(Just for reference I have a younger brother who is 11 years old and an older sister who is 21 years old )
How many siblings do you have? It’s a simple question that surprisingly comes up quite a lot in conversation. Whether you’re on a date getting to know someone, in general chit chat/small talk or at a doctors appointment, people for some reason feel the need to ask you about your siblings and if you have any and how many. I don’t know why they can’t stick to talking about the weather or other neutral topics… I do understand that it’s what we’re grown up to ask and that it’s polite but maybe we need to start teaching people to think that maybe the person they’re about to ask has lost a sibling and that asking that simple question might not be so simple for them.
It’s a question that a lot of people don’t have a problem answering but to us bereaved siblings it’s a reminder of everything that we don’t have, have lost and of the brother or sister who has died. As soon as you hear those words it’s like a punch to the gut and it feels like your heart is being ripped out of your chest; well that’s what it feels like for me anyway.
Whenever someone asks me that question I always freeze and start to stutter out words that make no sense or look at them and start to cry because I never know what to say.
What do I say?
Here are my options that I have come up with:
- That I have 3 other siblings
- That I have 2 other siblings and one died
- That I have 2 other siblings and leave C out of it completely and don’t mention him at all
Is it disrespectful to C if I don’t mention him at all though? But if I say that I do have two other siblings and that one died then they’re probably going to want to ask me about it and how he died. The problem with that is that I then don’t know how much or how little to tell them and what I should and shouldn’t say about the whole thing. When people ask me how many siblings I have they sometimes also want to know how old they are and if they’re younger or older than me. C died when he was 5 so if I do decide to include C in my siblings when answering the question do I say the age he was when he died or the age that he would be now if he was still alive? He would be 9 if he was still alive today…
So many sub-questions for what would seem like an uncomplicated and easy question to start with and to answer…
Losing a sibling is such a different experience to losing a child, it’s a different relationship that no one will ever understand except you and your sibling.
I feel like I not only lost my brother, but I also lost my best friend and partner in crime when C died and reliving everything that happened if someone asked me how many siblings I have and I include C it will just be too painful to have to do that and to try to keep myself together. It’s too painful to think about let alone say out loud.
I wish there was a handbook that could tell me how to grieve and what I’ll feel and what to say in situations where I don’t know what to say. My Mum says that it’s a good way of remembering your sibling and that might be so, but for me, it just makes me really sad and brings up all the grief feelings to the surface that I try to bury down so I’m not consumed by them everyday.
It’s incredibly tricky and confusing to know what the right answer is and I just don’t know what to say… Maybe one day I will figure it out but at the moment whenever I get asked I’ll probably still freeze and start to stutter out words that don’t make sense.
If any of you reading this post have lost a sibling and get asked that question what do you say and what’s your answer to the person asking you? Let me know in the comments.