Category: Types Of Grieving

Loss Of A Sibling

When a sibling dies

Losing someone you love is never easy. Because each person in our lives plays a unique role, each death leads to grief. And while the loss of any relationship leaves a painful, gaping hole, the death of a sibling creates an especially tender void.

A poignant loss

Why is the death of a sibling different from any other loss? To begin with, siblings are an essential part of our history. Next to our parents, our brothers and sisters have known us longer than anyone, and they are central figures in many of our memories of life’s most significant events. When a sibling dies, you may feel as though part of your identity has also died.

A sibling’s death also casts a shadow on the future, as your brother’s or sister’s absence is sure to be felt at every family event and gathering. In addition, because your sibling is your peer, his death may cause you to confront your own mortality, and you may find yourself thinking more often about your own death.

If one or both of your parents are living, you may feel alone and overwhelmed in your responsibilities toward them, especially if you and your sibling shared those responsibilities while she was still alive. You may also feel obliged to set aside your own grief in order to care for your parents. Or you may feel guilty for surviving your sibling and try, somehow, to make up for your parents’ loss.

Managing your grief

Wanting to help your parents and other grieving members of your family is a normal, loving thing, but beware of becoming the family hero. Resist the temptation to get so involved with others’ grief that you neglect your own. Consider the following suggestions for dealing with your grief and taking care of yourself.

  • Acknowledge your grief. Sometimes siblings mourn almost invisibly, as sympathy tends to center on the parents, spouse or children of the deceased. Even young siblings, for example, may be encouraged to “take care of” their parents following the death of a brother or sister. However well intended, such advice fails to recognize the surviving sibling’s own grief. Be sure to acknowledge your own grief, and then allow yourself time and space to mourn.
  • Share your grief. Sharing your grief as much and as often as possible will help you to heal. Share your feelings with the rest of your family if you can. Talk to your friends for extra encouragement, or join a bereavement support group.
  • Forgive yourself. In the often complicated relationships between siblings, love and affection may coexist with rivalry and jealousy. As a result, you may feel guilty following the death of a sibling – guilty over unkind things you said or did, or guilty because you failed to mend or maintain your relationship in adulthood. You may even believe that you should have been able to protect your sibling from death. Nothing can change the past, however, and guilt is only useful if it provides motivation for positive change. Forgive yourself, and let go of the guilt.
  • Take care of your health. Getting enough rest, exercise, and proper nutrition will help you to cope with your grief and may also help to ease your fears about your own health stemming from the death of your sibling.
  • Remember your sibling. As your grief subsides, think of ways to keep your brother’s or sister’s memory alive. Consider making a family scrapbook with pictures, stories or other memorabilia contributed by various family members. Contributing to or volunteering with your sibling’s favorite charity is another excellent way to honor your loved one’s memory.



Loss Of A Parent

The death of a parent is a life-shaking event for which few are prepared. This experience can wound us deeply, leaving lifetime scars. Or it can, if grieved fully, initiate profound, unprecedented change and open our world into new perspectives and choices. The following steps to grieving the loss of a parent (whether recently or in the past) will tap this transformative potential.

