An Untimely End to A Significant Bond: Grieving the Death of a Sibling

“To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time” (Clara Ortega).

Sibling relationships are a special bond, unlike any other. A Sibling relationship is the one relationship that can truly last an entire lifetime. In the book, The Sibling Bond, authors Michael Kahn and Stephen Bank discuss the realities of the sibling relationship including its depth and significance to our development as individual selves. Our siblings are our confidants, playmates, supporters, sources of frustration; sources from which we learn to navigate confrontation, anger, and even repair relationships. We learn how to navigate emotions and interact with others and the world partly through our sibling relationships. Siblings are the only relatives, and perhaps the only people you’ll ever know, who are with you through the entire arc of your life” (Jeffrey Kluger, The Sibling Effect).


On Siblings

It is staggering to think of the many meaningful ways siblings affect our whole lives. Their affect on us, positive or negative, is deeply etched in our hearts and minds. We share secrets, compete with each other, and feel the joy of their successes and the pain of their struggles and loss.

I love to think back on the great talks I’ve had with my brother and sister about my dreams and the moments of giggling we shared when talking about some of the mischievous behaviors of our youth. I wish these times would never end and that there’d be many more years ahead of us for building memories together.

Sadly, for some of us, the time with a sibling ends too soon. I remember when I found out my only brother, Ram, died on July 4, 2002 in a fatal car accident in which he was a passenger. He was only 20 at the time. I will never forget my dad’s voice yelling early in the morning when he received the news from a cop and coroner at our front door.  Ashwini, Ashwini!! Ram died! He’s dead!

I ran downstairs and saw my mom and dad on the floor crying as the cop and the coroner stood nearby. Ram had died. I couldn’t believe it. No way, he was just here 6 hours ago. He’s going to walk through that door any minute; I know it!

Unfortunately, he never did walk through the door again. My older brother was gone. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

The Journey Through Grief

My journey through grief, like many others, began at the funeral. I spoke at my brother’s funeral. So many people loved Ram. They were all there. Their love and support of my family and me gave me hope, as I continued to grieve and experience some very new emotions.

Throughout the grieving process, the surviving siblings will go through a range of emotions. Sadness, sorrow and anger almost always accompany the loss of a loved one and are part of coming to terms with the death. Also, feelings of guilt often accompany such a loss. This type of guilt is referred to as sibling survivor guilt that can take many forms. We may have guilt that we have a chance to live our whole lives but our sibling does not. We may also feel guilty about conflicts with our deceased loved one; things we said or did that, now, we wish we could take back. We may even feel guilty that somehow we played a role in their death, even when facts do not bear this out.

There are even more types of guilt we can experience, after the death of a sibling. Bob Baugher Ph.D, (psychologist, professor and specialist on death) has written much about sibling survivor guilt (; Understanding Guilt During Bereavement[DK1] ). Take for example, for several years after my brother’s death, I felt guilt related to specific events that occurred between Ram and me.

  • Could I have been a better brother?( I think I could have been better but I’m human, right?)
  • Wasn’t I allowed to be angry with him for things he had said/done? A few years before Ram died, we had an argument., I told my dad that it would be easier if my brother were dead. This statement haunted me for several years after his death. What if God did this, because I said that? Now I have to live with what I said. Does dad remember what I said and does he hate me now?
  • On past anniversaries of his death, I wondered, is it okay that I’m not sad right now? I should be sad that he’s not here. Am I honoring him enough?

Naturally, with time, effort, and guidance/support, I gradually began to recover from the loss. In time, my guilt and seemingly unending sorrow and sadness subsided too.

The recovery process is not an easy road; you will come across roadblocks, dead ends, twists, turns, and stops. But, continue to persevere, connect to your emotions, and open yourself up to the care and support from loved ones, and you will find your way to the other side. There is no “right way” in the recovery process. We each journey through grief in our own way.

