Surviving the Death of a Sibling: Living through Grief When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies by T.J. Wray
Harmony, 2003, 247 pages
There are a whole lot of reasons I don’t want to do this review. I lost my brother to injuries sustained in a car crash in July 2016 and quickly discovered that there are almost no resources for grieving siblings. There are a few Facebook support groups, some hidden in-person groups if you’re lucky, a handful of articles written by people who have probably experienced the death of a sibling but aren’t professionals, and a few obscure books, some of which focus more on being a memoir than on being of use to a grieving sibling. T.J. Wray’s experience losing her own adult brother brought her to write Surviving the Death of a Sibling. The book came highly recommended on the two or three Facebook support groups I’m in and I’d come across it in my search for some kind of literature that would offer practical advice and comfort. So, I read it, and here I am to review it, because I think it’s important we discuss and promote what resources are out there because they are so few.
Wray has a background in religious studies, which may automatically turn some readers off. However, I found the presence of religion to be light in the book, which generally uses the famous stages of grief to move through its content. Although faith of various kinds pop up now and then, Wray does not push any kind of religious agenda nor insist that religion is the way through grief. Her background contributes, however, in making her especially sensitive to the counseling needs of others. Although she experienced her own sibling’s death, she always recognizes the circumstances of other grieving siblings may be very different from her own, and therefore they may find X, Y, Z, or some other, undefined strategy more helpful than what she herself found to be a useful tactic in her process.
For example, while Wray had the benefit of having other siblings to share and understand her grief (although they grieved differently, which caused other challenges), she notes that plenty of siblings suddenly find themselves only children and struggle with that identity, if that is how they choose to view the shift in their life. In other passages, Wray emphasizes that some siblings have the ability to say goodbye, while others do not. She notes this can cause those who watch their siblings pass from illness to go through more than one grieving process (speaking simply, with acknowledgment that the “grief process” isn’t a process in that it eventually comes to an end — it is, in fact, ongoing and evolving rather than something that can ever be considered “finished”), but she also appreciates that many siblings would gladly go through that pain for the chance to say goodbye. Ultimately, Wray’s sensitivity to variables is part of what makes the book so relevant.
Over and over again, I found myself nodding or even stopping to cry when a particularly accurate passage appeared. Wray hits on so many of the things that not only have I felt, but that I’ve seen expressed in the Facebook support groups again and again. Probably most prevalent is the frustration of having the sibling’s grief considered to be disenfranchised. While family, friends, acquaintances, and so on regularly ask siblings how their parents are responding to the tragedy, many forget that the sibling, too, is grieving, and not only this, but has lost a significant part of their past, present, and future.
Wray explains that siblings are often the one constant thing in a person’s life. No one else has quite as similar experiences as our siblings. No one else had our parents or grew up in our home. No one else shares private memories of events at which only the two of you were present. And it’s painful to confront the realization that you are now the sole keeper of these memories and experiences. Maybe you haven’t yet gotten your first “real” job, been married, had children, bought a house — whatever big life events matter to you — and your sibling will not be there to witness them. You’ve lost not only your past, someone with whom to reminisce, but also a part of your future. And any of the events they might have witnessed for you, you may now miss out on witnessing for them.
Earlier chapters of the book are filled with concrete advice readers can put into place in their own lives, particularly for the days immediately following the sibling’s death. Practical advice on funeral arrangements and such are especially useful, though I don’t know that anyone quite has the mind to read in those few free moments during the time of funeral planning.
Wray provides examples not only from her own life, but from a number of interviews she conducted for her research. Ages, causes of death, and other circumstances are varied in these examples, ensuring that readers will find at least a few anecdotes that apply specifically to them. These quotes help to not only offer a source of familiarity of situation but also contribute to the relaxed style of the book. Early on, Wray pledges to write in a style that isn’t overly complicated or burdensome. She recognizes that the reader is probably already overwhelmed and does not need a book full of complex sentence structures and words in the moment. This doesn’t stop the prose from being interesting and engaging, however. Wray is gifted at writing in such a way that holds the attention without drowning the reader.
One drawback I found was outdated resources referenced in the book. A jewelry maker, for example, who does memorial pieces was mentioned in the text and again in the appendix. When I sought out the resource online, I found the jeweler was apparently no longer in business or else known by something else. While I didn’t visit all of the listed resources, I imagine others are now outdated as there has not been a new edition of the book since it was originally published in 2003. (Consequently, I’m hoping to put together a resource list in the next few months.)
Wray’s writing is clear and sympathetic without being pitying. She recognizes the many emotions that come along with being a part of this “club” and offers what wisdom she has gathered over the years since her brother’s death to those who have been grieving for years as well as those who have been grieving for hours or days. If you are a grieving sibling or care about a grieving sibling and wish to better understand their new normal, Surviving the Death of a Sibling is a great place to start.
❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