When your only sister dies young, there’s a not-so-special world the surviving sister plunges into: the lonely black hole of sibling grief.
In one shattering day, you lose a confidante, a best friend and your only link to the past. No one will share family memories with you like a sister. No one will be there for you 100% when life gets tough. No one will stand beside you as you enter old age.
You are now alone…
You pack up childhood memories no one else knows or cares about. You put them in a box. No need to review those by yourself. What’s the fun of that? You face the future on your own, a generation of one. You are stripped bare.
Do you have a sister, people ask? No, you answer, because the tale is too difficult to tell to casual acquaintances.
Sure, a girlfriend can step in to take a sibling’s place. But a relationship with a friend will never be as deep or as comprehensive as the relationship shared with a sibling. Especially a sister.
But the worst part about sibling grief is the lack of acknowledgement of what you are going through. The people who could support you the most—your parents—are too busy grieving their own loss. And you can’t fault them for that.
So you have to be strong…
When my sister died in a foreign country, I was the first to find out. I became the messenger. I was the first to process the horrible truth and deliver it to my mother. That act placed me in the role of parent instead of child. I had to be strong for my mother. I couldn’t imagine her pain. I was sure it had to be greater than my own.
So, to spare her, I stepped back and dealt with the loss in private. Losing a sister was one thing. But losing a child? My mother’s grief was a supernova. Mine was a tiny cold planet. Or so I thought.
I spent hours with my mother, trying to make sense of my sister’s troubling death, being there for my parent as she dealt with foreign police and the State Department and made long-distance funeral arrangements in the middle of the night in a language she didn’t speak. I was there to listen to her anguish, her self-doubts about her parenting, and all the harrowing assessments of her choices.
I stood by, trying my best to support my mother as she was showered with sympathy. Flowers arrived. Cards. Social media posts—all sent to her and “the family.” People embraced my mother with tenderness and strength and spoke their sad words of support. I got an arm brush or quiet hug.
I was an accessory to my mother’s grief.
Being older, my mother had support from friends who had lost a child. She could commiserate with other women who carried a similar gash in their hearts.
But for me, such comrades were scarce.
Of all the people I knew, only one casual friend had lost a sibling. I tried group therapy, but I didn’t care to bare my heart to strangers. I was left with no one to share my feelings with, no one who would really understand what an all-encompassing loss I had suffered.
So that’s why I’ve written this post. To raise awareness.
Many people don’t realize how grief affects siblings. It’s deeper than anything you can imagine.