Young People Ask
What if My Sibling Has Committed Suicide?
Karen’s life changed the day her father broke the news. “Sheila’s gone” was all he could say. Karen and her dad fell into each other’s arms, both trying to make sense out of an utterly senseless act. Karen’s sister had taken her own life.*
WHEN a young person dies, well-meaning comforters often focus attention on the parents. They ask the brothers or sisters of the deceased, “How are your dad and mom coping?” but they might forget to ask, “How are you coping?” It’s for good reason, then, that surviving siblings have been called forgotten mourners.
Research shows that the death of a sibling has a profound impact on young ones. “Such a major loss adversely affects surviving children’s health, behavior, schoolwork, self-esteem, and development,” writes Dr. P. Gill White in her book Sibling Grief—Healing After the Death of a Sister or Brother.
Older youths are affected too. Karen, mentioned above, was 22 years old when Sheila, her younger sister, took her life. Nevertheless, at times her grief seemed unbearable. “I can’t claim that I suffered more than my parents,” she says, “but I think I was less able to deal with the suffering than they were.”
Have you, like Karen, lost a sibling in death? If so, you may feel as did the psalmist David, who wrote: “I have become disconcerted, I have bowed low to an extreme degree; all day long I have walked about sad.” (Psalm 38:6) How can you cope with your grief?
“If Only . . .”
The suicide of a brother or sister can leave you racked with guilt. ‘If only I had done things differently, my sibling would still be alive,’ you might tell yourself. It may seem that there’s evidence to support that thought. Chris, who was 21 when his 18-year-old brother took his life, believed that. “I was the last person to speak to my brother,” he says, “so I thought that I should have known that something was up. I reasoned that if only I had been more approachable, he might have opened up and talked to me.”
The despair Chris felt was intensified by the fact that he and his brother had had a strained relationship. “The note he left said that I could have been a better brother,” Chris recalls with great pain. “Even though I know he wasn’t well, that thought continues to plague me.” Often, such guilt is further fueled by memories of bitter words that were exchanged with a sibling before he or she died. “Many bereaved siblings have told me that the guilt they feel over a fight they had months or even years ago continues to torment them,” Dr. White, quoted earlier, told Awake!
If you suffer from guilt over a sibling’s suicide, ask yourself this, ‘What human is granted full control over the actions of another human?’ Says Karen, “The suffering that the person was trying to escape—and the horrible way that he or she ended it—were not yours to prevent.”
But what if you cannot seem to forget insensitive or harsh remarks you once made to your sibling? The Bible can help you to put things in perspective. It states: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (James 3:2; Psalm 130:3) Really, dwelling on incidents in which you feel you spoke to or treated your sibling harshly will only intensify your grief. Painful as those memories may be, the fact remains that you did not cause your sibling to die.*
Coping With Grief
No two people grieve in precisely the same way. Some shed tears openly, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Bible reports that David “wept with a very great weeping” after the death of his son Amnon. (2 Samuel 13:36) Even Jesus “gave way to tears” when he saw the distress caused by the death of his friend Lazarus.—John 11:33-35.
On the other hand, some do not mourn immediately—especially when death has occurred suddenly. “My feelings seemed frozen,” recalls Karen. “I pretty much stopped functioning for a while.” Such a reaction is quite common when a sibling takes his or her life. “Suicide is traumatic,” Dr. White told Awake!, “and you have to deal with the trauma before the grief. Some professional caregivers try to get survivors to cry and mourn when they’re not ready. They’re still numb with shock.”
Coming to terms with your sibling’s death will take time, and that’s understandable considering what has happened. “Our family is like a vase that has been shattered and then glued back together,” says Chris. “We now seem more prone to ‘crack’ under softer pressure.” To help you cope with the situation, try the following:
▪ Keep a list of comforting Bible passages, and refer to them at least once each day.—Psalm 94:19.
▪ Reach out to a compassionate confidant. Talking things out may well lighten your load.—Proverbs 17:17.
▪ Meditate on the Bible’s promise of a resurrection.—John 5:28, 29.
You might also find that keeping a journal—at least for a time—will help you put your grief in perspective. Why not use the box below as an exercise?
Be assured that “God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20) He knows better than any human the factors and circumstances that may have contributed to your sibling’s distressed state. He also knows you—better than you know yourself. (Psalm 139:1-3) Thus, you can be confident that he understands what you are going through. When your grief seems overwhelming, recall the words of Psalm 55:22: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.”
Comfort for Those Who Are Grieving
For more information on coping with the death of a loved one, see the brochure When Someone You Love Dies, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
More articles from the “Young People Ask” series can be found at the Web site www.watchtower.org/ype
Names in this article have been changed.
It is similar when death results from illness or accident. No matter how much you loved your sibling, you have little or no control over “time and unforeseen occurrence.”—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
TO THINK ABOUT
▪ Who could you talk to if your feelings seem overwhelming?
▪ How could you be of support to a youth who is grieving?
[Box on page 20]
Putting your thoughts in writing can be a great aid in coping with grief. With that in mind, complete the statements and answer the questions that follow.
▪ These are three pleasant memories I have of my sibling:
▪ This is what I wish I could have said to my sibling while he or she was alive:
▪ What would you tell a younger child who blames himself (or herself) for a sibling’s death?
▪ Which of the following scriptures do you find most comforting, and why?
□ “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”—Psalm 34:18.
□ “He has neither despised nor loathed the affliction of the afflicted one; and he has not concealed his face from him, and when he cried to him for help he heard.”—Psalm 22:24.
□ “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his [Jesus’] voice and come out.”—John 5:28, 29.