Acknowledge the importance and power of this event. The death of a parent shakes the very foundation of our lives. It is natural, though often uncomfortable, to feel raw and vulnerable, alone, out of control. Rather than resisting the powerful forces activated in grief, learn strategies for moving through it, stage by stage, day by day.
Take time each day to honor your grief. Set up a sanctuary in your home or in nature, a protected place where you can open fully to your grief for ten to twenty minutes every day. Using the sanctuary, gradually you will find a rhythm of entering the grief for a period each day, then letting it go and attending to daily tasks.
Address any unfinished business with your parent. It is very common for unresolved feelings toward your parent to surface after his or her death. The grieving period is an important time to heal these old wounds and begin to say good-bye.
Participate in creating new family patterns. The family system is often thrown into chaos and upheaval after a parent’s death. Old patterns don’t work with the same predictable results. The family may thrash around for months, seeking a new balance with one another. This is a brief window of opportunity, when the family is opened up to change before a new system is established. You can either be thrown into this new system or consciously participate in creating new patterns that are healthy for you.
Explore the direction and quality of your life. The death of a parent often initiates a period of painful questioning: Where am I going in my life? What do I really value? What are my beliefs? Does my life really matter? This questioning is a critical part of the grieving process. Out of it will come new perspectives, directions and choices.
Don’t pressure yourself to “get back to normal”. Many expect that grief will be over in a few weeks or months. Grief has its own rhythm, nature and timing that resist our attempts to control it. For some, though certainly not all, there is a marked shift around the first anniversary of your parent’s death. However, as the years pass, the grief may well up from time to time. Each time it surfaces, see it as an opportunity for more healing.
Learn to parent yourself. Give yourself nurturance, love, protection and encouragement. Clarify the expectations you had of your parent that he or she never could fulfill. In seeing the relationship for what it was rather than what you wanted it to be, you can grieve what your parent didn’t give you and begin to appreciate what he or she did give you.
Let your friends know what you want and need from them. Offer them some suggestions of ways that they can help and support you– perhaps bringing you a meal, doing some errands, giving you a back rub, taking a walk with you, checking in on you regularly. Assert that your need to withdraw. Let him or her know about anything that he or she is doing that is not supportive. Encourage your friends to educate themselves about grief so that they will know what to expect. Remind them that grief takes a long time to heal.
Each year acknowledge the anniversary of your parent’s death. Take time to reflect and do something special to commemorate that date. Be gentle with yourself, as this is a vulnerable time in which many may feel depressed or emotional.
Celebrate the changes and new perspectives. These will begin to manifest in your life as you move out of the dark middle phase of grief. When you feel ready, act on new ideas, inspirations and insights.

Complicated grief is unresolved, incomplete or unfinished grief. It usually is characterized by a prolonged sense of mourning and often occurs in conjunction with underlying psychological/psychiatric issues. Clients often describe themselves as “feeling stuck” in their grief. Complicated grief is not intrinsically pathologic. You are not crazy just because you are having a hard time coping with loss!
Complicated grief occurs quite frequently in pet loss and can contribute to behavior changes, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress and compassion fatigue. Symptoms of complicated grief may include: continued disbelief in death of the loved one; inability to accept the death; persistent flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive memories; and continuous yearning and searching for the deceased.
Anticipatory grief is the “normal mourning that occurs when a patient or family is expecting a death…it includes all of the thinking, feeling, cultural and social reactions to an expected death that are felt. . . . [I]t includes depression, fear, anger, sadness, extreme care for the dying person [pet], time/action in preparation for the death and time to complete unfinished business” (from http// It is likely we will outlive our pets, so one could say we are anticipating their deaths from the moment we acquire them.
Disenfranchised grief is experienced by an individual after a loss that is not socially acknowledged or supported. The loss does not “fit” into societal rules for mourning. The mourner is often left to cope with his/her emotions related to the loss with minimal social recognition of the loss or support. Mourners are expected to continue with normal routines (e.g., coming to work, not having or attending memorial service/rituals). Pet owners often experience disenfranchised grief when we hear statements like:

“It’s just a dog.”
“You can get another cat!”
“Are you really that upset about an animal?”
“Oh well, there are so many other animals who need homes!”

The number-one reason people give for pet ownership is companionship. Companion animals represent many things to us. They are our best friends, our partners, our siblings, our children. Companion animals often are our main source of social support. They offer us unconditional love and expect very little in return.

We become attached to our companion animals throughout the course of our relationships with them. This companionship and attachment combined with the emotional, physical and financial investment we make in our pets, shapes our bond with them. The human–animal bond represents the types of relationships we have with our companion animals. We form these relationships for many reasons; physical, social, emotional and psychological. Our animals get us out of the house and encourage exercise. Animals help us through difficult times in our lives. Often, our companion animals are a connection to other significant people who are no longer in our lives. The simple act of petting an animal helps up relax. Pet ownership may even contribute to lower blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol.

When the bond is broken, we experience a vast range and depth of emotions. These emotions are normal and can include, but are not limited to, anger, regret, despair, pain, relief, guilt, shame and loneliness. It is okay to express your emotions. Cry, scream, talk it out. Bottling up your emotions because “no one will understand” can lead to increased stress and perhaps complicate your grieving process. Remember and reflect on all the good times you had with your pet in addition to grieving the loss of your companion animal.

When an individual has little or no support to deal with the loss of a pet, the grief and mourning experienced can be overwhelming and isolating. One of the struggles associated with pet loss is the difficulty in finding a support network (personal and professional) that is ready and willing to help you cope with your loss. Talk to other pet lovers in your family and support circle. If you don’t have a friend or family member with whom you feel comfortable talking, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a counselor or pet bereavement group.

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