Sibling Survivors of Suicide

By Michelle Linn-Gust

Sibling survivors are often called the forgotten mourners. When a sibling dies, those siblings left behind, no matter their ages, are considered secondary mourners to the parents and/or the spouse and children of the sibling who died. For those siblings still living at home, they will "lose" their parents for some time as the parents grieve the death of the deceased child. Parents can become so engrossed in their grief that they forget their living children still need reassurance that they are loved and wanted. Because of the suicide, the surviving siblings' roles in the family are altered. They might feel the need to parent their parents or protect them from anything else happening. The opposite could also happen; the parents could try to shield the living children, afraid of losing them, too.

People forget the importance of siblings in our lives. Listed below are some characteristics of the sibling bond:

• It's the longest relationship we'll have in our lives. We are typically only a few years apart in age. We usually know them longer than our parents, spouses and children.

• We witness more life events and life changes with our siblings than anyone else.

• We share a sense of family, belonging and culture.

• They teach us how to function in society and communicate with others.

• The time spent together in our early years is greater than with our parents.

• It's estimated that 80 percent of children in the United States and Europe grow up with siblings. By approximating 1.85 children in each U.S. Household (using U.S. Census statistics) and 31,000 suicides (per year), then 24,800 people become sibling survivors of suicide yearly. That means, in the past 25 years, at least 620,000 Americans became sibling survivors of suicide.

Through the life span, losing our sibling to suicide sets up complicated grief. As suicide grief is already difficult, adding in the factors relating to sibling loss reminds us of the uniqueness of the sibling bond.

• Childhood: Much of children's reactions to a sibling suicide will relate to their view of death. Some people believe children don't grieve. That's not true. Children have shorter attention spans so their grief will appear in brief periods. The grief might also manifest itself as physical pain (stomachaches, headaches, etc.) because children have underdeveloped coping skills and might not know how to express their feelings.

• Adolescence: At this time, the siblings are trying to find their role in society. Each day they look in the mirror, they aren't sure who they see because they are changing so rapidly. They believe they are immortal because they don't face much death at this age. Also, adolescents are trying to separate themselves from their families but the suicide death will throw a loop in that. They will struggle with pulling away and still wanting to be hugged by their parents. At school, they might deny their grief feelings because it's easier to fit in that way.

• Young Adulthood: During our early 20s to mid-40s, we continue to set our identities and carve out our lives and careers. We have lots of hope and if we lose our sibling at this time, we learn the hard way that life does not hold unlimited promises. We also experience anger that our sibling is not there for important life events like graduations, marriages and the births of our children.

• Middle Adulthood: In our mid-40s to 50s, our sacrifices become rewards as we slow down to enjoy what we have worked hard for. If our sibling dies by suicide, we might start questioning our definition of happiness and wondering if we completed what we really wanted out of life. At this time, our parents might die. If we also lose our sibling to suicide and there were unresolved issues (like disagreeing on the care of a now deceased parent, etc.), we will have to find a way to work through them alone.

• Late Adulthood: After we reach our 60s, our sibling might be the only family member alive with whom we can share memories of early life. If we lose our sibling to suicide, it will either enhance the feeling that our time to die is coming or we might not grieve because we believe we are going to die soon, too.

Typically, siblings will carry this loss through a large portion of life. We will want a way to memorialize our sibling. No one ever gets over a death, it becomes a part of us and we take it with us throughout life. Some ways we can remember our siblings include involvement in the Lifekeeper Faces of Suicide quilts, writing about our loved one, or getting involved with suicide prevention. There are many possibilities and each of us will come up with what we want to do when we are ready.

Related articles:

Adult Loss of a Sibling

Youth Suicide: What You Can Say and Do to Help the Survivors

Why Did This Happen?

What Do I Do Now?

Also by Michelle Linn-Gust:

Running Through the Pain

• Coping with Loss & Change


Michelle Linn-Gust

Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., is an international author and speaker about finding hope after loss and change. She is President of the American Association of Suicidology and author of several books including Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief and Ginger's Gift: Hope and Healing Through Dog Companionship. Her first book, based on the suicide of her younger sister Denise, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Sibling, inspired siblings around the world in their survival after a loved one’s suicide. In April 2011, she published her first fiction novel, The Australian Pen Pal as an ebook. More about Michelle at www.michellelinngust.com

 

Read Michelle's blog, Coping with Loss & Change.





Image Source: StockXchng/hortongrou

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Comment by Rebecca Church on June 16, 2013 at 6:03am

I lost my big brother to suicide and my Dad one year later on the anniversary of my brothers death.  The poem listed below was written by me and given to my big brother.  He had it with him when his body was found:

The Old Blue Chair

There was an old blue chair from my childhood long ago,
it wasn't very sturdy and it wobbled to and fro.

It's paint was chipped and pealing and it's frame no longer straight,
there were coffee stains upon its seat that resembled figure eights.

It had no dollar value, this chair once the color blue,
but it's memories are priceless because it reminds me of you.

You may not be aware of what meant most to me,
of what I understood, what my young eyes did see.

Although the years between our ages may be quite a few,
you still took time to understand this kid staring back at you.

There were days when I was lonely, friends were very few,
my family would be busy with whatever chores they had to do.

I would climb the stairs one by one until I reached the top, 
and open my big brothers door, he never made me knock.

He would be seated on the side of his bed with his guitar in his hands,
you could hear the wealth of his talent as his fingers strummed the strands.

He never scowled or looked annoyed when he saw me in the door,
he would just smile and go on playing as I took my favorite spot on the floor.

I could spend all day in that room beside that old blue chair,
listening to his guitar play as his music filled the air.

From time to time he would pause briefly and write a line or two,
using the seat of the old blue chair that once was the color blue.

He always made up silly songs to keep me occupied,
or make funny faces until my childhood tears where dry.

He took the time to notice this kid that was staring back,
he understood it could be lonely being the youngest in the pack.

It didn't matter to him, how childish my request,
from eating mud pies made of sand to tea parties as my honored guest.

But favorite dolls and tea party games never could compare,
to the memories I hold so dear about that old blue chair.

You see, it was so special, my childhood days of old,
those days that are so long ago and more valuable than gold.

So I tell you now big brother, how dear you are to my heart,
those childhood memories are important to me and you played such a big part.

Thank you for being a big brother I didn't have to fear,
for not running away and closing the door whenever I came near.

So if someone should ask me about my childhood cares,
I'll think of you fondly, and that old blue chair.

written by Rebecca Church for my brother Tim.

Comment by Karol on January 14, 2013 at 6:25am

Losing my little brother in 07 has to be on the top of the list of one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through. They say time heals the wounds but I still ask myself why everyday. I didn't think I would ever get over it in the beginning so yes I guess in some way time does heal but I miss him everyday and I wonder will I ever be reunited with him one day. I so hope so as I ask the Lord everyday that I know my little brother would have asked for forgiveness before that dreaded moment before he took his life. I have to believe he is in Heaven with our Heavenly Father and that one day we will be reunited with him. I love you little brother and miss you everyday of my life. If I only knew why you would do something like this I would have moved Heaven and Earth to help you. Missing you always.  Your big Sis~~ 

Comment by Brandy Lohman on January 2, 2013 at 9:11pm

I lost my brother on November 26, 2012. He shot himself in the heart. It was the week of my birthday and right after thanksgiving. We dont really know why other than we believe it might have been due to health issues. It has made me think about my own life and how its going to eventually end. I miss him so much.

Comment by Robin Mayer on December 20, 2012 at 8:42pm

Long story short... my brother killed himself and I went to hell. Some know what I say is true.

Comment by Erin on May 11, 2012 at 11:48pm

My heart is broken over the passing of my sister. It was unexpected and I can't seem to learn how to live without her. She is in my thoughts and in my heart every day. I just can't seem to fully accept that she is no longer here on earth with me. I am angry for the things that I, her kids, and my kids will miss out on. It stinks and there is no way around it.

 

Comment by Maria Avilez Wright on February 2, 2012 at 8:56am
Maria Avilez Wright                Comment by Maria Avilez Wright 9 hours ago           
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In 2006 we lost my sister Imelda, she just turned 50. She had a drinking problem and we all knew she was in poor health. Imelda and her husband were sleeping in separate bedrooms and the time of death could not be determand. She was the first of 10 sibling to die in our family. One year later we lost our dad, but he was sick and we were prepared and knew he had a long life. This December 30 2011 we lost our baby sister Patti. This was the second sister we lost and we were all with her until her last breath in the ICU. Patti had a fatty liver and never took it serious and had so many problem in her life that she started drinking and it eventually took her life. After one failed marriage due to her husband cheating she went into a high risk marriage to get over a broken heart. Her second husband was a rock n roll has been that never grew up. Patti was a sucker for a lost cause and wanted to change a heavy metal tattoed skull loving boy into a family man. Patti had two children, Lee had two children and than they had two together. At first everything went great until their own children came and all hell broke loose. After the divorce Lee had so much anger towards Patti than turned the son against her and kept the children away from her this past Christmas. She tried to see them on Monday and Lee said no, than on Tuesday morning and Lee said come back later and Patti went to get them Tuesday night and spent little time with them. Wednesday morning she got sick and went into the hospital and never recovered and past away on Friday morning at 12:43 AM while we were all with her. We all stayed at the hospital for the next two days until her final moment. I am working through my grief and also anger towards Lee. Not only did he not help out with the funeral cost but had the nerve to ask her 18 year old son if she left any assets the could split at the burial. He waited no time to file SSI and couldn't under stand why we didn't want his 17 year old daughter to see Patti on life support. Lee lost his mother when he was young and that only made him bitter and now he continues to lash out at my little sister. Patti was so full of life and when I see her belonging I still think she is still with us. She left her storage under my name and I had to separate the children's things from hers and repack the rest. I prayed to God for wisdom and help me get through heart breaking task. When I opened the first box I found a children's book that read "Peace at Last" with Winnie the Pooh sitting on a couch. I know she is in God arms resting and she is part of God's plan but my heart is breaking and I can't stop crying . Most of the people around me are tired of seeing me cry all the time. I have to cry at night when my husband is sleeping so I don't stess him out. My grief counsler is so helpful, I have so much memory loss and I think I am loosing my mind. Patti had so many problems and always called me sometimes 2 or 3 times a day. I now realize it

Comment by Mindy on September 16, 2011 at 5:46am

I lost my little 17 year old brother a month ago. It was so sudden that left my whole family in shock. He was a very good person, healthy, and very athletic. He fell and hit his head and passed away 4 days after. I have never been through anything so hard in my whole life. I have never cried so much. I have never felt so empty. I think about him everyday that I couldn't eat and sleep. I can't look at a picture of him without crying so I store all his pictures away. It was so hard to see my parents cry (I have never seen my dad cry until now). My dad would walk into my brother's room and cry to himself. I miss my brother so much that there were times where I want to commit suicide and see if I can see my brother. I want to see him, hug him, talk to him, kiss him, like before. I blame myself for his passing because it was my idea to go hiking and that's why he slip and fell. I blame myself so much I attempted suicide. I am doing better now. I try to find peace with myself that it was his time to go and he wouldn't want me to be sad or cry too much, and that he's became my angel to watch over me. I love and miss you little brother.

Comment by Jennifer Allen on August 29, 2011 at 3:36am

My only brother committed suicide. I have been made to feel that my grief does not matter and that I do everything wrong. I deal with my grief alone, as to not disrespect others. The pain is so great that I find it hard to cope. My marraige has fallen apart, my family has fallen apart and I am struggling to breathe.

Comment by Becky Malone on August 26, 2011 at 2:03am

I am finding all of this reading way off the mark because I know first hand through my attempt to die was NOT discussed with-in my family. My Mother, Dad, 2 older brother's, one older sister, one younger brother & one younger sister...Not A ONE said anything or even asked what is hurting mer so much to take your own life. This is a very true story & I was in ICU for 17 day's.

What am I suppose to think about my families non reactiveness towards me? THAT hurt more than the attempt. One day I will succeed & God have mercy on my broken Soul & please allow me into Heaven.~ 

~ Peace,

               Becky ~ 

Comment by KK on December 28, 2010 at 9:17am

 

No two people grieve in precisely the same way. Some shed tears openly, and there’s nothing wrong with that and doing so only when you feel like it there is nothing wrong with that either. To help you cope with the situation, try to keep a list of comforting Bible passages, and refer to them at least once each day, reach out to a compassionate confidant and talk things out because it may well lighten your load, and meditate on the Bible’s promise of a resurrection such as at John 5:28,29 that says "Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment."

Comment by Albert G. on July 29, 2010 at 12:18am
Survivors Guilt. My sister had it all going for her. She was so dear to my parents. Bragging rights. And I am the black sheep that have should have died instead of her. I can't seem to help myself. My "step mother" thought I was going to be the first to die. In spite of myself I continue living. And my beloved sister died. She was a favorite of my parents. An achiever. And I floundered.
Getting used to the lack of support of my family. Nothing new. God I hurt.
Grasping at nothing. Oh goodness.....I know I am not alone.
Comment by Cathy E. on February 21, 2010 at 3:26pm
God be with all those who have joined this site. I lost a brother to suicide in 1996 and a sister to suicide in 1998. It was a very difficult time in my life. I was still dealing with the heartache from my brother when I got the call about my sister. It seemed as if the grief would never end. Being the oldest of eight children I find it more & more difficult dealing with the death of my siblings, as I have lost three more siblings since that time. All of what is considered natural causes. The latest on Friday, Feb.9. he was 53, a year younger than I. Now there are just three of us left. How many times I've prayed " Please don't let me have to watch all of my siblings die". It seems with each death feelings from the time of the suicides, surface again. I feel it a must to mention the fact that my faith played a huge part in the strength necessary, especially in dealing with the suicides. I have pretty much learned to accept the fact that what will happen will happen and I will have the necessary strength to cope with it. Even though I feel like the scars on my heart have been reopened at this time.
Comment by Raquel on August 12, 2009 at 11:40am
My birthday is D-Day (June 6). My Dad's birthday is Veteran's Day (Nov. 11). My parents' anniversary is Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7). My sister, Daniella, was the "excluded" one in the patriotic dates until she died of a brain aneurysm on Independence Day, 2009. Danni was 36 and so vibrant, it seems obscene that she's gone. For years, we'd gone back and forth on issues, and had not seen each other for about 7 or 8 years. We'd finally made ammends in March and I'd told her I loved her and did not want one of our parents' funerals to be the next time I saw her. Ironic that it was her own funeral that I saw her again. I got to Dallas, TX from San Diego the day after my brother-in-law called me. I held her hand for those two days that she was in a coma. Her friends shared funny stories about her and when they told me her favorite music and movies, I realized the impact I'd made on her, because they were mine, too! The hour before her life support was disconnected, I stood by her, stroked her hair and cheek and told Danni she was a good sister, I will miss her and I love her more than anything. When I leaned over to kiss my sister's cheek, I kissed a tear. I don't care what medical explanation anyone can give for that. THAT was the first time I'd seen a tear running down her cheek, and I am convinced it was her way of acknowledging me and communicating the same. It is now almost 6 weeks and I talk to her every day. My childhood friend is gone. I have no one to share family stories with anymore because they belonged to her and I. My heart is broken and it's clear by how empty I feel that she took a piece of me with her. I have a piece of her with me, too, and I pray the Grace of God can help me rise up and have some passion for life again. At least to not disappoint her. Danni, I love and miss you, my Little Chickadee.
Comment by Barbara Williamson on June 14, 2009 at 7:48am
We recently lost a brother, 27 Jan. 09. After year's of suffering with MSA. It's been very hard for us, him being the first we have lost. All of us have been a close knit family thorough & dealing with the loss has been over-whelming. The pain you feel in your heart because there's an empty space now. I'm having a very difficult time of it, I miss him so very-very much.I love you very much. Happy Fathers Day & HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you on the 28th. Barbara
Comment by Cynthia on June 11, 2009 at 4:55pm
I lost my little brother Danny in 2001...he was only 29. It bothers me to this day. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and they did a biopsy on my birthday. Two weeks later, he passed. At 29. I used to change his diapers. I used to babysit him while our mother worked. That year was the worst one of my life. We lost him in February, and my poor mother hasn't been the same since....losing her youngest child. I never in my life saw my other brothers cry until that day in the hospital. My brother David and him were extremely close growing up...they were called " partners in crime" with their mischievous ways. I still miss him terribly. Every time I see a Yankees game, or celebrate Halloween (his favorite holiday) I think of him. He was way too young to die, and from time to time I'm extremely bitter about this fact. I'm just glad I was there holding his hand when he passed...feeling that squeeze of his let me know he knew we were there, and that we loved him. At least we had that. I love you, Danny.
Comment by Norma on June 9, 2009 at 4:37pm
As I read these today, I feel for everyone, my heart is heavy for everyone of these people who have lost their loved ones, I just experienced 2 deaths in March 09. I would have never thought this would ever happen so soon, My family was very dysfunctional, my dad was not a very good day, but he was my dad, he lived a bitter life for the past 10yrs after my mom passed. Once my mom passed, everything went downhill for the family, he lived alone in the same house, he was a very bitter man with his daughters and 1 son. He molested my only brother and my brother forgave him, but never forgot. Well in the latter part of Feb, we were called by my brother to tell us that my dad was ill with cancer and had very little time to live, out of 6 kids, only 3 of us helped out and went to his funeral and this included my brother, he & his new girlfriend went to live with my dad to help out, well he died on 3-5-09 and it's horrible to see someone dying of cancer, everyday we watched him deterioate day by day til his last breath. He was 78 yrs old, even though he put us thru hell when we were little, he was still my dad. Well, we had the funeral and took care of everything, my brother was beneficiary of his will and life insurance, and my brother was happy bc he was starting a new chapter in his life, until 3-22-09 (2 weeks later) he collapsed playing b-ball with his son one day and fell flat on his face and rushed to hospital but never made it,he was doa...found it was a massive heartattach, we could not believe it, I got to hospital and couldnt believe he was on the stretcher dead, i screamed and asked for him to wake up but of course didnt. I had just spoken to him an hour before all of this happened. I just couldnt believe it. Then you ask "WHY?????????? well, then we had to go back to the same funeral home where we had my dad's funeral at, and it was very awkward, because I never thought I would see him in the coffin after being with him on the funeral bench with my dad's funeral, never would I have thought we would be back so soon. It was a horrible March, and never wished this on no-one..... It is still heartwrenching, our family has re-united which is a good thing, which are just us girls, but we miss our brother,he was a good guy....it seem like there is nothing left at my dad's house anymore, it's sad now. My brother had mention sometime in my dad's funeral that he would have liked one of our friend's who sang at my dad's funeral to someday sing at his funeral? which we thought it would never be soon, but you just never know what can happen in life. This was an opener for me and my life, live life to the fulliest I say......because you never know you will be here today....forgive your family and move on and live your life, bc once you have done that you will feel so much better. I know I did my deed for my life -- I was there for my dad and my brother, and I am happy about that. Although I miss my brother bc he still had alot of life to live, 48 yrs old... So for those in mourning, let go and move on when you are ready, bc it will only bring you down more and you will miss your life. If it wasnt for my God, I would have never made it. I still dont know why and I probably will never know. Love life as it comes and embrace it while you can. I am trying to change my life as we speak with my family.........
Comment by James alexanderson on June 9, 2009 at 4:03am
