Four years ago today my sister Dorothy died in a car accident.
As long-time readers of BSD know, this was doubly horrific for our family, as my father was killed in a virtually identical accident in September of 2000. From statistics I was able to hunt up on this, only 39 families a year in the United States suffer the experience of losing a family member in a second unrelated car accident after previously having lost a family member in a car accident.
What happened is… indescribable. Her death was a terrible shock and loss for all of us–her husband, her children, my mother, our siblings, our spouses and children and all our related family and friends.
I miss Dorothy every single day. I always will.
One of the most helpful sources I’ve found, following Dorothy’s death, of practical, down-to-earth support and advice is T. J. Wray’s 2003 book, Surviving the Death of a Sibling.
I wasn’t sure at first, when I recently found this book, if I even wanted to read it. However, I was hooked when I read on the fourth page, “The sad fact is this: When an adult loses a brother or a sister, society often fails to recognize the depth of such a loss. Witness what I call dismissive condolences, offered by well-intentioned but sorely misguided friends, acquaintances, family members, and coworkers: “Well, you lived in different states, so you probably weren’t very close.” Or “Thank goodness it wasn’t your husband or one of your children.” And “Your brother/sister died? How awful! How are your parents?”
Whoa. I had heard every single one of those condolences myself, offered by well-meaning individuals after my sister died! And it had bothered me tremendously, although at the time I couldn’t explain why. You know what? After reading this book, now I know why! “Intellectually,” Ms. Wray writes, “we may understand that people mean well; they’re attempting to be helpful and to offer comfort to us in our sorrow. Yet dismissive condolences have the opposite effect. They make our loss seem trivial, and they also make the surviving sibling feel as if his or her grief is somehow unwarranted.”
Eureka! That’s it exactly.
While Ms. Wray is a faculty member at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, this book isn’t a dry academic study written by a detached observer. Instead, the book came about after she herself lost her adult brother, and found little or no information or support anywhere to help her deal with the loss.
It’s a one-of-a-kind book. It offers practical, nuts-and-bolts advice on what helps — and what doesn’t help — when dealing with the loss of a sibling. It’s written primarily for the mourner but it’s also a great guide for anyone who has a friend or acquaintance who has lost a sibling.
If you’ve lost an adult sibling, or know someone who has, this is the book I’d recommend.
For more information about the book, and a forum on adult sibling loss, you can check out Ms. Wray’s website on adult sibling grief.
If you’re a member of Bookshare, you can get an accessible copy of the book here.
For everyone else, here’s the book information. Surviving the Death of a Sibling, by T. J. Wray. Published by Three Rivers Press, copyright 2003. It’s 247 pages in length, and available in paperback and Kindle editions. Amazon.com also has a sneak peak of the contents. Surviving the Death of a Sibling does not contain any explicit sex, graphic violence or strong language, but the material is written specifically for adults, about death and loss.
–This post dedicated to the memory of Dorothy Michalek, September 7, 1946 – February 27, 2007.