Many years ago my sister died very suddenly. Her death hit me hard. No surprise there. What I hadn’t expected though was the invisibility of my loss. We were all adults, living in various countries. Apart from my family, no one in my immediate environment knew her. And somehow it felt that as a ‘sideways’ death, it didn’t really count. We seem to find it easier to recognise the loss of a parent or a child than we do the loss of a sibling or a close friend.
As a counsellor I’ve almost lost count of the number of people I’ve worked with who have struggled for years to come to terms with the impact of the death or long-term illness of a brother or sister. Some have come to counselling having grown up with a sibling who has mental health issues or who required frequent hospital stays or has a progressive illness. Many of these people had become expert ‘copers’ until they couldn’t cope any longer.
I’ve worked with adults who can no longer cope with having to keep all their feelings hidden so as not to add to the burden of those around them. Something they learnt to do as children and have continued to do ever since.
Some people feel a kind of survivor’s guilt. It’s not easy being okay when someone else is suffering.
Maybe there is also a guilty feeling of resentment that parents don’t / didn’t have enough time for other family members.
The situation may be ongoing. There may be expectations (from you or from other family members) that you will be the one who will continue to be a carer when parents are dead. People can find it very hard to commit to other relationships, decide to have their own children, make any kind of concrete plans for the future when they expect they will have to become carers in the near future for ill siblings.
And all of this is made harder by the silence surrounding it. But that is changing slowly. There are more and more support groups online and if you are in this kind of situation they could be a very helpful resource. It also helps if you can talk about your experiences. Maybe you have a good friend or another sibling that you can confide in. Maybe an online support group will provide information or the comfort of knowing that you are not the only one to have had this difficult experience. A registered counsellor will listen and be with you as you work through difficult emotions and experiences. These experiences really do make a difference.
If you are finding things difficult then I would encourage you to reach out. There will be someone who can listen, someone who can be there for you. You can find registered counsellors through search engines or through the BACP Directory . In addition here are some online resources with contact details:
Sibs (support for siblings of disabled children and adults)
And here are a couple of articles about different sibling experiences, there can never be just one truth but I do believe it helps to hear each other’s stories.
The Truth About Having a Sibling With Mental Illness
When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies