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Healing the Adult Sibling's Grieving Heart
100 Practical Ideas After your Brother or Sister Dies
By Alan Wolfelt
Center for Loss and Life TransitionCopyright © 2008 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRIEF AND MOURNING
Grief is what we think and feel on the inside when someone we love dies.
Mourning is the outward expression of our grief.
Everyone grieves when someone loved dies, but if we are to heal, we must also mourn.
Many of the ideas in this book are intended to help you mourn he death of your brother or sister, to express your grief outside of yourself. Over time and with the support of others, to mourn is to heal.?
If some of your friends and family are not compassionately supporting your need to mourn, seek out the company of those who will.
Ask yourself this: Have I been mourning my sibling's death, or have I restricted myself to grieving?
BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF
The journey through grief is a long and difficult one. It is also a journey for which there is no preparation.
Be compassionate with yourself as you encounter painful thoughts and feelings.
Don't judge yourself or try to set a particular course for healing. There is no one way to grieve the death of a sibling. There is only what you think and feel and the expressing of those thoughts and feelings.
Let your journey be what it is. And let yourself — your new, grieving self — be who you are.
If you have the energy, take a walk today through a quiet area of town. Or better yet, get out of town and find a "safe place" in nature. Rest when you're tired and contemplate the ways in which you might take better care of yourself in the coming weeks and months.
DON'T EXPECT YOURSELF TO MOURN OR HEAL IN A CERTAIN WAY OR IN A CERTAIN TIME
Your unique grief journey will be shaped by many factors, including:
* - the nature of the relationship you had with the sibling who died
* - the age of the sibling who died
* - your age
* - the circumstances of the death
* - your family's coping and communication styles
* - your unique personality
* - your cultural background
* - your religious or spiritual beliefs
* - your gender
* - your support systems
Because of these and other factors, no two deaths are ever mourned in precisely the same way.
Don't have rigid expectations for your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Instead, celebrate your uniqueness.
A special note on age: Even if your sibling was elderly when he or she died, your feelings of loss may be profound. Some people think that death is just a normal part of life for older people, and that they accept death more easily than younger people. While this may be true in part, elderly people still feel the pain of loss. Love is ageless, thus grief is ageless.
Start a grief journal today. Each night before you go to sleep, spend a few minutes writing about your thoughts and feelings about your sibling's death. As time passes, reread your journal entries and note how your grief is changing.
ALLOW FOR NUMBNESS
Feelings of shock, numbness and disbelief are nature's way of temporarily protecting us from the full reality of the death of someone loved. They help us survive our early grief. I often say, "Thank God for numbness and denial."
We often think, "I will wake up and this will not have happened." Mourning can feel like being in a dream. The world feels distant, almost unreal — especially the lives of other people. The world turns, but you may not feel it. Time moves, but you may not experience it.
Your emotions need time to catch up with what your mind has been told. This is true even when death has followed a long illness.
Even after you have moved beyond these initial feelings, don't be surprised if they reemerge. Birthdays, holidays and anniversaries often trigger these normal and necessary feelings.
If you're feeling numb, cancel any commitments that require concentration and decision-making. Allow yourself time to regroup.
EXPECT TO HAVE A MULTITUDE OF FEELINGS
Mourners don't just feel sad. We may feel numb, angry, guilty, afraid,confused or even relieved. Sometimes these feelings follow each other within a short period of time, or they may occur simultaneously.
As strange as some of these emotions may seem to you, they are normal and healthy.
Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling without judging yourself.
Talk about your feelings with someone who cares and can supportively listen.
Which emotion has surprised you most since your sibling's death? In your mind, single out this emotion for a moment and give it play. Embrace it. Honor it. And affirm it by talking to someone else who has journeyed through grief after the death of someone loved.
BE AWARE THAT YOUR GRIEF AFFECTS YOUR BODY, HEART, SOCIAL SELF AND SPIRIT
Grief is physically demanding. The body responds to the stress of the encounter and the immune system can weaken. You may be more susceptible to illness and physical discomforts. You may also feel lethargic or highly fatigued. You may not be sleeping well.
The emotional toll of grief is complex and painful. Mourners often feel many different feelings, and those feelings can shift and blur over time.
