The death of a sibling can be a life-altering event. A sibling is an irreplaceable figure that understands the formative experiences that have shaped a family. When that perspective is taken away, the surviving sibling(s) lose an important part of themselves. Their worldview is suddenly altered. Depending upon the age of the sibling, and whether the death was sudden or protracted, responses can vary widely.
For instance, if the death of a sibling takes place when both siblings are young, they are likely to feel guilty or responsible for the death. This is because children tend to be solipsistic and understand events in relation to themselves. As such, they may experience survivor guilt and wonder why they lived when their sibling did not. They may feel badly about feeling residual anger towards their sibling. Or they may feel sad that they were jealous of the attention the deceased sibling received prior to death.
In children, symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) present themselves as Childhood Traumatic Grief. This can cause children to take on blame much like a ship takes on water. Fortunately, there is time to right the ship. Grief counseling, including that which can be facilitated by parental involvement, can help children divest themselves of their perceived responsibility.
If siblings are older at the time of death, the surviving sibling is in a better place to better understand their experience. This can make the processing of grief easier, but painful in a different way. Feelings of survival guilt are common here, too. Some surviving siblings report feelings of devastation that gradually give way to a complex understanding of life as incredibly precious. Many find a creative side through this understanding. Some find solace in writing as an act of understanding their loss.
Depending upon the age of the siblings in question, make sure to let them know that feelings of survival guilt are normal. Let them know that their unique outlook on the world is deeply appreciated. And take the time to help them process their loss by helping them discover a new talent that lets them express their feelings like writing, drawing, or participating in athletics.
Most importantly, no matter the age of the bereaved, be sure to check in. See what they need in order to help support their grieving process. Remember that the presence of community is an important gift to any survivor.
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