Senior Living Advice: An exclusive group no one wants to join

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By BETH DOW, Solutions by Beth

On January 21st, I joined an exclusive group.  It is a group that my husband joined two years earlier.  

It is also a group that no one wants to join.  It is the group of people who no longer have living parents or siblings.

My only sister died on the above date.  Preceded in death by my mother a year earlier and my father six years earlier.  For many, the death of a sibling is different.  The mourning is different.  It can seem as if there is not a place for the surviving siblings’ mourning or even acknowledgement of it.

Adult siblings are sometimes called “forgotten mourners” because their grief is often overshadowed by the grief of other family members, such as the deceased person’s parents, spouse or children.   People may feel that because you weren’t really “close” or because your sibling lived a few states away and you didn’t see each other often, that it doesn’t affect you.

Family members and friends may not understand the role your sibling had in your life. You may not have even understood the importance of them in your life, until they were no longer there.

A sibling’s death can affect you in many ways. When you lose a sibling, you are losing a person that could recall your shared childhood memories. – memories that are now yours alone.

Losing a sibling often means losing the first friend you ever had.  Your first partner in mayhem.  Your first confidant or protector.   Sometimes, as in my case, it can mean the loss of the last member of your birth family.  If you still have other family members, a sibling’s death can redefine your role in your family.  There are often unspoken roles given to different family members.  The death of a sibling can shift and redefine these roles.

Losing a sibling can cause you to feel a sense of loneliness that others may not understand.  They may feel that since you have your own family, children, grandchildren or even friends, that you won’t feel lonely.  But loneliness is not about the number of people you have around you. Loneliness is about the loss of a connection. The feeling, the knowing, that something is now missing in your life.

A sibling’s death can also stir up feelings of guilt.  Relationships are complicated and sibling relationships can involve love and affection, but also rivalry, jealousy and arguments.  In addition to your grief, you may feel guilt or regret over not maintaining a closer relationship and letting “life” get in the way of spending time with them.

This group is not a group I wanted to join. But I’m here now.  And I understand in a way I had not before how losing a sibling can affect you.  I would like to hope that no one would have to join this group, but membership will continue to increase.

If you are not yet a member of this group, I urge you to call your brother or sister.  Go see them.  If needed, be the one to say I’m sorry.   If you are a member to the group, welcome.  And I want you to know, I understand.

Beth Dow is a Dementia and Alzheimer’s Educator, CAEd and Geriatric Care Manager. Readers can contact her at [email protected].

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