Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Siblings: The Forgotten Mourner.....

I love winter. I love the way the snow insulates and buffers my world. Today as I’m thinking about winter and the icy roads, the sidewalks filled with snow, I’m reminded of an old friend. I met Michael as I was working in my yard many years ago. I had just purchased my home and I was anxious to put my stamp on it. One summer day, while I was digging and clearing dirt for a pond, I stood up to admire my mess. I noticed a young man and his dog passing by. I must have smiled at him because he turned his wheelchair around and drove up my driveway. We started talking, his beautiful Golden being the ice breaker. His dog was still a pup, full of boundless energy. They didn’t stay long, they needed to finish their walk.

The next day, Michael and his dog were back. We talked about my pond and I told him how I was struggling to get it level. He lit right up, eager to help me.  He suggested places I could arrange the rocks around the outside of the pond. He helped me build up the waterfall. I loved having him around giving me his input and direction. We became fast friends, soon learning about each other’s lives. . He shared how he became paralyzed. At the age of 14, he dove into a neighbors pool and broke his neck.  He was around 30 or so when I met him.

One day it was particularly hot as we worked together. I suggested taking a break so we could get some water for the dog, and a glass of ice water for the two of us. I placed the dog dish on the ground, and handed him his water. He just looked at me. It never dawned on me that he couldn’t move his arms and grab the water for himself. I gently placed the glass to his lips, and waited for his direction. He tilted his head back, and I followed, waiting for him to swallow. Together, along with his beloved pup, we shared our glass of ice water. Michael ended up moving to Florida not long after that summer. He wanted to be in an environment where there wasn’t any snow. A place where he could move around easier. We lost contact after he moved, and I haven’t been able to locate him. I miss him.

My thoughts of winter, Michael and my children all intertwine. I’ve been learning a lot about the types of grieving, the processes and stages. I know what it’s like as a mother to lose her daughter. I needed to learn more about the impact on my children. What is it like to lose a sibling?

The Forgotten Mourner

The loss of a sibling is a devastating life event. When a sibling dies, the world changes in a heartbeat. Oftentimes when such a loss occurs, others fail to recognize that the surviving sibling faces emotional battles on many fronts while working through the loss. Largely ignored, surviving siblings are often referred to as the “forgotten mourners.”

Siblings who play a major part in each other's lives are essential to each other. Adult siblings eventually expect the loss of aging parents, the only other people who have been an integral part of their lives since birth, but they do not expect to lose their siblings early; as a result, when a sibling dies, the surviving sibling may experience a longer period of shock and disbelief.

The Loss of History

Each family has its own special history and the shared bonds that are a part of that history. When a sibling dies, the bonds are shattered, and the history forever has a void that cannot be filled. As they grow, children develop certain characteristics and talents. Brothers and sisters tend to complement each other by developing a balance of interests in different areas. However, surviving siblings will need to redefine their roles in the absence of this relationship.

The Loss of Future

When a sibling dies, all future special occasions will be forever changed. There will be no more shared birthday celebrations, anniversaries, or holidays. There will be no telephone calls telling of the birth of a new nephew or niece. The sharing of life’s unique and special events will never again take place.

Understanding from Others

Society often encourages bereaved individuals to feel guilty for grieving too long. This failure to receive validation of their grief can cause siblings to hide their feelings, causing a type of depression with which they may struggle for many years.
If the surviving sibling is married, stress may also be introduced into the spousal relationship. Individuals grieve differently, and the spouse may be bewildered and even unsympathetic that this loss is causing so much sorrow in their own family. This situation may provoke comments such as, “Why are you so upset? You haven’t been close to your family for years.” While this may sound reasonable, the emotions of grief and mourning are seldom reasonable—or even rational. Spouses may need to be told how they can be supportive. One woman simply asked her husband for a hug whenever she felt especially sad about the death of her sister.

When your sibling dies, you lose a part of your past, your present, and your future. Because of this tremendous loss, it is important that everyone work together to ease the path toward healing.

Grief is real. Grief has physical qualities. Don’t assume the griever is able to take that drink of ice water just because the oozing wound isn’t visible. It’s there.

 Jillian’s sister, Jenni, posted this on her face book yesterday. It says it all:

"the reality is you will grieve forever. you will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. you will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. you will be whole again but you will never be the same again. nor should you be the same nor should you want to

I love you, kids. And I’m real proud of you all.

~ Peace

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