Have you recently lost a sibling?
Need help recovering from your loss?
Can writing help you heal from grief?
The pain of grief is very real. Navigating your way through the loss of your sibling can be like stepping through a minefield of emotions and memories. Every day is filled with a rollercoaster of thoughts, tears, and lost dreams. That’s why writing about the death of a sibling can be a healthy outlet to work through your sibling grief in a positive way.
Your sibling holds a symbolic place in your life. Whether you lost your sibling due to a long-term illness, an accident or other traumatic event, your loss can be magnified by those conditions. The loss of any relationship can be devastating, especially one in which you grew up together, shared secrets, and endured good times and bad times. You have a co-history because you were an integral part of each other’s formative years.
As a child, your brother or sister may have been your greatest role model. Maybe your sibling was your go-to person for sensible advice if anything went wrong. Or maybe you shared unending adventures together. When that relationship comes to an end, it’s normal to at least feel off balance, not knowing what to do without their stability in your life.
Dealing with a Brother’s or Sister’s Death
Sibling relationships are unique and so is the loss. The death of your sibling may never make sense to you, no matter how they died or what age it happened. It might be easier, at least for a while, to slip everything under a rug… to not deal with the pain and heartache and loss. Just keep busy with life and it will go away. But as we know, denial just brings things back in a hurry.
You may be feeling many of the following emotions as a result of your sibling’s death: shock, numbness, sadness, despair, guilt, regret, loneliness, isolation, worry, frustration, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, irritability, anger, crying, headaches, increased or decreased appetite, fatigue or sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, detachment, isolation, weakness, aches, pains, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and yearning as well as questioning your faith.
In fact, about one in five bereaved people will develop major depression (also called clinical depression). You may experience complicated grief, traumatic grief or unresolved grief. You may also feel guilty because you didn’t have a close relationship with your sibling. Maybe you were born many years apart or perhaps you were both very different. You could have had a love-hate relationship or one in which you parted ways frequently without a second thought. Maybe your relationship was never quite what you had hoped it would be. Or maybe you even wished he or she would disappear. These are all normal emotions, which you are allowed to feel while you grieve.
Working through Your Grief Journey
Feelings make your loss real, and feelings are part of what makes us human. It is through loss that we find resilience to live and enjoy life again. And although the loss may never leave us, we can find rebirth and strength again, or a new way of living.
Although commonalities might exist between people who have experienced similar losses, it’s important not to compare yourself to others. And it’s important not to compare where you are in your grief journey to where someone else may be in theirs. Each person’s grief journey is different and personal to them. So, your grief experience is also unique to you.
You don’t have to go through your loss alone, and you don’t have to wander in the dark trying to find ways to help you get through the pain of loss. There are many resources available for those who have lost a sibling, such as therapy and support groups. How you choose to work through your grief depends on how you feel at any given time and your comfort level.
Here are some healthy strategies that you can use in working through your personal loss.
- Grief counselor / mental health professional
- Faith leader
- Grief support groups
- Family members, friends
- Grief book
- Journaling / writing
- Walking, running, hiking, physical activity
- Talking to your loved one out loud
- Wearing something that belonged to them
- Celebrating small, positive things
- Social / fun activities
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Setting a small goal
- Listening to upbeat music
- Touch therapy: massage, reflexology, acupuncture, acupressure, reiki
- Practicing forgiveness
- Healthy distractions
- Keeping a light on nearby (avoiding darkness, especially sitting in the dark)
- Drawing / art
- And more!
Writing Your Way Through Grief
So far, we’ve talked about the uniqueness of sibling loss. We’ve discussed the wide range or emotions that you may feel at different times or all at once. It’s important to allow yourself to feel grief and pain when they present themselves. And it’s also important to work through your loss in a positive and productive way.
Writing can provide a source of relief from grief. Yes, writing about grief makes it real. It makes the grief you are experiencing raw and true. But your writing also confirms that your sibling did exist in your life… that they did make a difference… and that they mattered. Writing about sibling loss solidifies your continued connection to your brother or sister, even though they are no longer by your side or just a phone call away.
Although writing will make you feel the pain of loss as you are writing and immediately after writing, studies have shown that there are numerous mental and physical health benefits to writing about grief.
Just 15 minutes of journal writing each day for four consecutive days has been shown to help improve the immune system.
Writing about grief allows you to express yourself without judgement and reduces your internal stress over the long term.
By sorting out your thoughts and emotions, you gain a better level of clarity, which provides a healthy perspective to your loss.
Perhaps writing isn’t for you. Some people don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves through writing—even though you don’t need to share it with anyone. That’s OK. You can choose another healthy manner to express your grief in a personal way: art, music, drawing, painting, playing an instrument, scrapbooking, photography or creating a memorial. Writing about the loss of your sibling may also help you with writing their obituary, eulogy or a dedication for a life celebration.
***If you find yourself using alcohol, drugs or other substances or unhealthy practices to mask your pain, please seek professional help immediately. If you feel like harming yourself, seek help. There is much help available to you, and people do care about you. You only need to pick up the phone and ask.
How to Write About the Loss of a Sibling
Writing while you are grieving the loss of a sibling can help you process events and emotions that are hard to understand. Writing about grief helps to keep you connected to your sibling. And it creates a bridge between the person you were before the loss and the person you are now and are still becoming.
You are going through a transformation. And just like when a caterpillar builds a cocoon, the transformation process that goes on inside isn’t very pretty. But the result is something entirely new and different. So, your process doesn’t have to be pretty. In fact, it might be downright ugly. But you will journey through it and become something entirely new and different.
Honor your sibling and honor your grief by writing it down. When you write about the death of your sibling, think of it like writing a letter or sending a card to your loved one. Tell them what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling. Tell them about any hopes that are now lost, regrets, wishes, dreams, and anything else that comes to mind.
Once you’ve written a letter to your lost sibling, then write a letter back to you in their voice. How do you think they would answer your letter? What would they say to you? Many people have found this technique to be extremely therapeutic and healing.
You may want to include sensory descriptions in your writing: taste, smell, hearing, sight, touch. You can experience things a bit more deeply when you include your senses.
Here are a few writing prompts to help you get started.
- I remember when…
- I loved the time when…
- Today, I’m feeling…
- Yesterday, I was…
- I can still hear you say…
- I thought of you today…
- I hated it when…
- The hardest thing now is…
- I’m really missing…
- I wish I knew…
- I’m surprise that I feel…
Finally, know that you will heal with time. You’re going through a difficult time in your life, and you’re allowed to move through it at your own pace. It’s important to not rush through the grieving process. Feel every feeling: good, bad, and everything in between. Let each tear fall. Yell and scream out loud if you want. When you allow yourself the space to process your grief your way, then you can begin to heal.