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Supporting a Sibling in Times of Grief

by Viki Kind, End-of-Life Expert
November 16, 2012

Question: My sister cares for my mother who is close to dying. How can I provide support and help her deal with her sense of grief?

Answer: Thanks for being such a supportive sister.  Don’t be surprised if her grief looks different than yours.  For some people, it can feel like anger, fear, sadness, withdrawal, blaming, guilt, exhaustion, apathy, depression, loneliness, etc.  Not everyone feels all of these and what comforts you may be different for her. 

Here are some ideas for how you can help.  For some people, they will want to grieve privately and don’t feel comfortable crying in front of others.  For this group, they may want to join an online grief support community, journal about the loss, or perhaps go out into nature on a peaceful walk. For those who like to be with others when they are grieving, they may want to join a local support group or to reach out to their faith community. I know for some of my family members, going for a bike ride or playing sports helps them feel better. 

What I tell people who like to read is to go to the library or bookstore, and look at all the different books on grief and loss.  Pick the ones that appeal to you. One of my favorites is Life after Loss. Another way people like to receive comfort and support is through physical touch. If your sister likes physical comfort, hold her hand or give her a hug.  You could also buy her a gift certificate for a massage. 

One other way people like to receive comfort is to be able to talk about their loss and what the person has meant to them. Don’t be surprised if she needs to say the same things over and over. A dear friend of mine told me the same stories about her brother again and again as she processed her grief. 

If your mother is still alive, make sure that each of you has made peace with her the best you can. Being able to say your goodbyes may also help both of your long-term grief. I find that some people have a more difficult time after the loss when the relationship has been strained. If your mother is on hospice, ask the chaplain, social worker, or hospice volunteer for support for both of you.  

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Viki Kind is a clinical bioethicist, professional speaker, and hospice volunteer. Her book, The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can't,” guides families and professionals through the difficult process of advocating for those who can no longer speak for themselves. She has recently launched a DVD that includes a template to create a quality-of-life statement.

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