Bereavement naturally results in social discomfort. Friends and family often withdraw from mourners, leaving us isolated and unsupported.
Mourners often ask ourselves, "Why are we here?" "Will my life have meaning now?" "Where is God in this?" Spiritual questions such as these are natural and necessary but also draining.
Basically, your grief may affect every aspect of your life. Nothing may feel "normal" right now. If this is true for you, don't be alarmed. Just trust that in time, you will find peace and comfort again.
If you've felt physically affected by your grief, see a doctor this week. Sometimes it's comforting to receive a clean bill of health.
EMBRACE YOUR SPIRITUALITY
Above all, grief is a journey of the soul. It demands you to consider why people live, why people die and what gives life meaning. These are the most spiritual questions we have language to form.
Since your sibling has died, you've probably found yourself contemplating your own death. This is very common. After all, now that your sibling has died, your own mortality may seem more real.
For many people, formal places of worship — churches, synagogues, mosques — offer a safe place and a ritualized process for discovering and embracing their spirituality. If you don't belong to a place of worship, perhaps now is a good time to join.
For me, spending time alone in nature provides both the solitude and the beautiful evidence of God's existence that I need to nurture my soul.
We grow, we learn; the spiritual path is a lifetime unfolding process. The death of your sibling often inspires this spiritual unfolding. Make the effort to embrace your spirituality and it will embrace you back by inspiring you with a sense of peace, hope and healing.
Perhaps you have a friend who seems spiritually grounded. Talk to this person about his beliefs and spiritual experiences. Ask him how he learned to nurture his spirituality.
TELL THE STORY, OVER AND OVER AGAIN IF NECESSARY
Acknowledging a death is a painful, ongoing need that we meet in doses, over time. A vital part of healing in grief is often "telling the story" over and over again.
The "story" relates the circumstances surrounding the death, reviewing the relationship, describing aspects of the personality of the sibling who died, and sharing memories, good and bad.
It's as if each time we tell the story, it becomes a little more real. It also becomes a more integrated part of who we are.
Find people who are willing to listen to you tell your story, over and over again if necessary, without judgment.
Tell the story to someone today in the form of a letter. Perhaps you can write and send this letter to a friend who lives far away. If you are not a letter writer, find a trusted friend to "talk out" the story. You will know who will be willing to listen and who won't.
HELP ERADICATE THE MYTH THAT PEOPLE DON'T NEED TO MOURN WHEN AN ADULT SIBLING DIES
Here's how the myth goes: When an adult dies, it is the parents, spouse and children of the person who died who suffer the greatest loss. Siblings are affected less deeply.
But the truth is that the strength of the attachment is a measure of the strength of the loss. While grief cannot and should not be quantified, we can say that the more deeply you feel connected to someone, the more difficult his or her death will likely be for you. And siblings — even when they have not spent much time together as adults — often have profoundly strong attachments to one another.
Also, be aware that you are at risk for having people minimize your need to mourn if you have had a strained, difficult or cut-off relationship with your sibling. Yet, sometimes you mourn for the relationship you wish you could have had with your brother or sister.
Whether your sibling was young, middle-aged or older, whether the death was sudden or anticipated, someone you loved and who loved you will never be physically present to you again. Of course you grieve! Of course you need to mourn!
When the opportunity arises, let others know that the death of a sibling is not easy and that the resulting grief is not "less than" the grief from other deaths.
If you have a friend whose sibling has died, talk about this experience. Ask: What was it like for you when your brother or sister died? She may welcome the opportunity to express her thoughts and feelings, and you may be comforted by the knowledge that you're not alone.
MOVE TOWARD YOUR GRIEF, NOT AWAY FROM IT
Our society teaches us that emotional pain is to be avoided, not embraced, yet it is only in moving toward our grief that we can be healed.
As Helen Keller once said, "The only way to get to the other side is to go through the door."
Note that the phrase "move toward your grief" invites you to take an active role in your healing. Don't think of yourself as a powerless victim or as helpless in the face of grief. Instead, empower yourself to "do something" with your grief — to mourn it, to express it outside yourself, to find ways to help yourself heal.
