In American society we suffer from long-standing patterns of anxiety and denial about death. Perhaps as a result, in our grief and mourning processes, we’ve learned to cope with our powerful reactions with self-control and “strength.” It seems we are socially conditioned to be stoic, to “move on,” “get back to work,” “be strong.” These habits severely limit our freedom to grieve naturally and openly for any loved one we’ve lost.
Thankfully, however, our culture does seem to offer some limited recognition of the multiple consequences of losing certain family members, particularly a spouse or child. Yet sibling loss-whether suffered early in life or adulthood-remains an almost totally unrecognized reality.
Such blatant disregard both exemplifies and reinforces our society’s persistent false belief that siblings are mere background figures in our adult lives, people to whom we may still feel loyalty and affection. Surviving siblings often get the message to “be strong” for their parents. When we lose a sibling, we lose part of our past. They are sometimes allies, and the co-keepers of our childhood. The are often the only person who know what it was like to grow up with your particular parents, in you particular home. As we age, we wonder what our relationships would have been like and are left alone as the only care givers for parents. We mourn the future as well as our past when we experience sibling loss.
As a result of the attitudes directed at survivors of sibling loss, many report long-term effects for which they often seek treatment decades later. Difficulties with intimacy, dependency, and self-esteem are frequently seen. In addition to proper social support, individual therapy and groups can be helpful.