April 9, 2019

What National Siblings Day taught me about Sibling Loss.


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A shadow of a memory: I’m sitting with my mom on my parents’ bed.

I’m newly three years old.

“Want to feel the baby kick?” she asks. I edge my palm toward the orb of her belly. I look at her, feeling nothing.

“Wait,” she says.

And then I feel it—a nudge of my hand, a gentle jab. Too small to symbolize how my world is about to both shatter and expand.

Sister. I whisper it to myself, trying on the word for what I’ll become.


When I first heard about National Siblings Day, I averted my eyes from it.

When I was 24, my 21-year-old brother Will died from heroin. He was my only sibling.

“Be strong for your parents,” I heard after my brother died. Losing a child is unfathomable—it aches to even contemplate.

But without my brother, I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. We were, in so many ways, just beginning. On the verge of adulthood, we were edging toward friendship. We talked on the phone often, crushed on each other’s friends, sometimes even drank together. We competed and coveted.

I assumed we’d have decades and decades to mature, to weave around each other’s lives in new and layered ways. To hash over our childhood, compare notes, tracing the maps of how we became who we’d someday be.

The loss felt immense and gaping. But it also felt invisible. I scoured the Internet for books on sibling loss, and found almost nothing. Just after Will died, I was browsing Mother’s Day cards when I saw the Hallmark section: From brother. The breath squeezed out of my lungs as I realized I would never receive another birthday card from my brother. I’d never get to pick out one for him.

Am I still even a sister? I wondered, tears nipping at the corners of my eyes.


As it turns out, National Siblings Day wasn’t created to rub salt in the wounds of those of us grieving a brother or sister. The day was founded by Claudia Evart, who lost both of her siblings, Alan and Lisette. She created the holiday as a way of celebrating the uniqueness of the sibling bond.

I see this special bond every day in my own children, though at ages 10 and 7, they mostly annoy each other. These two beautiful beings look more like each other than anyone else. They envy and irritate, they stretch toward and away from one another. Whether they eventually become friends or not, they will always have shared the same space and time, the same parents, the same twists of DNA.

I call sibling loss “the loss of a lifetime.” Of all the relationships we have, our brothers or sisters are the ones we’re supposed to get the most time with. They’re the co-keepers of our childhood. They’re the people we compare and measure ourselves against—our brothers and sisters help mold our identities.

Now, my brother’s been gone nearly as long as he was here. Just as his birth did, his death shattered and expanded me. And now I know something I didn’t know just after he died: I’m still a sister.

Nothing can erase the 21 years we had together, just like nothing can excise the pain of losing him. The loss evolves and unfolds over time, just as our relationship would have.


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