Be suspicious if you find yourself thinking that you're "doing well" since the death. Sometimes "doing well" means you're avoiding your pain.
Today, do something to confront and express your grief. Maybe it's time to tell someone close to you how you've really been feeling.
REVIEW YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SIBLING WHO DIED
One way to mourn your sibling's death is to think through, write and talk about the relationship you had with him or her. Were you close to your sibling, whether as children and/or as adults? How did your relationship change as you grew older? What words would your sibling use to describe you? What words would you use to describe your sibling?
Also think about your feelings for your brother or sister and why those feelings were most prominent. What was your sibling like? How did you respond to him or her? How did your sibling help shape who you became?
What was your role in your family? Were you the "smart one" or the "funny one" or the "troublemaker" or the "peacemaker?" What was your sibling's role? How did your roles interface with each other?
Ultimately, thinking through these kinds of questions and talking or writing about them may help you reconcile ambivalent feelings and old urts. You may achieve a sense of peace and understanding about your sibling and the life the two of you lived side by side
On a large piece of paper, draw a timeline of your life. Write in significant events and dates. Also write in significant events and dates in the life of your sibling. How did your two lives connect? How did your life affect your sibling's and vice versa?
Excerpted from Healing the Adult Sibling's Grieving Heart by Alan Wolfelt. Copyright © 2008 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Center for Loss and Life Transition.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsAlso by Alan Wolfelt:,
1. - UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRIEF AND MOURNING,
2. - BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF,
3. - DON'T EXPECT YOURSELF TO MOURN OR HEAL IN A CERTAIN WAY OR IN A CERTAIN TIME,
4. - ALLOW FOR NUMBNESS,
5. - EXPECT TO HAVE A MULTITUDE OF FEELINGS,
6. - BE AWARE THAT YOUR GRIEF AFFECTS YOUR BODY, HEART, SOCIAL SELF AND SPIRIT,
7. - EMBRACE YOUR SPIRITUALITY,
8. - TELL THE STORY, OVER AND OVER AGAIN IF NECESSARY,
9. - HELP ERADICATE THE MYTH THAT PEOPLE DON'T NEED TO MOURN WHEN AN ADULT SIBLING DIES,
10. - MOVE TOWARD YOUR GRIEF, NOT AWAY FROM IT,
11. - REVIEW YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SIBLING WHO DIED,
12. - ACKNOWLEDGE ALL THE LOSSES THIS DEATH HAS BROUGHT ABOUT,
13. - ALLOW FOR FEELINGS OF UNFINISHED BUSINESS,
14. - REACH OUT TO OTHERS FOR HELP,
15. - IDENTIFY THREE PEOPLE YOU CAN TURN TO ANYTIME YOU NEED A FRIEND,
16. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
17. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
18. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
19. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
20. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
21. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
22. - KNOW THAT GRIEF DOES NOT PROCEED IN ORDERLY, PREDICTABLE "STAGES",
23. - IF YOU STILL HAVE LIVING BROTHERS OR SISTERS, CONSIDER THIS,
24. - BE COMPASSIONATE WITH OTHERS WHO MOURN THIS DEATH,
25. - LOOK TO THOSE WHO MODEL HOPE AND HEALING,
26. - IF YOU FIND YOURSELF "SEARCHING" FOR YOUR SIBLING, KNOW THAT THIS IS NORMAL,
27. - BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE WORDS,
28. - IF YOUR SIBLING DIED AFTER AN EXTENDED ILLNESS OR DECLINE, KNOW THAT FEELINGS OF RELIEF ARE ERFECTLY NORMAL,
29. - ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE SELF-ABSORBED,
30. - IF YOUR SIBLING DIED SUDDENLY, LOOK FOR WAYS TO EMBRACE THE REALITY OF THE DEATH,
31. - IF YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SIBLING WAS STRAINED OR NONEXISTENT, ALLOW FOR AMBIVALENT ELINGS,
32. - ACCEPT DIFFERENT GRIEF RESPONSES AMONG FAMILY MEMBERS,
33. - LIVE IN THE MOMENT,
34. - NURTURE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR SPOUSE AND CHILDREN,
35. - IF YOU ARE ANGRY, FIND APPROPRIATE WAYS TO EXPRESS YOUR ANGER,
36. - IF YOU ARE UPSET ABOUT THE MEDICAL CARE YOUR SIBLING RECEIVED, EXPRESS THOSE FEELINGS,
37. - IF YOU ARE A TWIN, SEEK EXTRA SUPPORT,
38. - EMBRACE THE HEALING POWER OF LINKING OBJECTS,
39. - RELEASE ANY BAD FEELINGS OR REGRETS YOU MAY HAVE ABOUT THE FUNERAL AND BURIAL,
40. - GO TO EXILE,
41. - CRY,
42. - REACH OUT AND TOUCH,
43. - WRITE A LETTER,
44. - BE MINDFUL OF ANNIVERSARIES,
45. - TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF,
46. - IF YOU FEEL GUILTY, EXPLORE YOUR FEELINGS OF GUILT,
47. - KEEP A JOURNAL,
48. - ORGANIZE A TREE PLANTING,
49. - PLAN A CEREMONY,
50. - ORGANIZE A MEMORY BOOK,
51. - SHARE THE BURDEN,
52. - FIND A PLACE FOR YOUR LOVE,
53. - DON'T BE CAUGHT OFF GUARD BY "GRIEFBURSTS",
54. - THINK YOUNG,
55. - FOLLOW YOUR NOSE,
56. - LISTEN TO THE MUSIC,
57. - PRAY,
58. - LEARN SOMETHING NEW,
59. - TAKE A RISK,
60. - PICTURE THIS,
61. - VOLUNTEER,
62. - VISIT THE GREAT OUTDOORS,
63. - SURF THE WEB,
64. - WATCH FOR WARNING SIGNS,
65. - SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE,
66. - ESTABLISH A MEMORIAL FUND IN THE NAME OF THE SIBLING WHO DIED,
67. - OR CHOOSE TO MEMORIALIZE YOUR SIBLING IN OTHER SPECIAL WAYS,
68. - PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE HOLIDAYS,
69. - FIND A GRIEF "BUDDY",
70. - LIVE FOR BOTH OF YOU,
71. - IGNORE HURTFUL ADVICE,
72. - MAKE A LIST OF GOALS,
73. - COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS,
74. - DO SOMETHING YOU'RE GOOD AT,
75. - IMAGINE YOUR SIBLING IN HEAVEN,
76. - PRACTICE BREATHING IN AND OUT,
77. - TALK OUT LOUD TO THE SIBLING WHO DIED,
78. - DRAW A "GRIEF MAP",
79. - SET ASIDE THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH AS A HOLIDAY,
80. - TALK TO A COUNSELOR,
81. - LOOK INTO SUPPORT GROUPS,
82. - HELP OTHERS,
83. - TAKE YOUR PHONE OFF THE HOOK AND UNPLUG THE COMPUTER,
84. - SAY NO,
85. - TAKE A MINI-VACATION,
86. - RECONNECT WITH SOMEONE SPECIAL,
87. - EAT COMFORT FOOD,
88. - REMEMBER OTHERS WHO HAD A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SIBLING,
89. - SCHEDULE SOMETHING THAT GIVES YOU PLEASURE EACH AND EVERY DAY,
90. - TEACH OTHERS ABOUT GRIEF AND MOURNING,
91. - MEDITATE,
92. - CREATE A SANCTUARY JUST FOR YOU,
93. - SLEEP TIGHT,
94. - VISIT THE CEMETERY OR SCATTERING SITE,
95. - TAKE SOME TIME OFF WORK,
96. - LET GO OF DESTRUCTIVE MYTHS ABOUT GRIEF AND MOURNING,
97. - GET AWAY FROM IT ALL,
98. - REASSESS YOUR PRIORITIES,
99. - UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF "RECONCILIATION",
100. - BELIEVE IN YOUR CAPACITY TO HEAL AND GROW THROUGH GRIEF,
A FINAL WORD,
THE MOURNER'S CODE,
SEND US YOUR IDEAS FOR HEALING THE ADULT SIBLING'S GRIEVING HEART!,
ALSO BY ALAN WOLFELT,