Navigating Sibling Loss

By: Niki Incorvia 

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

I have known people throughout my life who lost a sibling for one reason or another – illness, car crash, suicide – and always felt immense empathy for these individuals. They thought they would have a counterpart throughout life and then that was suddenly brought to an abrupt halt. I never thought I would be one of those people – until I lost my younger brother, Alex, when I was 30 years old; he was 26 at the time. He was the youngest sibling of the three of us.

It left my sister and I confused as we now had new roles within our family. My sister was suddenly the youngest and I was no longer the oldest to both a sister and a brother. My relationship with my brother, and my father for that matter, defined me as part of who I was. When I was in college, from ages 18 – 24, I lived with just my brother and father and learned so much from those connections that it helped me have a smoother time with my future romantic relationships with men.

My closeness with my brother also defined my sense of humor since we found most of the same things funny, a lot of my fashion choices because we liked similar colors, and overall my role as advisor and confidante to him. My sister and I had a different dynamic, and she also had a different relationship with Alex, so her grief journey after our brother died was unlike mine in a number of different ways. That’s the poignant thing about losing a sibling, a lot of the time, another sibling or even a parent can’t relate to the particular grief you are experiencing because their own experiences and relationship with the deceased are so dissimilar from your own.

From my perspective, I think this can work in two ways. I think, on the positive side, it can really highlight your own individual relationship with the person you lost; however, it can also leave you feeling isolated in your grief. For me, I was the last person in my family to see my brother, I was his emergency contact, I lived within 2 minutes of him, I also spoke with him more often than my sister so our feelings regarding our loss, after he was killed, were very different, and we began different journeys to try to make sense of his death. 

I also found it interesting how we required different things right after we learned of his murder. My sister wanted to go to the place where he was found, whereas I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I was actually scared in a way, because it was too much of a shock to me since I had just seen him a week earlier. I wanted to know more about the person who took my brother’s life, and my sister didn’t have much interest in that. 

What these past seven years have taught me is that when you lose a sibling, and that sibling is also someone else’s sibling, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you share the same experiences or sadness. In fact, it can be quite different for those who shared that loss. People require different things to navigate their lives after a murder and in the case of people who are members of the same family, that’s no different.

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