Research study for adult siblings following the unexpected death of a brother or sister

Dear Potential Participant:

For the past four years I have been working on my Ph.D. in conflict analysis and resolution from Nova Southeastern University. I am now in the final stages, and this term I will be gathering data to complete my dissertation. My research topic concerns the long term effects of unexpected adult sibling loss and interpersonal conflicts that emerge during the bereavement process and life’s triggering events. I will be gathering data via private interviews, and I would like to invite you to participate in my research. For those of you who are interested in assisting me, the interviews will include questions on your sibling, changes to your family dynamics, conflicts that have emerged, triggering events (known/unknown), and secondary losses. In all, the interviews should take about 60 – 120 minutes. The interviews will be conducted in person, through Skype, or via the telephone. The decision for the location is up to the participant. All interviewees will choose a fictitious name for themselves and their sibling, so all responses will be completely confidential.

There are a few requirements to participate. You must have been at least 21 years of age, but no older than 41 years of age when your sibling died, English speaking, you must be a female, and your sibling must have died unexpectedly, i.e., suicide, overdose, accidental overdose, murder, accidental death, and/or motor vehicle homicide.

This study has been approved by Nova Southeastern University’s Institutional Review Board for research with human subjects. Any questions can be addressed to me (Robyn Faust Gabe – 954-562-0263; or to my dissertation chair (Dr. Claire Michèle Rice, Ph.D. – 954-262-3046;

My goal is 10 respondents, so I very much appreciate your willingness to participate in this study with me. If interested please contact me at 954-562-0263;

I would like to have responses from as many different areas of the country as possible, so if you have friends or family, who might also be willing to partake in the interview, please feel free to share this letter containing the contact information with them.

Thank you so much for your help.




Book Review On Grief And Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through The Five Stages of Loss

by Robyn Faust Gabe © 2014

grief and grieving book cover

This is the last book written by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. Kübler-Ross in 1972, introduced the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She writes this book from her confined bed with the assistance of David Kessler. It is beautifully written and should be read by anyone who experiences expected loss. When I say expected loss, I am referring to loss deemed “acceptable” by society, i.e. dying in hospice in your 80s or 90s. This is not to say that anyone else would not find this book useful, I just feel this is the appropriate audience. However, if you experienced unexpected loss and find yourself every now and then having a set-back, this may be worth your time as the central focus is on the inner world of grief.

The inner world of grief is your mental state. Kübler-Ross and Kessler review the following topics: your loss, relief, emotional rest, regrets, tears, angels, dreams, hauntings, roles, the story, fault, resentment, other losses, life beliefs, isolation, secrets, punishment, control, fantasy, strength, and afterlife (2005). When talking about your loss, this is the marked mental state in your mind and how you feel this loss (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). Relief is an emotion regulated to expected loss, i.e., the loved one had cancer and the battle to survive was painful to watch. It is normal to feel relief in this situation combing with other emotions. Kübler-Ross and Kessler stated, “In order to give your emotions a rest, you have to accept things as they are” (2005, p. 36). Regrets are past tense and may be interwoven with guilt. After death they have a cruel and unusual way of consuming a person.

Tears are one of the most natural ways to release emotions. However, our society views tears as a symbol of weakness, especially for men (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). If you do not cry after loss this does not mean that those tears will never emerge, on the contrary your body stores them until one day something triggers the tears and they flow like a broken hydrant (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). In a society that likes to outsource and/or take the laissez faire approach this concept may be difficult to grasp, because tears cannot be transferred to another person. Everyone at some point needs to cry as part of their bereavement process.

After the death of a loved one, peoples inner minds can sometimes play tricks in the forms of angels, dreams, or hauntings. Angels like believing in an afterlife are personal. Some people believe in angels and insist that they see them. This is all part of a natural bereavement process and a person who sees an angel should not be criticized nor should a person who believes in the afterlife. Your dreams are an insight into human emotions. Having a dream of the deceased is normal after loss and sometimes they are reoccurring (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). “Dreams can become a meeting place between the world of the living the realm of the deceased” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 53). Dreams of the deceased may bring comfort to the individual just like the mirror of erised, did in the fictional Harry Potter series. Some people experience hauntings, which is when, one believes that they see the deceased or a vision of the loved one stuck in their head (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).

