Hidden Grief Can't Heal:
Making Space for Grief & Loss
“It’s okay to be vulnerable”, “Don’t hide your hurt”, “Your authenticity is your power”
I say these things to my clients, and now I am saying to myself so I can effectively write this blog, both as a therapist and as a sibling in decades-long mourning. Ive learned that, in sibling loss, there exists a weight that extends beyond the individual’s own sorrow. It is the overwhelming sadness and helplessness that comes as we witness our parents carry the unbearable grief of the loss of a child. The heaviness of this experience adds an extra layer of complexity, one that tugs at the heartstrings with a depth that words can scarcely capture.
Giving Empathy While Grieving
Grief becomes a dance of duality. On one hand, you grapple with your own emotions, and on the other hand, you try to alleviate the sorrow of your parents or other sibling(s). Initially, many families try not to “share” the shared grief, and instead, make every effort to heal each other first. The dynamic between parent and child undergoes a transformation, as roles intertwine and the line between comforter and comforted blurs. There is no respite to offer, often leading to efforts of shielding each other from seeing any more pain. But, grief can’t heal when hidden away in corners and crevices; eventually, it finds it’s way out.
Amidst this fusion of sorrow, try to remember that you too deserve the time and space demanded by grief. As empathy intertwines with personal grief, the opportunity for shared healing may arise. It is a delicate balance, learning to navigate the tightrope of self-care while extending love and compassion to loved ones.
Loss felt through the stages of life
The bond between siblings is a profound and lifelong connection, and the loss of a sibling disrupts the future that was once imagined together. Some aspects that make sibling grief distinct include:
- Shared History: Siblings often share unique memories and a deep understanding of one another, making the loss feel even more profound.
- Unfulfilled Roles and Expectations: Sibling loss robs individuals of the future they envisioned, including unfulfilled roles as confidants, supporters, and lifelong companions.
- Parental Focus: In the aftermath of sibling loss, parents may be consumed by their own grief, leaving surviving siblings feeling overlooked or neglected in their own grieving process.
Excercises for Processing Grief
- Gather photographs, mementos, and meaningful items that remind you of your loved one.
- Create a collage or visual representation of your memories together, arranging the items in a way that feels meaningful to you.
- Spend time reflecting on the memories and emotions that arise as you engage with the collage.
- Find a quiet and comfortable space to sit and reflect on your feelings.
- Write a heartfelt letter to your loved one, expressing your thoughts, emotions, and anything you wish to share.
- After writing the letter, take a moment to sit with your feelings, and allow the emotions to be “given” to the paper.
Drawing & Creativity
- Using art and expressive, creative therapist can facilitate communication, help increase awareness of feelings, and help to identify areas of mourning that may need more support.
- “Free Drawing” or “Open Expression” allows for coping, and expression, absent from having to “find the right words”.
Ritual of Remembrance:
- Choose a meaningful date or create a new annual ritual.
- Plan a special activity or ceremony that reflects your loved ones interests or your shared experiences.
- Engage in the ritual, dedicating this time to remember, celebrate, and cherish the bond you shared.
Therapy can be immensely beneficial in helping individuals cope with grief. Some therapeutic approaches that may assist in the healing process include Individual Therapy, Family Therapy, Support Groups, Expressive Therapies and other creative interventions. Remember, it’s important to give yourself time, space and compassion during your healing process.