Sibling Survivor Guilt

I was trolling the interweb looking for possible new topics to blog about, and I cam across this article called, “Sibling Survivor Guilt: What It Is, How It Works,” by Bob Baugher, Ph.D, and thought it was an important read (and even more important to share).

Mr. Baugher lists the common types of sibling grief, and I’ve added my 2 cents:

Being alive. Knowing that your brother or sister will never experience life again while you continue to live day after day may bring guilt feelings. You can’t understand why your sibling’s life was cut short and you continue to live.

  • JD: This is a big one for me. She was (is?) only 18, and will never get to experience so much of what life has to offer; legally being able to drink, getting married, having babies, etc… I will never have children who will know their Aunt Jen. This sorta ties into my post about Lost Dreams. Plus, I know I will never know why she was taken so young, and I shouldn’t dwell on it, but why, oh why, did God take her so young?

Surpassing the age he/she was. Survivor guilt can be especially difficult when you reach and surpass the age to which your sibling lived. Every day you live beyond that date may somehow feel strange, unfair, or even a relief.

  • JD: This isn’t an issue for me, as I am the older sister, but I do worry about when I turn 41, and I will officially have been alive more years without Jen, then with her.

Using his/her things. For some bereaved siblings, using items that belonged to their deceased brother or sister brings comfort and produces feelings of closeness. Others report that using items brings feelings of unworthiness. When an item inevitably wears out or becomes unusable, you may feel badly that yet another piece of your brother or sister has faded from use. Other people may not understand this significance.

  • JD: This is so true for me on so many levels. I do like using Jen’s stuff wearing her clothes and shoes. I wore one of her hoodies on my birthday, wear her shoes (when they fit), and cherish the shoes she gave to me even more. Even things I bought that remind me of her (my sparkly converse) are extra special. But when Louie chewed up a pair of Jen’s uggs that I borrowed, I had a breakdown, and cried while holding the pieces of ugg. I saved every little piece that he chewed up and keep them in my jewelry box. For the longest time I kept an old conditioner bottle that Jen bought, and only used that particular conditioner on special occasions. 

Doing things he/she never got a chance to do. This is a quite common source of survivor guilt and it becomes especially poignant when you see the look on your parents’ face that says, “I wish your brother/sister could have done this or been here for this.”

  • JD: I don’t think that this has hit me yet, and my parents and family don’t say things like that. I do know I will be upset when I get married, knowing that she will never has that opportunity.

Experiencing pleasure. Here you are enjoying yourself at a party, on vacation, at the beach, the movies, or out to dinner and suddenly it hits you: “How can I be having fun like this when she can never do this again?” Friends may notice your sudden change of mood, but you may not want to tell them for fear of spoiling their fun.

  • JD: Oh yes, this happens all the time. I can be out with friends having dinner, and they say something about their own sister, and I just sit there, and zone out. I think, “I will never get to help my sister move into an apartment,” or, “I will never have to pick Nif up from a part again,” or, “She can’t come help me pick out a wedding dress.”

Seeing your loved ones cry. One of the most difficult aspects of death is watching those around you grieve the loss and realizing there is not much you can do to ease their pain. You may have had the awkward experience of standing there and having the desire to say, “Hey, I’m still here!” You feel guilty for standing there, being alive, and realizing your existence has little effect on easing your loved ones grief.

  • JD: I don’t like seeing people cry. Even worse, I don’t like seeing my family cry. I know there is nothing I can do, and that feeling of helplessness is terrible. All I can offer is a warm hug and a soft kiss on the head, and hope that helps.

Taking risks you shouldn’t. If you are or were a normal adolescent, you engaged in activities you knew were unsafe. However, because of your brother or sister’s death, you also know better than most of your friends that a young person can die and leave their family devastated. Yet, there you were, taking risks and feeling guilt as a result.

  • JD: This is so far from me. I’m not a risk taker. I’m very cautious, borderline paranoid, and know all too well the consequences.

Feeling like it should have been you. This is another common one, especially when you are feeling down on yourself or when your parents have criticized you. If you are having thoughts such as these it is very important that you call a friend, a counselor, your parents, the crisis center, or some other person who can listen to you. These are thoughts that may indicate you are depressed

  • JD: I think anyone who says they didn’t feel like this at one time or another is a liar. Very early on, I thought that maybe had it been me, it would be easier on everyone, and wouldn’t have effected so many people, and as a result, making it easier on family and friends. But quickly,I realized that no loss is ever easy on anyone.

Not doing enough to keep his memory alive. Here you are going through the course of your day, when it hits you that you have not been thinking of him/her. Or you find that you aren’t remembering some of the ways he did things. Then you kick yourself for “forgetting”. Do you realize that you will never forget your brother or sister? One way to help with this guilt issue is to begin writing down all your memories. If you’re not a writer, then talk into a tape recorder. It’s a great way to ease this aspect of survivor guilt: stories are the way we best remember.

  • JD: YES! YES! YES! I hate when I feel like I forgot, even if it is for a split second. This always happens when I want to text Jen, or I sneak into her room as to not wake her up. But, as Dr. Baugher said, I did start writing, and I feel like that helps. So many songs remind me of her, and I try and think of little things to show she is still remembered, like always having flowers on Jen’s Bench, or eating her favorite foods.

Not living up to his/her standards. Someone said it well years ago, “The dead have it easy-we are reluctant to say bad things about them and, unlike us, they make no further mistakes in their life.” In other words, your brother/sister was a hard act to follow. So, you feel more guilt because you are not this ideal person. Your challenge is to live up to your own realistic standards and allow yourself to make mistakes.

  • JD: Jen was always a hard act to follow; I’ve always said that. She’s beautiful, thin, long hair, popular; all the characteristics I’ve longed for but never had. She was always doings something fantastic, and her success was tangible, while mine was not. She constantly won at twirling competitions, and has hundreds of trophies to show it. My good grades only came with a star sticker or a spot on the fridge. But, between Jen and myself, I don’t want to to anything to jeopardize her name. I don’t want to be know as, “That’s Jennifer’s sister and she did XYZ.” That would break my heart.

Well, that was productive. Glad to know that my feelings are normal, and once again, helps me realize that I am still on the right track with my grief.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Daddy
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 13:04:53

    I love you Jacqueline !!!! Daddy


  2. Trackback: Sibling Survivor Guilt | Kids say :
  3. Sharon A. Kelly
    Oct 17, 2011 @ 14:04:48

    Thanks for sharing your heart Jacqueline! You’re such a blessing to so many. Would you mind if I shared this blog with some of my Compassionate Friends who have lost siblings? They may really find this helpful. I will make sure you get the credit for it or it you’d rather could leave it anonymous. Love you sweetie!


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