my brother and best friend Tommy Alexanderson got into a car accident in 1976, He moved into the seat I was in moments before the crash. (15 years old)He became the first area kidney donor for the whole northeast US or east coast, they only did kidneys back then and that was really unheard of. I was attacked at a junk yard by 4-200 pound St. Bernards, usually a mild breed but not this time,(I was 16) they killed 2 sheep the day before, They caught me out in the open and started eating me, it happened exactly a month after my brother died. Everyone said how bad they felt to my parents but what about me? I was the one curled in a ball for 2 weeks, yet no one said anything to me? I realized then life just is not fair, never was, never will be. It pretty much put me on a road I did not really want to go down, I was the youngest member of a phoenix based motorcycle club then to get out alive I had to join the Marines, I came out different to this day. I can feel for the forgotten because I was one of them.
Comment by nicole on May 28, 2009 at 11:35pm
my brother died in march 29th 2007. he died of an overdose which caused him to have a brain amuerysm. we got the call at like 7 in the morning from my other brother brandon. i walked in the room to my mom yelling what do you mean justins dead? i lost it. i ended going to school anyways. i was a junior in high school. i was 16 at the time. i could not stop crying. all the reasons were going through my head of what i had not done or said to him before he died. so much was left undone and unsaid. i wanted to tell him i loved him, wanted to tell him sorry i did not call him on his birthday, wanted to tell him couldnt wait to go to the races on saturday. i wanted to hug him and tell him how great he was. there was jus so much. plus two days before that my grandmother died. then 2 weeks before her passing a good friend of mine died. so march was not a good month. but i never thought he would go so soon. i thought i had forever to say what i wanted and to do what i wanted. but i was wrong. not a day goes by that i dont think of him. he missed my prom, my graduation. hes not going to be at my wedding, or the birth of my child. i hate that, and i feel like i took him for granet. i remember the last time i saw him, it was valentines day of 07. he gave me a little card and said ill see you soon, call me, i love u lil sis. i said ok i will, i love u bud, cant wait to have movie night. but it never happened, i was goin to school, and he was working alot. so we rarely talked. then he called my on the 25th and said hey jus wanna tell you i love you, i said ok i love you too, and i asked is something wrong, he said no jus felt i had to call and tell you that. i cherish that phone call. cuz i got the bad news two days later. ill never forget him. i miss him so much.
Comment by jillbosha on March 11, 2009 at 10:51pm
My brother killed himself Oct 28, 09. He hung himself in my moms house. He was Bi-Polar but we had no idea it would come to this. He was only diagnosed Nov 08. We were supportive and loved him even though he was "off" from his usual self. We wanted him to feel like himself again but he tried to self medicate with drinking. I saw him on Sunday where I didn't realize he was giving me signs by telling me to take home the mini hockey sticks that he had gotten for my sons because they would not need them anymore and I naturally said... "what about when they are here all the time?" he quickly recovered and said "oh yeah" at the time not realizing that he was what we called out "hockey coach" to the babies who were only a year and a half old and he was thinking I'm not going to be around to teach them. Not even 48 hrs later he hung himself. He was 28 years old. My older brother by 13 months had killed himself... still find it hard to type, say and even believe. Everything happened so fast it seems. I knew he was depressed but never knew he was suffering so bad that he felt that he had to do that. I only wish he could have told me... or anyone for that matter.
It breaks my heart every single day that I'm without him and I still question myself as to why he didn't tell me he felt that way. We weren't close in a manor of telling eachother everything but something like that I thought he would have told me and at least have asked me to be there. I know that is crazy to think he would ask me to watch him hang himself but to think that he died all alone BREAKS my heart... I think of it every single day. Not that I would have let him in any way but if it was going to happen I thought I would be there. I assumed we were both in our oldest age I would be there for him. But no... he was alone in our parents basement in the only unfinished room all by himself. That tugs at my heart so much, I wish I could have helped him. I miss him so much that my heart hurts. It has been about 4 months now that I lost my brother and it still seems like it is just hitting me. I am hurting more than I feel like I can let on and writing this somehow feels better. Oh my God I miss him!

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