Chapter 4: Impact on family and friends
If your sibling has a spouse or partner
It breaks my heart to think about my sister’s husband as a widower. They were so close, and I know she worried about how he would cope when she was gone.
My brother and his wife were high-school sweethearts and were together for more than 35 years. When he died, she told me that part of her had died with him, and I can understand why she feels this way. Life isn’t the same without him.
Perhaps you are worried about your sibling’s partner or spouse. You may even be more attentive to their grief than to your own, feeling their heartbreak and loneliness. Depending on your relationship, you may find comfort and solace in supporting each other.
You may also experience a variety of challenging and conflicting emotions over certain circumstances, such as the ones listed below. Click on each phrase to read more.
You may feel resentment or anger about the way your brother or sister was treated by their partner, either recently or over a long period of time. You might feel frustrated if their spouse or partner now expresses regret for their behaviour.
If your sibling was ill for some time, their spouse may have made treatment or caregiving decisions based on beliefs or values that differed from those you or your family hold.
Your sibling’s spouse may have independently made arrangements for things like an obituary, funeral, or celebration of life. You, your other siblings, and/or your parents may have felt excluded from decision-making, especially if you feel that any of your sibling’s wishes were not followed.
You may find it hard to see your sibling’s spouse making changes in the home, such as choosing pictures of your sibling to put up or take down or the timing of those changes. Your sibling’s spouse may re-partner – and the timing of that might be difficult for you. They may be ready to engage in a new relationship, while you may not.
If your sibling had children, you may find it hard to see them being parented in a way that you think was different from that of your sibling. You may not want to “rock the boat” for fear of upsetting their spouse or being prevented from seeing your nieces or nephews.
If your sibling’s spouse becomes distant or estranged from you and/or others in the family, this can result in additional feelings of grief, loss, anger, sadness, or regret.
Disagreements or unclear communication can leave you with conflicting feelings. You may empathize with your sibling’s spouse and not want to cause trouble, while also feeling that your sibling’s wishes – or yours – were not fulfilled. You may feel reluctant to share some of your thoughts and feelings, fearing how they may be received.
Previous conflict or difficulties between you and your sibling’s partner can often reappear or grow worse after your sibling’s death. If you find yourself in this situation and struggling, it can be helpful to seek the support and guidance of an experienced grief counsellor.
While your sibling’s partner may need your compassion and support, it’s also important to recognize and respond to your own grief.
In time, although you may still feel anger and/or regret about how things have been handled, you may come to a different understanding of why things unfolded the way they did.