“To lose a sibling is to lose the one person with whom one shares a lifelong bond that is meant to continue on into the future.”
— John Corey Whaley
Sibling Loss is a Disenfranchised Loss
“Siblings may be ambivalent about their relationships in life, but in death the power of their bond strangles the surviving heart. Death reminds us that we are part of the same river, the same flow from the same source, rushing towards the same destiny. Were you close? Yes, but we didn’t know it then.” — Barbara Ascher
It’s a bit odd that sibling loss is not discussed more. 80-88% of people across the world have siblings. The relationship with siblings is supposed to be the longest one in our lives (from birth or childhood until old age). And, sibling relationships become more important as people age as siblings are often taking care of and mourning parents together, as marriages or other relationships fail, as children grow up, and as siblings become widowed, divorced, etc.
While the quality of those relationships vary and have been study, the fact remains that it is most likely at least one sibling will outlive their siblings. Yet, sibling grief and loss is a misunderstood concept for adults who have lost a sibling.
As such, siblings often feel misunderstood or invalidated in their losses of their sibling and so many secondary losses resulting from the loss of the sibling. We are working to change that while also supporting the many grieving siblings around the world.
Disenfranchised Grievers or Disenfranchised Loss
Sibling loss is often referred to as disenfranchised loss and sibling loss survivors are often called disenfranchised grievers. What does that mean?
What Disenfranchised Loss is:
Disenfranchised grief was first described by Dr. Ken Doka in 1989. According to Dr. Doka, it is grief that isn’t recognized, not able to be mourned publicly, or supported socially. Disenfranchised grievers are those who do not have the perceived right to grieve. Siblings are often not supported by others in their grief and are told to focus on the grief of their parents (if they are living) or on their sibling’s kids or partner. Others often unwittingly don’t realize siblings even grieve or mourn their siblings, invalidating the loss or the impact it has on a grieving sibling.
What it is not:
It is not just forgotten, merely unnoticed, or hidden in some way. So, while grieving siblings are sometimes called “Forgotten Mourners,” this idoes not really align with Dr. Ken Doka’s conceptualization of disenfranchised grief.
How are sibling loss survivors disenfranchised?
Originally, Dr. Doka described three ways that grief or grievers can be disenfranchised. He has since expanded the concept to include five ways. Let’s look at these from a sibling loss perspective.
The first type is when the relationship isn’t recognized. Usually the sibling relationship is recognized. However, in sibling grief can be disenfranchised if the relationship is estranged or if the sibling is a step- or half- sibling. There are other ways this could be unrecognized. The second type is the loss isn’t recognized. In most cases, sibling loss doesn’t fit neatly here as the loss is recognized as a loss itself but it falls more under the third type of loss, when the griever isn’t recognized. This type is where siblings are asked how their parents, the kids, the partners, etc. are doing but are not seen as grievers.
Dr. Doka added two other types of disenfranchisement to these original three. The fourth type is when there is stigma attached to the death often because of circumstances of or way someone died such as suicide or addiction. For many sibling loss survivors this also fits. This type makes seeking help difficult as the circumstances or associated stigma may complicate perceptions, biases, & interactions – even with some helping professionals. It also includes exploration of emotions and reactions that are not aligned with what society expects. For example, relief, peace, anger…
Lastly, the fifth type of disenfranchised grief is when the griever’s grief process doesn’t align with the norms of their society or culture.
In any of these cases, bereaved siblings who are disenfranchised grievers for one reason or another quite often experience significant impact of their disenfranchisementon their well-being. The impact may be long term and may result in unresolved emotions, isolation, guilt & shame, feelings of invisibility, avoidance or suppression of grief, depression, and/or anxiety. They may have difficulty incorporating their loss into life.
If you feel disenfranchised in your sibling loss, The Broken Pack™ wants you to know that you aren’t alone and we recognize you, your loss, and your grief.
Be sure to check out our podcast to hear stories of other surviving sibling loss!