parents by not letting them know what is bothering you.

     • Being the scapegoat or bad guy so you’ll appear tough.

     • Discontinuing the things that once meant so much to you.

You may find that even normal day-to-day activities are tiring; grieving takes a lot of energy. Try to avoid making drastic changes in your life during this difficult time.

Commit yourself to getting though the emotional and physical work of grieving–of saying goodbye to your brother or sister. Other young people have found writing in a journal or diary, prayer, poetry, sports, music, and art as positive outlets for their feelings.

Also, share your grief experiences–if you can–with other bereaved siblings. Their stories of how they coped can give you choices to consider and hope for your own future.

You and your family are changed by all the sadness you have experienced. The strain each of you feels is common and usually decreases with time. Each family member has his own timetable for coming to terms with his feelings. Be patient with each other and these very individual needs.

Tragedies as well as successes, faced daily, can strengthen you for tomorrow. Allow the emotional bond you once had with your brother or sister to have a positive effect on your future.


©2008-2009 The Compassionate Friends, USA - All rights reserved. These materials are protected by U.S. copyright and are provided here for personal use only. Reproduction for mass distribution or for use on any website is prohibited.

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The current printing of this brochure was sponsored by
Mary Cummings in loving memory of
Mike Cummings, her son

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TCF brochures may be purchased at a nominal cost through The Compassionate Friends by calling 877-969-0010 or by going to the Resource Section of The Compassionate Friends national website. You can sponsor a brochure printing through our Brochure Program.