The following is an excerpt from the book, The Forgotten Mourners: Sibling Survivors of Suicide by Magdaline DeSousa. Magdaline gave us permission to share this excerpt as she wants fellow sibling survivors to know she understands the difficulties that come within a family when a sibling takes their own life. We will also be sharing a different excerpt from her book in an upcoming post.
When you grow up for a significant portion of your life with this other person attached to you, how do you cope when that person is suddenly gone?
When they are not there to complain to, or commiserate with, about Mom and Dad being ‘unfair’…
When they are not there to play around with, sit on you, fart on you, or wake you up in the middle of the night to wish you a Happy Birthday…
What Do You Do?
To this day, my answer to that question is I don’t know. A part of me is gone forever. I am an only child now, but I did not grow up as one. Coming from a Greek family, it is hard to explain this to new people I meet. I am immediately type-cast and horror abounds when I say I am an only child. How could you be an only child? Don’t most Greek families have a lot of children? I hate it. I also feel like I am not acknowledging John’s existence when I say that because I did have a brother for two-thirds of my current life. I often wish I had another sibling so I wouldn’t be alone in mourning this. But that would not make this any easier.
The hardest thing about going from a couple to an only child is having the focus entirely on you. My relationship with my parents has been very challenging at points. Sometimes it feels like the weight of their happiness and their worry is on me. They became extremely overprotective after my brother passed away.
I still don’t tell my dad when I travel all the time because he worries about me leaving, getting there, and returning home. Additionally, it’s hard for me to show them any signs of sadness or depression because they freak out. Their biggest fear is something happening to me too, which is understandable, but stressful. While it is difficult feeling like I have to keep certain things from my parents, worrying about their anxiety is worse.
When I am feeling depressed or anxious over something regarding my brother, I have learned to find other avenues to express my grief. I can call any of my friends and lean on them. I can schedule an impromptu session with my counselor. I can drive to the beach, take my journal, and write to John, finding comfort in the sounds of the ocean and my memories of him.
The main guidance I can give here is to reassure your parents you are not your brother or sister. You are here, you are not going anywhere, and you will get through this. They may need to hear that over and over again immediately following your sibling’s death until they are confident you will not do anything drastic as well. Keep in mind you and your parents are going through an adjustment and it will not happen overnight.
What About Families with Multiple Siblings?
For families with multiple siblings, different challenges will surface. There are several scenarios that may occur here. Perhaps you lost the sibling you were closest to out of the three, four, or five of you. You may feel anger or resentment at being left with a brother or sister who no longer understands you, not the way your other sibling did.
Perhaps you lost the sibling you were not the closest to. You may feel guilty for not being closer to them, not getting to know them better. What if you tried harder? Maybe they would still be here. You may feel anger toward the sibling who was close to them. How could you not see this coming? You talked to them all the time!
If you come from an extremely large family, there may be small cliques amongst the siblings, where the three oldest and three youngest are close-knit. You have lost one of the Three Stooges and now the two of you are left staring at each other, wondering how you missed the warning signs and questioning how you will go on without your sibling.
In each of these situations, you may identify with some of the challenges of the now only-child discussed above, but you will also have the dynamic of redefining your relationship(s) with your remaining sibling(s). First and foremost, blame has no place in any of these situations. None of you is responsible for your sibling’s disease or actions.
Second, try not to direct your anger toward your remaining sibling(s) or any other family member. Yes, anger is a common and important part of the grieving process, but pointing fingers will only hurt those at the receiving end. In order to heal, you all have to work together.
Finally, get help. If you are fortunate enough to have a sibling(s) remaining in your life, see if they are willing to go with you to an SOS meeting. Maybe you can share books or other helpful resources amongst each other? You might even decide to honor your sibling’s memory together, holding an annual ceremony to toast his or her life.
If you were not close with the remaining sibling(s), this could be something you choose to change. Tragedies such as these often make us rethink the decisions and paths we take in life. You may feel guilty at first for trying to get closer to your sibling(s), as if you are replacing your lost brother or sister.
Whatever the reason for your change in relationship, as long as you don’t actually try to transform your sibling(s) into your lost brother or sister, I would say it is fine. I am sure your brother or sister would be happy to see all of you together, making meaning out of his or her death, and keeping their memory alive by maintaining the sibling relationship.
Turn to each other, learn from each other, and provide each other the support only another sibling can – the understanding of the loss of your precious brother or sister and the pain you are suffering together.
This excerpt comes from The Forgotten Mourners: Sibling Survivors of Suicide by Magdaline DeSousa. Check out the book to read more on sibling specific suicide.