After the loss of a loved one, their roles in your life become apparent. Kübler-Ross & Kessler, noted, “Michael realized he had not only lost his wife of 22 years but he also lost the vital role she had played in their world” (2005, p. 59). It is not uncommon for a person to want to tell the story about how their loved one died especially if they are holding onto regrets or guilt. For other surviving family members this may seem unwarranted or they do not want to hear the story for the 100th time; however it is perfectly healthy and it may allow the listener to comment from a different perspective and thereby help the grieving person heal (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).

Resentment can be another dangerous emotion and pointed to the deceased or other family members. Kübler-Ross and Kessler discuss resentment towards the deceased. The topic of other losses is also discussed. This is when you do not properly grieve when someone dies and years later another person dies and you find yourself grieving for two people. As the author’s mentioned tears will always come and those bottled up will be triggered one day (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). Other losses could also occur when you realize what the deceased missed like a graduation. Additionally, other loses could be friends or activities or other external events. Other losses also carry an internal component and are joined with the roles the deceased played in your life (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).

People grieving sometimes isolate themselves from the world. This in turn may cause other people to try harder to get you out of bed, or they may become upset and forget you. Whichever happens, isolation is a lonely place. Some people may be surrounded by others and still feel isolated because people are mollycoddling them and talking at them in an effort to keep the grieving person from crying. Kübler-Ross and Kessler, stated, “Isolation is part of your grief and may serve as an important transition back into your life. Ultimately, isolation is a darkness to experiences, but not a place in which to live” (2005, p. 85).

It is not unusual to find out secrets about your deceased loved one. The secrets may come from friends or they may be found when cleaning the room. They can be frustrating because your loved one is not present to explain them, but sometimes secrets can be comforting. Whatever, they turn out to be, like dreams that are uncontrollable. It is important to not turn the secrets or any aspect of death into fantasy. Fantasy is when you pretend the person is alive and has witnessed certain events. It is similar to the “be strong” mantra where a person camouflages their grief. As Kübler-Ross and Kessler, noted, “To delay it is to live with grief sitting mildly in the background, or for some, not so mildly” (2005, p. 103).

After the lengthy discussion of inner would grief Kübler-Ross and Kessler discuss outer world grief. For example natural or manmade disasters that lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the surviving family members. “Survivors mourn losses after the disaster on multiple levels –their loved one is gone, their home, and neighborhood is disrupted, their sense of safety is violated” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 178). In many of these cases the world community is involved, but after a few weeks or even days the support fades and the survivors are left to rebuild their new normal without assistance.

Suicide is also considered an outer world grief. Eloquently stated, “Healing after a loved one’s suicide is complicated; before you work through the grief, you must first work through the guilt” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 187). Essentially, a sixth stage to the grieving process is being added to people who mourn a loved one after suicide.

The authors also discuss the topic of sudden death and the implications for the surviving family members. They state that, “Death is hardest to comprehend without any forewarning” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 195). It was noted that implications for this particular group could be words that trigger negative thoughts, feelings, or actions (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). It is important for the surviving person to understand what their triggers are so as to protect themselves and others (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).

The book concludes with both Kübler-Ross and Kessler writing about their personal grief stories.


Kübler-Ross, E. (1972). Therapeutic grand rounds number 36: On Death and Dying. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 221:2, pp. 174-179.

Kübler-Ross, E. & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York, NY: Scribner Books.

Rowling, J.K., (199). Harry potter and the order of the sorcerer’s stone. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.



Becoming a Tree After you Die


In the fantasy movie, Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters, the character Thalia sacrifices herself so her friends can run to safety. Tahlia is the half-blood daughter of the Greek God Zeus. After Tahlia’s death Zeus transforms her into a pine tree, because he wanted her to live in some earthly form.

Thalia’s body forms the base of the tree. Her spirit and protection literally grows as the tree grows. While this tree lives danger is unable to pass and enter the protected camp.

