Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Readers’ Comments About “Aunt Needs Help Dealing With Loss”

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To my readers:

I received several comments about my column, “Aunt Needs Help Dealing With Loss.” Several readers said they were not expecting the focus of my response to be what it was. Other readers shared their personal experiences about the loss of a sibling.

Surprised About the Focus of My Response

The young woman contacting me said that she wanted advice on how to deal with her young niece and nephew, both of whom she described as brats. In my response I suggested that perhaps first and foremost, she needed to focus on herself and how she was dealing, or not dealing, with the loss of her brother.

With regard to my suggesting this particular focus, a reader expressed a common comment I received, “My first reaction was that the solution for this young aunt was to move out of her parents’ house so she wouldn’t have to deal with her niece and nephew. By the time I finished reading the column I realized that the aunt would take her problems with her no matter where she lived.”

Another reader wrote, “Wow! I wasn’t prepared for this column today. I thought it was going to be about correcting the behavior of ‘a bratty niece and nephew’ . . . I agree that it [sibling grieving] is a topic that is not spoken about much and the siblings are often the forgotten mourners.”

Help For the Forgotten Mourners

Several readers who lost siblings shared their experiences; I’ve included excerpts. In reading them, I was reminded that Mister (Fred) Rogers (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) always said that in times of tragedy, “Look for the helpers.”

          A Neighbor Helps

“When I was 8-years-old, my 10-year-old sister was killed by a hit-and-run driver in front of our house. As you can imagine, my parents were devastated. Our house became a very dreary place. My parents cried all the time. I was feeling very alone and abandoned.

“My neighbor, Mrs. Crane (not her real name), the mother of my best friend, knew I was having a hard time, so she ‘adopted’ me by including me in all their family activities. My parents were grateful that Mrs. Crane stepped in and normalized my life. To this day my parents and I are forever grateful to her and her family. She saved me.”

          A Teacher Helps

“I was in junior high when I lost my younger sister to a freak accident . . . I didn’t want to burden my suffering parents with my grief so I put a smile on my face and carried on as best I could. I would say I was doing fine when anyone asked, but I really wasn’t okay. I wasn’t eating and I had horrible nightmares about monsters coming after me.

“One day, several weeks after my sister died, my physical education teacher asked me to stay back and help her put some equipment away. When we finished, she sat me down and said, ‘If you want to talk about it, I’d like to know what your life is like since your sister died.’

“At first I couldn’t even talk. I just sobbed and sobbed. Finally I opened up to her told her everything I was feeling . . . she listened and said she wanted me to know that anytime, if I wanted to talk some more, I should come by myself, or ask the office to get a message to her that I wanted to talk and she would come to me as soon as she could.

“We talked a few more times, or I should say she listened as I talked, and after a few months, I didn’t need to talk with her as much. Over time it was enough for me to know that she would drop everything to be there for me. She is retired now, but even now, all these years later, we are still in touch. Any time I tell her how much I appreciate what she did for me, she says, ‘Go be there for someone else.’”

          A Professional Helps

“When I was in college, my older brother committed suicide. Everyone would say to me, ‘Oh, your poor parents!’ I remember feeling such anger and guilt, especially when someone said something like, ‘Of course you’ll leave college to take care of your parents.’ I remember thinking, ‘My poor parents?! What about poor me?!’

“When I was thinking about moving home to be with my parents, my roommate insisted that I talk with a campus counselor first. I am glad I did. He helped me realize that it didn’t make me a bad daughter for wanting to have my own life away from my grieving parents. He also helped me realize that although my brother had some good qualities, he could be a very difficult person to be around. I felt such relief when the campus counselor said, ‘It sounds like your brother could be a real pain in the ass.’ I felt so supported and understood!”

These siblings’ experiences for dealing with their loss share a common theme: someone stepped in and helped them. It is my hope that each of us will be more aware of and sensitive to the needs of a sibling in his/her time of loss and grief. In our own way, perhaps we can be a helper, either directly, or by pointing someone to appropriate help.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts

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