Grieving for Siblings
Grief comes with a lot of difficult feelings. It’s normal to be feeling several emotions at once. No matter how old you are or how long ago the death happened, it’s hard when someone who was very important to you dies.
Experts say there are five stages of grief.
- Denial. It’s hard to believe the person has died, and things don’t feel real. You may feel as if your sibling will walk through the front door, happy and healthy, any minute.
- Anger. There may be a lot of anger to go around. A person could feel mad at their sibling (for dying and leaving them alone), the doctors (for not doing more), God or another higher power (for not saving their sibling), or even themselves (for the way they acted towards their sibling).
- Bargaining. You may wish you could go back in time and do things differently. When you’re really hurting, you might try to find a “magic solution” to take your pain away.
- Depression. Feeling very sad or numb is common after a death.
- Acceptance. It doesn’t mean you’re glad about what happened to your sibling. It means knowing that things will be different, but you’re going to be okay. You know you’ll keep moving forward with your life, always loving your sibling, and your family will be okay even though you’ve all gone through an awful time.
Does this mean every person goes through each of the stages in order? No. You may skip a step, move back and forth through the stages, or experience more than one of them at the same time. It’s not a race to the finish. It’s a process.
Everyone grieves differently
No two people go through grief exactly the same. That means every member of your family is grieving differently.
You may feel angry while they feel sad. They may want to talk about your sibling a lot, but you don’t want to listen. It can feel tough to get along! Try to be patient with them during this time. Ask them to be patient with you, too.
An important thing to know is kids and adults both have their own ways of grieving. A lot of kids have times when they feel normal, and times when they grieve heavily. It can feel like adults are always grieving heavily, especially in the first few months after a death. Seeing adults very sad can be hard. It’s okay to hurt when you see them feeling this way.
When your grownups are feeling low, does this mean you have to feel that way, too? Definitely not! It’s okay for you to have fun, to laugh and talk with your friends, to run and play, and to have good times while other members of your family are having a hard time. It doesn’t mean you aren’t grieving. It just means you are all grieving in your own way.
The best thing you can do at times like these is give them space. Your grownups want you to be happy, but it might be hard for them to hear loud talking and rowdy games. Take those activities outside or to a friend’s house when other people feel low.
Kids each grieve in their own way, too. If there are very young children in your family (age five or younger), it can be especially hard for them to understand death. They might ask the same questions over and over, even after they get an answer. Just like you, they’re figuring it out a little at a time.
So why do adults and kids grieve differently? It’s because kids’ brains are still growing.
Think about when you first started school. You probably liked to play different games, eat different foods, and make friends with different people than you do now. Just like those things changed, the way you grieve and the way you think about death will change too. New feelings and thoughts will come up over time, with every new stage of your life.
What this means is it’s very normal for grief to last a long time. Your brain will be developing until you are twenty-five years old. Don’t let anybody tell you you should be “over it” just because a certain amount of time has passed. We do not “get over” people. We just learn to carry them with us in a different way.
Grief won’t always feel the same. There will be days that are easier and days that are harder. Most people say the hardest days are their sibling’s birthday, the anniversary of the death, and big holidays.
Some families use those days to visit the grave or the place where the person’s ashes were scattered. If this doesn’t feel right to you, maybe you’d like to brainstorm ideas about what might make you feel better.
Dealing with grief
You don’t have to grieve alone. Many kids say it helps to talk to someone about what they’re going through.
There are times you might want to talk to someone outside your family. Where can you look? You could bring these ideas to your grownups.
Counseling. Going to therapy gives you someone to talk to besides your grownups. It doesn’t mean you’re “crazy” or that something is wrong with you. You’re going through a tough time, and you’re getting help. Therapists are there to help when your feelings are just too much. They can help you understand how to cope with your emotions, and they can answer some of the questions you might have.
Counseling isn’t all the same. You might talk to the therapist by yourself, with one other member of your family, or with everyone in your household. Some therapists will talk with you alone and then give your grownups ideas of how to help you at home. Grief can be very hard, and even adults need ideas of how to help with those feelings.
Many schools also have counselors or psychologists working there. This is a good option if you have a hard time at school and need someone to talk to.
Support groups. Sometimes it’s helpful to talk to other kids who are in a situation like yours. In a support group, a therapist or other trained adult leads everyone in discussion. Depending on the area you’re in, the group might be for kids who have a sibling with cancer, kids who are grieving any type of death, or kids whose sibling has died.
Religious support. If you go to a place of worship (like a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque), they may have a support group there. You might also sit down with a religious leader to talk about any questions you have and say prayers.
Peer support. Instead of talking with a therapist, this involves talking with a peer - someone who’s been through what you have. What if you’d like peer support but don’t know anyone who has a sibling with DIPG? One option is to reach out to Grace Desserich, the Family Outreach Coordinator for The Cure Starts Now. With an adult’s permission, email [email protected] to make a connection.
Honoring your sibling's memory
There are countless ways to keep your sibling’s memory alive. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some things other siblings have done.
- Ask your grownups about becoming an ambassador or holding an event for a The Cure Starts Now chapter near you.
- Talk to your school about doing a fundraiser. One popular event is Caps for the Cure, where students can wear a hat for the whole school day if they donate $1 to brain cancer research. Other opportunities for fundraising might come from a sports team, your place of worship, a scouting group, or neighborhood events.
- Record yourself talking about your sibling.
- Wear your DIPG Warrior shirt or Best Sibling Ever medal.
- Share your sibling’s picture, a memory about them, or facts about DIPG/DMG on social media.
- Participate in or hold awareness events. You’re most likely to see these in May (Brain Cancer Awareness Month) and September (Childhood Cancer Awareness Month).
- Start a club or group at school for students who have or had a family member with cancer.
- Write a letter to your sibling, or draw pictures for them.
- Take part in the annual HeART auction for The Cure Starts Now. Each February, kids with DIPG and their siblings paint a picture of a heart, and the artwork is auctioned off to raise money for DIPG research. You can find out more by emailing [email protected], or watch for information on The Cure Starts Now’s pages around October or November of each year.
- Write a story, poem, or song about your sibling.
- Create a photo album or scrapbook.
- Plant a tree in your sibling’s memory.
- Sing to them on their birthday.
- Wear their favorite color. (Even little things like this can help.)
Am I still a brother or sister after my brother or sister dies?
Yes. No matter what happens, you will always be a brother or sister. You will carry your sibling’s memory with you in your heart and mind forever. That is something no one can take away.
What can you say when someone asks if you have brothers or sisters? You are the only person who can decide how much you want to share.
If you feel comfortable sharing, you could say something like, “I had a brother. He passed away a few years ago.” Some people prefer to say, “I have three sisters, but one is an angel.”
There are also times when you might not want to share about your brother or sister. If you don’t feel ready to tell someone you don’t know very well or share with a big group, that’s okay. Nothing you say (or don’t say) will change the facts of what happened, or the special bond that you and your sibling share.
When you need space
Sometimes you will want to think about your sibling, cancer, and the fight for a cure. Other times, you won’t. This is completely normal. Even doctors don’t think about cancer all the time. It’s healthy to take time to relax and think about other things.
Being a sibling to a kid with DIPG is only one part of you. There are many other parts, too, and they all need time to shine.