There is a wonderful book by author Susan A. Barger, The Five Ways We Grieve, that highlights the various ways people grieve the death of a loved one. She helps us to identify the specific way in which we are grieving and the process we must go through to make our way through it.

While learning to live life without our sibling, we need to get support from family, friends, and professionals, if needed, to help us to heal and recover. This is a difficult task that may involve a change in the way we view our selves, others, and the world. We may question who we are, who we want to be, and what we want in life. After my brother’s death, I questioned my entire world. Is there a God? If so, why was my brother taken away from us? Am I studying in college the subject that I want to study or am I trying to fulfill my parent’s wishes? Am I, at this moment, who I want to be? Will I ever see my brother in my dreams so I can tell him I miss him and love him? How am I going to get through this? Who can I count on to help me through this?  

Seeking support is crucial to the recovery process. It is important to speak with someone about our loss. There are many people out there who can support us through the grief process. We can reach out to family and friends, which can be very comforting. However, we may need the kind of support that only a professional can provide. This is where a mental health professional or grief counselor will be extremely helpful in the process of accepting the reality of our loss, finding our way of grieving, and gradually moving towards a reconnection with yourself and others.

Though my friends were extremely supportive and helpful to my grieving process, I initially began to isolate myself from them. I remember some nights of sitting alone in my apartment and crying in the dark. I was in so much pain and missed my brother so much. It was after this, and having a talk with my sister, that I decided to seek further support and guidance from a professional.

This professional guidance helped me to find my own way of grieving and my own way of honoring my brother. It has now been 11 years since his death. Though I will never forget him, I do not hurt as much as I did in the past. It has gotten better and it can get better for you.

Coping With Sibling Loss Recommendations

  1. Remember that we all grieve differently. The descriptions that I provided of my experience may not resemble yours. That’s absolutely fine! You will find your own process of coming to terms with the loss and reconnecting with yourself and others.
  2. Reach out for support. Though it may be hard to do, reach out to those close to you. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that or feel that you need more than others can offer, seek out the support of a psychologist or grief counselor. PsychologyToday and APALocator are two resources you can use to find mental health/behavioral health professionals in your area. You can also go through your insurance. If you are a family member or friend trying to support someone who has experienced a loss, please refer to and for some tips on coping with death.
  3. Let yourself experience the ups and downs. This is normal. Some days will be better than others. Allow yourself to experience the emotions, however, it is also important to develop a plan for times you are feeling especially upset. What can you do for yourself on those days? What are some things you enjoy doing that will help you ease the pain? This can be anything you want it to be—writing, exercise, reading—anything!
  4. Seek professional help, if needed. If you begin to have thoughts, like you wish to die or just sleep forever, immediately seek out professional help. You can also go to your nearest hospital emergency room, for immediate help.

Also, although everyone recovers in their own way and time, it is true that some people’s grief is complicated by other emotional and environmental factors. Long-standing mood disorders, unresolved personality conflicts, little to no social network, and alcohol and drug addiction can completely stop grieving and the recovery process, so that we are standing still in time. This is a clinical disorder called complicated bereavement and grief and definitely requires the help of a mental health professional.

Losing your sibling is very painful, indeed. But, you can get to the other side by finding your own way to grieve and learning how to integrate the meaning of the loss into your whole life. I came across a poem called Miss Me, But Let Me Go that I wanted to share with you today.

“When I come to the end of the road and the sun has set for me, I want no tears in a gloom-filled room; Why cry for a soul set free? Miss me a little–But not for long and not with your head bowed low. Remember, the love that we once shared; Miss me–But, let me go. For this is a journey we all must take, And each must go alone, It’s all a part of the Master’s plan, A step on the road to home. When you are lonely and sick of heart, Go to your friends that we know, And bury your sorrows in doing good works, Miss me–But let me go.”

