When people hear that 2 of my 3 siblings died in 2019, I am usually met with the question, “And how are your parents holding up?”
I have been reminded that “there is nothing as painful of losing a child” more times than I can count. I have been urged continually to be a comfort to my parents; to be the daughter they need.
It has been extremely rare to be met with a response that validates or recognizes the significance of the loss of a sibling.
A few months after losing my brother to suicide, and then my sister and 2 nieces in a car accident, I came across the phrase ‘forgotten mourners’. This phrase refers to people who are assumed to be less affected by the grief that follows the death of a loved one. Surprisingly, adults and children who lost siblings are often thought to be less affected by this loss than the parents, spouses, or children of the deceased. This way of thinking felt incredibly apparent to me through the comments and questions I was met with.
This really ate away at me for a long time. I felt guilty that I was so affected by the loss of my brother and sister. I berated myself for being such a selfish person, especially as I was constantly told that the pain and grief of other family members was far greater than I could ever understand.
I felt confused. “Had I really been as close to my siblings as I thought I was?” “Was I just being dramatic or selfish by feeling so immensely changed and wrecked by this loss?” “Should I be doing emotionally much better and instead be caring for my parents, who were truly the ones who had a right to grieve?”
I am immensely grateful for wise parents who generously acknowledged my grief and supported me in working to do this for myself. It has taken a lot of therapy and emotional work to believe that my intense feelings of grief around the loss of my older sister Alanna and my younger brother Jacob are valid.
The relationship of siblings is unique. We know each other in a way no one else can. We have a front-row seat in watching each other grow, change and mature; and affect and shape one another throughout this process. Because of this, there is a depth of understanding that exists between siblings that isn't found anywhere else. Siblings are also the only immediate family member that you should have for the remainder (or nearly the remainder) of your life. With them you have support in holding onto and remembering the memories of your family of origin, and in working to continue the legacy and teachings from your parents.
I was also lucky enough to grow up in a tight-knit family. I felt that In my siblings I had 3 guaranteed lifelong friends. I knew my parents would probably die before us; and it was comforting to think that between the 4 of us we could hold that space for grieving our parents together and continue to have that special family bond. When Jacob and Alanna died, I not only lost siblings, I lost 2 of my very best friends. The loneliness and grief I feel without them is ever present.
I care deeply about my other family members affected by this loss. It has been terrible to see people I love grieve and be in so much pain. I know that there are types of losses (such as the loss of a child) that I am not acquainted with and do not understand; but this does not change the fact that the loss of my siblings has impacted my whole life in more ways that I could ever attempt to explain, nor does it lessen the pain I feel.
Sibling loss matters. If you know someone who has lost a sibling, please remember that they are hurting deeply. Acknowledge their loss. In doing so, you will acknowledge the beautiful, unique relationship of siblings.
Gretchen Evans is an advocate for mental health awareness. She speaks openly about difficult subjects like suicide, depression, and grief in an effort to honor her loved ones and strive to support others who may feel alone. She enjoys hiking in the Southwest with her husband, son, and dog. You can find more of her thoughts on Instagram at @gretchnevans or on Facebook.