I have experienced the sudden loss two adult siblings. Both my brother and sister were younger than me. These profound losses have impacted my life on every level. I had no place to put these losses in my life repertoire. Losing a younger sibling is out of the natural order things. We know our parents will eventually die, but never do we even consider that we would lose our siblings.
As Lynn Shattuck describes, “Her absence is mostly a dull hurt, the ghost of an old broken bone that aches when it rains. I feel it more on holidays and anniversaries, when someone else close to me dies.” My brother was the co-keeper of my childhood. The person who was supposed to walk with me longer than anyone else in this life. The only other person who knew what it was like to grow up with our particular parents, in our particular home.
No one knows you better than your sibling. Especially if your parents are no longer alive. They have known you longer than anyone in the world. The secret stories that only you share, just evaporate… because they are too old, peculiar or too silly to try to explain to anyone else. No one else knows the “inside” long standing jokes, the personal, intimate humor of things that caused an infectious giggle, taking you back to childhood.
When your brother/sister has been a part of your life since birth, your identity is based on having and knowing they are there. They form a part of the story, the background from which you live your life. They define a part of you.
In the book, Sibling Grief, P. Gill White explains, “Siblings actually loan each other their strengths, and when one of the siblings dies, that strength is lost, altering the survivor’s identity with it. It takes time to learn how to live life again and to establish who you are. It becomes necessary to grow within yourself the parts once carried by your brother or sister. You don’t get over the loss, as much as ‘grow through’ it.”
They were supposed to be our bridesmaids and our groomsmen. . . our children’s aunts and uncles. They would be there for us when we’re in trouble; loan us money, and then we’d loan it back. “They are the most judgmental people we know and are the most accepting and loving people we know. “
The loss of adult siblings is often known as “disenfranchised grief”. This loss is often overlooked. There is a failure to see the sibling relationship just as profound in adulthood as it is in childhood. There are more books on losing a pet than losing a brother or sister.
“After the shock wears thin, you begin to wish for pieces
the scent, the laugh, the warm sweet touch or look,
the bend and twist he made when his fancy was tickled
or the facial animation when his mind percolated
another quirky idea or invention that he couldn’t wait to share.
It is not about desire. It is about the unquenchable
thirst of longing, the soul striving for connection,
like the immense depth of silence shared in walks along the path.
In the emptiness of grief, we look for solace….
for the glue that helped us mend our shattered pieces”