Welcome to the Dead Sibling Club

Emily R
3 min readJul 12, 2021

Blanket content warning: death and cancer

It is not a glamorous club; we don’t get jackets or have fun trips every year. Instead, we get trauma and awkward apologies when we mention our dead sibling.

My membership began processing in 2015 when I was 23 and getting ready to go to graduate school. My youngest brother was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, he was 16.

There are not many resources available for the freshly out of college individual. Most people assume you know what you’re doing with your life and how to handle the big emotions that come with a family member’s cancer diagnosis.

I found myself in a weird place, swinging back and forth from denial to acceptance — over to bargaining. That first couple of days, I went through the stages of grief at least a hundred times, maybe more. I would remember the day my brother was born, a cold December afternoon when I got picked up from school by a friend’s parent instead of my own. How myself, my sister, and brother spent the afternoon at their house. Having pizza for dinner where for some reason, ranch dressing was put on my pizza. Which was to me, being the ripe old age of 7, was a traumatic and formative experience. How we had gone to the hospital in the following days where we got to meet the newest and final member of our family.

My family is not one to talk about feelings with one another, the hazards of growing up in a good Irish/German Catholic household. So with the youngest suddenly in a fight for his life, it threw everyone for a loop. My two other siblings and I found ourselves in this strange new realm of responsibility. Not only did we have to manage our own emotions, but our parents as well, which for 2 college-aged kids and one fresh out of college, is a lot to ask for. It was a tense time; there would be shouting matches at least once a week, and most nights, both parents would be at the hospital with my brother.

To save you the time and heartbreak of reading about a teenager getting 4 different cancer diagnoses in just 5 years. My brother passed away at the age of 20 on May 1st, 2019, after spending a few weeks on a ventilator after catching a cold. He was surrounded by family and a medical team that did everything in their power to keep him on this earth. My parents still 2 years later, get texts from his doctors checking in, updates on how everything is doing.

There is no big revelation, no magical family connection or forgiveness for the hurt and neglect we all put each other through. As with any story involving dead siblings, there is no happy ending. I could say that my brother is in a better place now, that he’s no longer suffering, but that’s not true.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my brother, that I don’t wish with everything in my power to get him back just for a day. I’m not sure the empty feeling will ever go away. It might lessen in time but, there will always be a hole where my brother was.

Welcome to the Dead Sibling Club — where you’re a member for life.