Family Ties: Losing A Sibling

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My older brother, Harlan, died on November 11, 2018 of Alzheimer’s. He was twelve years my senior and between us, my toddler brother Marlan died at 4 years of age of a ruptured appendix. It was a wonder that mom & dad’s first three boys were not named Harlan, Marlan & Darlin’. I dodged that one.

I know what it is like to lose a sibling. Things left unsaid, time spent working when I should have been more attentive, and other regrets. But my siblings have always been there for me in difficult times. I hope I can be there for my remaining brother and sister.

I never thought about asking my older brother what it was like to lose a little 4 year-old brother when you are only 10. I wish I had. Because of the passing of a little brother I never knew and because of my older brother being 12 years my senior I was raised as a firstborn child would be. This had an effect on my worldview.

So, the death of a sibling two years ago was the death of a mentor, role model and protector. I am still not finished with my grieving. I won’t be soon.

Looking back on how I could have done a better job in my grief recovery due to the death of a sibling, I’d like to offer some suggestions:

1. It is important for parents to see to it that a child is communicated with this loss by answering all questions on their level of understanding.

2. It is important to include every child in the grieving process. In Doug Manning’s book Permission To Grieve (1991) he says: “Grief is not a mountain to be climbed, with the strong reaching the summit long before the weak. Grief is not an athletic event with stopwatches timing our progress. Grief is a walk through loss and pain. There is no competition and time trials.”

3. Keep the memories alive. My late brother’s family has participated in the Walk To End Alzheimer’s for the last few years and was #1 in raising money for Alzheimer’s research last Oct. 3. I’ve asked for permission to walk with them in 2021. As long as I live, I will be my brother’s brother. I am trying to do a better job of keeping in touch with Harlan’s family.

Mr. Manning also said in his book, “Significance does not demand sainthood. They can be significant folks in our lives and still have faults. We need to see them warts and all.”

Janice Harris Lord in her book No Time For Good-Byes (1987) said, “Maintaining a relationship with nieces and nephews is one way some bereaved siblings have found to honor the memory of their brother or sister.” She is absolutely correct! May God help us until we meet again on the other side!

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Doug Greenway

These blog articles are written by the retired minister and former educator and counselor, Doug Greenway. He'd love to hear from you with your comments, questions, or suggestions for future topics. You may reach Doug at

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