Her baby brother died.
She was the first person I ever knew whose sibling had died.
But it would take 12 years for her grief to seep into my heart and consciousness. Partly because I was too young and too consumed with my own grief. And partly because siblings often go unrecognized as valid grievers.
The term “disenfranchised griever” as coined by Kenneth Doka, is the griever who goes unacknowledged by society.
Death of a sibling, while not always defined in this way, is a grief that can go unattended by others.
The many ways that siblings are left feeling isolated may show up differently according to age.
The parents of a child whose sibling has died, overwhelmed with their own grief, may find it difficult to tend to the needs of their surviving child. And because children may appear okay, their grief might be overlooked.
People report feeling disenfranchised when a sibling dies during young adulthood. There is a concern for parents, for the spouse or children, while the adult sibling might be forgotten. A client described the sign-in book for her brother’s funeral as filled with messages for her mother and not even one, written for her.
As an older adult, again, the focus is often for the parents, spouse, and children of the sibling, or written off as an age-appropriate death.
Death of a sibling is profound. Whether the relationship was good or challenging, there is a genuine connection, as this is the one person who knows information and emotions around your history and your heart in a way that no one else can.
It would take me 12 years to understand the grief of the first person I ever knew whose sibling had died. She was my aunt. My dad’s big sister. She was 44 when her baby brother died. I could not see the broken heart residing in her body until I became an adult. It was then I could finally wrap my arms around the one person who knew my dad like no other.
She would remain in my life, sharing history and tears and love until her death, 30 years later.