Siblings Left Behind: How to Celebrate Cherished Holidays After Your Sibling Has Died

Holidays are reminders of decades of shared holidays and experiences of trimming the tree, making special holiday cookies, hanging decorations, singing Christmas carols and family togetherness. More times than we can count, we have watched The Christmas Story, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, White Christmas or Love Actually curled up on the couch or gathering around the fire.

Holidays also are often filled with the joy of retelling stories of Christmas celebrations from long ago. These stories can help us feel connected to loved ones we have lost. Holidays can also be unpleasant reminders of sadness and grief that our loved ones are no longer with us. They can also remind us we were once part of a sibling set, one of two, instead of the harsh reality of now being an only child. Sibling grief is a unique and devastating type of grief for many reasons:

Brothers and sisters impact our lives in several profound ways:

- During childhood, we spend more time with our siblings than our parents.

- Our first playmates are siblings.

- Siblings teach us how to share, make deals and negotiate for what we want.

- Siblings share birthday and holiday secrets for their parents

- We experience more life transitions and transformations with our siblings than anyone else.

- Siblings share a sense of family and belonging

- Siblings teach us how to function in society and communicate with others


There's something incredibly special about siblings. Whether you are the oldest sibling and can recall the day you became a big brother or sister, or memories of older siblings teaching you important things or stand up for you, siblings are built in playmates. When there's only two of you, this bond becomes even more special.

Sibling relationships are the longest and most influential relationships we will ever have. As children, we spend more time with our siblings than anyone else in our family, even our parents. We learn how to share, negotiate conflict, play games and how to be kind to another child through our sibling relationships first. We expect siblings to outlive our parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. To be there and grieve alongside us, to offer support during difficult times in our lives.

Robert and I

My relationship with my older brother Robert was complicated. I was born 4 days late in January, during frigidly cold temperatures. As the story goes, my mom was very anxious about my delivery. On the ride to the hospital, my brother, clad in Spider-Man pajamas and a cowboy hat told her, "Don't worry mama, we'll get her out of there somehow"! Six months later he was diagnosed with Epilepsy, a seizure disorder. Unfortunately, he had limited success with using medications to control his seizures and suffered for many years.

We could not have been more different. I loved reading, learning new words and speaking foreign languages. Robert hated to read, except for graphic novels, dreaded spelling tests and barely graduated high school. I received a Presidential Award for my excellence in foreign language studies. Playing Scrabble was hard for him though he always beat me at rummy. He was also my biggest cheerleader!

On January 5, 1998, the day after my 21st birthday, Robert choked to death while eating popcorn during an epileptic seizure. Overnight, I became an only child, something I never wanted. I loved being a sibling and the thought of no longer having my big brother cheer me on was devastating in so many ways. Twenty three years later, I still think of him during the holidays.

Here are some tips for ways to honor siblings that have passed on

1. . SPECIAL HOLIDAY TREATS. Robert always loved a good cheeseball! It's the little things you remember that count. Often, my dad picks up a cheese ball from the local specialty store to add to the array of snacks and goodies on Christmas Eve.

2. MEMORIAL DONATIONS: Each year we make a donation to a local charity in my brother's honor. Some past recipients include the Lawrence Art Center Art Preschool, Pathway to Hope, The Writer's Place and local food banks. It feels good to know we are honoring Robert's memory by making life easier for another person or several people.

3. MEMORY STOCKING: Many years ago, my stepmother updated our stocking collection, and included a special stocking for Robert. We often fill his stocking with Werther's Originals hard candies, one of his favorites.

4. MAKE A MEMORY ALBUM: Even though your loved one has left this earth, their memories remain. It's important to remember those fond memories instead of trying to forget. This is also a great way to share your memories with new additions to your family.

5. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO CRY. Crying can be very cathartic and is a great way to process and let go of your feelings of grief. Grief is not a "one and done" experience. It can sneak up on you when you least expect it. It's ok to be sad around the holidays.

6. STORYBOOK CREATION. If you are creative and like to write, why not write a book of stories about treasured moments you have shared? Makes a great book of bedtime stories for future generations!

Looking for Useful Tips for Finding Joy During the Holidays? We love parenting questions! From finding joy while divorcing during a pandemic to successfully integrating family traditions in a blended family to mindful strategies for staying sane, we've got your covered! Send a message to with any questions you may have!

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