Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 01/11/2012

My sibling died. Now my mother wants to die. HELP!

In the poll created to see what people wanted me to write about regarding sibling deaths, a reader wrote “feeling helpless knowing that my mother wants to die after my little sis died.”

Wow. We think we can hide our feelings from our other children, but we are blinded by our heartache and good intentions or exhaustion. The night my son died, I wanted to lay down and die, too, so I understand that this respondent is likely not being melodramatic, but stating the truth. That night, however, rather than throw back vodka and pills or reach for my service revolver, I did what I had advised other grieving parents to do, in my role as a police grief counselor:

  • Stay together. The first night, on the living room floor we made beds of mattresses and blankets and we all slept together. Our children need, first and foremost, our presence in the aftermath of a crisis.
  • Call a friend to come over and stay with you with the children. They can do things we are too absent to do, like make meals or answer the telephone. This gives us time to be with our other children. I called my pastor and my best friend, and the pastor spent time with my kids while I went for a walk with my friend. When I was sufficiently shored up so that I could face the kids without sobbing incoherently, he and I went back to the house and then both stayed with me and helped me help my children through the first night.
  • Talk with the children. Make then central to the conversation, not eavesdroppers. Tell them, in age-appropriate ways, what you know when you know it. This lets them know that you realize they are suffering a loss, too. They are not ghost children.
  • Be ready to deal with raw emotions and expect anger… lots of anger. My conversation with my children was relatively straightforward: Daniel died in a car accident; no alcohol or drugs, just loose gravel. It wasn’t a suicide,  murder, stupid blunder or dare. We didn’t blame him or ourselves because there was nothing any of us might have done differently. Still, one daughter prayed very seriously to change places with him and expressed a sudden and intense hatred for her own life. In the coming months, I grew very worried that she actually was becoming suicidal. She was filled with anger without any logical place to put it. She hated that his death derailed everyone’s life. She missed him and wanted him back. Wearing a cloaking mask of anger was the only way she could endure so much sorrow.
  • Consider that your surviving children have just lost their childhood. Just as life will never be the same for you again, it will never be the same for them again, either. From now forward, they will see family dynamics change and their role in it will change. Some of it will be their doing but much of it will be assigned by you. This news has created a real void and they fear how the void can or won’t ever be filled. We must acknowledge that they are often the lost grievers in the room, as adults approach parents and move away from them, not knowing what to say.
  • Know that a code of silence may hide grief but it does not dispel or dilute it: it creates a damn and behind a damn….. Imagine you are the child of whatever age who wrote the message above to me. If you were that person, what could you do? Could you approach your mother when you so fear that she will put words to what you suspect — that she’d rather be dead than stuck on earth now with you? We inadvertently try to hush our children, thinking it is best for them or for us, but it is not. Likewise, they lock away their questions and fears because they do not want to hear the answers they fear, or because they do not want to add to our grief. We must help them express fears and doubts and needs and wants. They are not dead and they need us now more than ever.
  • If you are just going through the motions — if you wish you could die — get professional help. NOW. Do it for your surviving children, who have lost a sibling and now are living with the ghost of a brother or sister among the walking dead. While it is natural and “normal” to want to die in the aftermath of a child’s death, it’s also natural and normal to die during a heart attack, but we’re smart enough to call 9-1-1 when we see someone falling over gasping for breath. If you would have done anything — anything — to save your dead child, you have a chance now to do everything – everything — to save your surviving child or children. Get help, please get help.

Imagine it was your child who wrote the suggestion for this advice, because maybe it was.

Thanks for stopping by the watering hole today, and I hope you found at least one thought of value for you. Please let me know your thoughts and insights, worries and hopes as you move through this most difficult time of transition.


  1. My sister died two days before President Kennedy was killed. My mom didn’t even know the president was killed until four or five days later. She always hated it when the news brought up the anniversary of Kennedy’s death. My sister was almost three years ago when she died from viral pneumonia. I never met her but my older sister and brother remember her well. I was the next girl born. My mom was thrilled to have another girl.

    All my relatives say my parents were so brave and worked together to deal with her death. There must have been so much pain in their hearts.

    Jody thanks for writing about this. It helps me understand their pain. My mom died 13 years ago, however, my dad is still with us. My older sister and I visited my sister’s grave last summer. My dad still remembered the exact location of her grave located in a huge cemetery in Illinois. He even remembered the tree that he and my mom took refuge under during the service. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the tree was cut down. It was probably an Ash. The stump remains.

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