The forgotten child – it sounds like a book or a movie. It’s not. The forgotten child is a surviving sibling. When a sibling dies, no matter the age, they are considered secondary mourners to the parents. Their roles are altered.
This is all too familiar to me. This is not the first time I have had a sibling die. My sister died when I was 12 in a preventable car accident. I have been down this road. The parents become so engrossed in their own grief they forget about the living child. They forget that they need love as well. It becomes a cycle. The first time I experienced this I was much younger. I was constantly reminded that I was not my sister and I was left to feel as though I would never compare to her. And for my biological father I never did. Had he had a choice he would have chosen for me to die. Those are his words – although no verbatim. The surviving child is not seen as someone who grieves deeply. They “only” lost their sibling not a child or spouse. They have no idea – that’s the gist of it.
I am watching this happen all over again. The difference now is that I am an adult and I can stand up for myself and speak without fear of hurting someone’s feelings or “getting in trouble.” I have already been reminded that I only lost a brother – not a child – and it’s far different. That my mother and father are struggling. This I know. I am fully aware they are struggling; however, I refuse to have my feelings invalidated. I refuse to be treated less than I deserve simply because my brother chose to take his own life. I did not choose that. I did not commit suicide. I refuse to allow “verbal abuse” – if that’s what you want to call it – in my life. I value myself far more than that. My parents don’t seem to understand that. I understand there is pain and grief, etc, but under no circumstances is it okay to berate or belittle someone. Under no circumstance is it okay to treat someone as though they are unworthy. Under no circumstance is it okay to take out your anger on someone else – especially if they’ve done nothing to deserve it.
As I’ve gotten older and grown and changed I have learned to stand up for myself – even if that means pissing people off. I refuse to become the forgotten child yet again. I refuse to be denied my grief because it was not my child or spouse. I am watching a split occur in my family – not by my hands but by the hands of my parents. While this is happening, I refuse to allow myself to be sucked into the drama and the bullshit. If this means that I become more of an outsider than I already am then so be it. I know that sounds tacky, but I’ve done too much work and worked too hard to allow myself to be in a place that is unhealthy. I love my parents, but I will not be their proverbial punching bag. I will not allow myself to be treated as though I am less important than Matt is. Yes, he is very important and yes my parents are struggling significantly, but when they refuse to acknowledge that other children exist and they are just as important they are creating a divide that may not be able to pieced back together.
The difficulties the surviving sibling goes through is hell. Depending on their age, the circumstances surrounding the death, the relationship to the sibling all play part in their grief. Matt was my kid brother – I was his protector. I should have protected him, but I couldn’t – at least not from himself. The fact is, he did not die accidentally. He intentionally shot himself. He meticulously planned his suicide and followed through on it. For me it’s been a different experience. My sister died in an accident – it was not intentional or deliberate. Matt’s was. There’s definitely different aspects. Either way, none of it make sense.
I think parents and families need to recognize that surviving siblings not only deal with the loss of their sibling, but in a way with the loss of their parents, the loss of a relationship, and sometimes the loss of their best friend. It is not just a quick fleeting ball of emotions. It is true and valid grief. Until people begin to recognize this we continue to allow surviving siblings to be invalidated and to be left feeling as though they are not as important as the one who died. Think about living that way. Think about not being able to live up to the dead – no matter how hard you try. No matter your accomplishments.
However, surviving siblings need to work on learning and believing that they are just as important. That they matter. That they are valuable and worthy. That they deserve the best this life has to offer and they should settle for nothing left. If people fail to recognize their abilities and how amazing they are then that is on them. I don’t believe surviving siblings should feel lost and defeated. We should be empowered. We are still alive and even if our parents or families or friends fail to recognize and validate us – we can do that for ourselves. We don’t need validation from someone to feel as though our grief is real and it sucks and it’s difficult. We know it is. We must deal with it in the healthiest way possible. Grow from it and move forward. This is not always easy but it is doable.
No one deserves to feel as though they are unimportant or insignificant – and that, many times, is exactly how the forgotten child feels. Perhaps we should recognize that the forgotten child does exist and because of this it further complicates the grief process as well as their own belief in their self-worth.
I fell in love with this song the second I heard it. It is far more meaningful now than it was 3 months ago.