I hope you liked my post today. If so, please let me know by selecting the Like icon that follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 today’s post to let your family and friends know about it. Dr. Ash


About Dr. Ashwini Lal

Dr. Ashwini Lal is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in the state of California. He obtained his undergraduate degree in Psychology and Social Behavior from the University of California, Irvine. He obtained his Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago with a concentration in Health Psychology. He completed his APA accredited pre-doctoral internship at the Northport Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center. He has trained and worked in different hospitals (County, State, Veterans affairs) and in the university health setting. He was most recently working as a Staff Psychologist in the university health center at Stanford University and left to relocate back to Southern California to work at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Dr. Lal has experience working with a variety of clinical presentations and is most passionate about working with adolescents and adults struggling with mood and anxiety disorders, those who have experienced loss, those struggling with adjusting to various life events/transitions, and those dealing with issues of coming out and identity development. Dr. Lal uses an integrative approach to psychotherapy that involves increasing an individual’s awareness into factors contributing to their current struggles and working collaboratively with individuals to increase his/her/their ability to manage current symptoms. Increasing symptom management will provide the individual with immediate symptom relief while allowing for the therapist and the patient to work collaboratively to gain an in-depth understanding of the patient’s struggles. This increased awareness will lead to long term improvement and increased life satisfaction.

9 Responses to “An Untimely End to A Significant Bond: Grieving the Death of a Sibling”

  1. avatar Dr. Deborah says:

    I love this article Dr. Ash. As you know, I lost my sister Dorothy ten years ago this past holiday season. Your description of the grief and recovery process is so heartfelt and your personal story about losing your eldest brother Ram touches me deeply. This is a blessed post in so many ways. Thank you for talking about this difficult experience and for the special bond between our siblings and us. Warmly Dr. Deborah.

    • avatar Dr. Ashwini Lal says:

      Thank you, Dr. Deborah. I remember you having told me about the loss of your sister. I appreciate your sharing that with me and our readers. As you know, this loss is very difficult and impacts us in so many ways. It’s great to know, however, that our siblings are alive through us and those lives they touched. –Dr. Ash

  2. avatar NASEER AFRIDI says:

    A good post….. I really appreciate the way u conveyed ur message.Though I did not come across such incident, but still I say its a fine move by u sir Ashwini and also thank u Deborah for sharing it on Facebook…

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Naseer, thank you for commenting today. I am sure Dr. Ash will respond himself. But, I wanted to say I’m so pleased about Dr. Ash’s fine article and the way he conveyed his message is so real and heartfelt that it speaks to all of us. Best to you Naseer. Warmly Deborah.

    • avatar Dr. Ashwini Lal says:

      Hello Naseer, thank you for your comment! I appreciate your kind words. I’m so happy with the way the article came out. I am excited to be able to be able to share my experiences with you and those who are following the website. I really do believe that we can all learn to navigate the most painful experiences in a way that allows us to work through the pain and get to the other side. Thank you for reading! –Dr. Ash

  3. avatar Manju says:

    Dear Dr. Lal,

    Reading this article made me reflect back on the moment you called me to let me know Ram had died and the aftermath of the devastation we all faced in losing him. You wrote the article with great eloquence. I am sure if Ram were here, he would be smiling at all you have accomplished. Thank you for writing and sharing this story about our brother in a way that others may learn and grow from the experience we had.


    • avatar Dr. Ashwini Lal says:

      Hello Manju, I very much remember calling you on that day. It was very difficult to tell you that our brother had died. It was such shocking and unbelievable news. I appreciate your kind words about Ram smiling at all that I have accomplished. That means so much to me. I’m very thankful to have such a great sister and I look forward to our continued closeness as the years continue.–Your brother, always, Dr. Ash

  4. avatar Jaya says:

    I lost my only sibling in an accident a few months ago. I don’t even know how to learn to live with it. We were very close and he was my world.

    • avatar Dr. Ashwini Lal says:

      Hello Jaya,

      My apologies on the delayed response. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your sibling. It is very difficult to lose someone we are very close to. I hope that you are able to find support in friends and loved ones. Please remember that it is okay to seek professional help for support. Allow yourself to work through the loss. You will get through this.


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