Grief is a normal response to the loss of a loved one, involving a range of emotions, such as disbelief, despair, guilt, anger, and helplessness. Even so, siblings are sometimes called "forgotten mourners" because their grief is overshadowed by that of other family members, including the deceased sibling's parents, spouse, or children.
You may experience grief over the following issues related to your sibling's death.
The loss of a long-term relationship. Siblings are often deeply connected with each other, having been present in each others' lives through the ups and downs. As a result, the death of a sibling may represent the loss of a friend, protector, and/or confidant with whom you share many memories. You may grieve the loss of your past relationship, as well as the role that your brother or sister might have played in your future.
Guilt. Sibling relationships can be complicated, with love and affection existing alongside rivalry, jealousy, and arguments. You may feel guilty about things you once said or did, or you may regret that you did not maintain a closer relationship. In addition, you may replay "what if" and "if only" scenarios in your thoughts. Or you may experience "survivor guilt," questioning why you have been spared, unlike your sibling. Learn more about coping with guilt .
The redefinition of your role in the family. Family members have differentâsometimes unspokenâroles and responsibilities, which may change when a sibling dies. As a result, you may take on new responsibilities, such as becoming an oldest child to whom family members look for leadership or an only child. This can cause additional stress and resentment in the grieving process.
Your own mortality. Since siblings are peers, it is normal to worry about your own mortality, fearing that you could develop cancer, as well. Find ways to understand your risks and take care of your health below.
Tips for coping with the loss of a sibling
Share your grief with other family members. Your entire family is grieving the loss of your brother or sister, but each person grieves in his or her own way. Talking about your shared grief can help you work through your pain and sadness together, sharing the burden and encouraging each other.
Seek other means of support. Although, on one level, it can be helpful to seek support from your family, it can also be hard for family members to provide consolation while coping with their own grief. Talk about your loss with others outside your family, such as a close friend, a clergy member, or a grief counselor. In addition, support groups  can provide a setting to talk with others who share and understand your experiences and feelings. One designed for bereaved siblings can be especially helpful.
Forgive yourself. Siblings compete, argue, and challenge each other. Forgive yourself for unkind things you did or said, or things you wish you had done or said but did not. Forgive yourself for not maintaining a close enough relationship with your sibling. It does not mean you did not love him or her.
Take care of your own health. Help ease some of your fear regarding your cancer risk by focusing on a healthy lifestyle. Have regular checkups and get medical tests as recommended by your doctor. And talk with your doctor about your family's cancer history and your individual risk factors.
Find ways to remember your sibling. As the pain of grief begins to ease, it may feel like you are beginning to forget your sibling. Finding ways to memorialize your brother or sister can help keep his or her memory alive and maintain a feeling of connection. You may decide to make a family memory book with pictures, stories, or other mementoes contributed by different family members. Or consider volunteering with a charity important to your sibling or with a cancer-related charity.
Parenting a child who has lost a sibling
The death of a sibling is a tremendous loss for a child. However, parents are often preoccupied with their own grief, overlooking the needs of grieving siblings. Your surviving child may feel the need to "fill in" for the deceased child or may worry that you would have preferred if he or she had died rather than his or her sibling. It is important for parents to recognize the grief of surviving siblings and to support them. Learn more about how parents can help children cope when a sibling has cancer  and how to help a child or teenager who is grieving . In addition, read about how parents grieve the loss of a child .
Last Updated: December 09, 2010