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Many bereaved siblings have still not come to terms with their grief many years after the loss, but few studies have focused on what can help. The aims of this study were to identify cancer-bereaved adolescents’ and young adults’ ways of coping with grief after loss of a sibling, and examine whether these ways of coping were related to their experience of having worked through their grief.
This nationwide survey of 174 cancer-bereaved siblings (73% participation rate) is based on one open-ended question about coping with grief (“What has helped you to cope with your grief after your sibling's death?”) and one closed-ended question about siblings’ long-term grief (“Do you think you have worked through your grief over your sibling's death?”). The open-ended question was analyzed with content analysis; descriptive statistics and Fisher's exact test were used to examine the relation between type of coping and siblings’ long-term grief.
The siblings described four ways of coping: (1) thinking of their dead brother/sister and feeling and expressing their grief; (2) distracting or occupying themselves; (3) engaging in spiritual and religious beliefs/activities; and (4) waiting for time to pass. One of these categories of coping with grief, namely, engaging in spiritual and religious beliefs and activities, was associated with siblings’ experience of having worked through their grief two to nine years after the loss (p = 0.016).
Significance of results
Those siblings who had used spirituality, religious beliefs, and activities to cope were more likely to have worked through their grief than those who had not.
Our aim was to explore bereaved siblings' positive and negative memories and experiences of their brother's or sister's illness and death.
In our nationwide Swedish study, 174 of 240 (73%) bereaved siblings participated, and 70% responded to two open-ended statements, which focused on siblings' positive and negative memories and experiences of illness and death. The data were analyzed using systematic text condensation.
The bereaved siblings' responses were categorized into four different themes: (1) endurance versus vulnerability, (2) family cohesion versus family conflicts, (3) growth versus stagnation, and (4) professional support versus lack of professional support. The first theme expressed endurance as the influence that the ill siblings' strong willpower, good mood, and stamina in their difficult situation had on healthy siblings, whereas vulnerability was expressed as the feeling of emptiness and loneliness involved with having an ill and dying sibling. In the second theme, family cohesion was expressed as the bonds being strengthened between family members, whereas family conflicts often led siblings to feel invisible and unacknowledged. In the third theme, most siblings expressed the feeling that they grew as individuals in the process of their brother's or sister's illness and death, whereas others experienced stagnation because of the physical and mental distress they bore throughout this time, often feeling forgotten. In the last theme—professional support—most siblings perceived physicians and staff at the hospital as being warm, kind, and honest, while some siblings had negative experiences.
Significance of results:
The study shows that bereaved siblings can have positive memories and experiences. The significance of the positive buffering effect on bereaved siblings' own endurance, personal growth, family cohesion, and social support should be noted. This knowledge can be valuable in showing healthcare professionals the importance of supporting the siblings of children with cancer throughout the cancer trajectory and afterwards into bereavement.
The purpose of this study was to examine siblings’ long-term psychological health in relation to their perception of communication with their family, friends, and healthcare professionals during a brother or sister's last month of life.
A nationwide questionnaire study was conducted during 2009 in Sweden of individuals who had lost a brother or sister to cancer within the previous two to nine years. Of the 240 siblings contacted, 174 (73%), participated. The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) was employed to assess psychological health (anxiety). The data are presented as proportions (%) and relative risks (RR) with a 95% confidence interval (CI95%).
Siblings who were not satisfied with the amount they talked about their feelings with others during their brother or sister's last month of life were more likely to report anxiety (15/58, 26%) than those who were satisfied (13/115, 11%; RR = 2.3(1.2–4.5)). The same was true for those who had been unable to talk to their family after bereavement (RR = 2.5(1.3–4.8)). Avoiding healthcare professionals for fear of being in their way increased siblings’ risk of reporting anxiety at follow-up (RR = 2.2(1.1–4.6)), especially avoidance in the hospital setting (RR = 6.7(2.5–18.2)). No such differences were seen when the ill brother or sister was cared for at home.
Significance of results:
Long-term anxiety in bereaved siblings might be due to insufficient communication. Avoiding healthcare professionals, especially when the brother or sister is cared for at the hospital, may also increase the risk of anxiety.
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