In Israel the Jewish National Fund plants trees that are native to the Middle East. People donate trees for events such as birth, bar/bat mitzvah, weddings, or death. A person can donate one tree or an entire forest. The premise is that the trees live as a symbol of the loved on.

Now companies have combined fantasy with reality. A biodegradable urn has been created where your loved one literately becomes the foundational support for a tree. People are able to choose between a pine, maple, oak, ash, beech, cypress, or ginko tree.

Unfortunately, like in Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters, there is no magic fleece that will bring your loved one back to life; but at least their body will live on as a tree.

@ Robyn Faust Gabe, 2014


Movie: Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters (2013)

Book Review – Coping with the Death of a Brother of Sister

by © Robyn Faust Gabe, 2014

coping with the death of a brother

This book, written by Ruth Ann Ruiz, should be read by teachers, guidance counselors, and bereaved siblings between the ages of 10-18. It does not matter if the loss was expected or not. What set this book apart from other self-help books are the numerous stories written by bereaved siblings. It will help the newly bereaved adolescent not feel so alone. Ruiz also provides a list at the end of the book of bereavement organizations to reach out to. Many young people do not have the ability to drive themselves to support groups or private counseling. The author recognizes this and provides online information and phone numbers. Two tangible ways a young person can reach.

In addition to reviewing the five stages of loss, the author throughout the book provides concrete activities for the bereaved sibling to engage in. A few examples include but are not limited to: scrapbooking, writing, exercising, or volunteering. Ruiz mentions that it is okay to speak up to your parents and claim an object of the deceased sibling as a token of remembrance.

Ruiz also discusses that the surviving sibling will more than likely hear hurtful remarks made by friends and family. The remarks could be about the deceased when they were alive or they could be about where the deceased is now. She further explains that narcissistic remarks are counterproductive because they are closed. “Closed remarks do not lead to an open discussion of how you are feeling and are not productive for emotional healing” (Ruiz, 2001, p. 38). When hearing such a remark, it is important to correct the person and explain why the comment was inappropriate. This is healthier than allowing the remark to linger and fester inside your body. The bereaved sibling is already in so much pain, they do not need to add additional stress.

Ruiz makes sure to mention that if the sibling died in an unexpected way the bereavement period will be longer because issues such as never having the change to say good-bye emerge. She also notes that it is perfectly acceptable to take on death traditions from other cultures if they help you cope through this turbulent time. For example, Ruiz uses the Jewish tradition Shiva where friends and family gather at the deceased house for multiple days and tell stories of the deceased.


Ruiz, R. A. (2001). Coping with the death of a brother or sister. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.

Transforming Wedding Dresses Into Angel Gowns for Bereaved Families

I came across this website by accident. I was conducting research for my dissertation and the Helping Hands website appeared as a link. Naturally, I clicked it. This is a beautiful and respectful way to reuse wedding dresses that often sit in a closest for years without so much as a glace.

I have never experienced the loss of a newborn; both of my pregnancies resulted in very early miscarriages. I know how devastated I felt each time; I kept thinking the one thing a female can do that a male cannot do, and I failed. I can only imagine the devastation of carrying your child, only for him/her to live for a few days/weeks vanquishing all your hopes and dreams.

The birth is a time for new parents to plan the child’s room; not pick out the last outfit the child will ever wear.

I am glad there is an organization to help parents in their darkest hour, honor their child.


By Robyn Faust Gabe © 2014

Book Review – Sibling Grief: Healing After The Death Of A Sister Or Brother

by Robyn Faust Gabe ©2014sibling grief book cover


This book is written by P. Gill White, Ph.D. White was a teenager when she lost her sister from a rare form of cancer. White is now the founder of the sibling connection, an online support page dedicated to sibling grief. This book is meant for siblings of any age, counselors, or parents with the focus centered on expected loss. But, as someone who experienced unexpected loss, I found the book to be a valuable read as many of the bereavement issues are the same.

Throughout the book, White discusses attachment styles in relation to age and development of a surviving sibling and the long term consequences they can bring. The book is broken down from the death of a sibling during infancy/childhood, adolescent/college, or adulthood.

White also mentions that attachment styles are significant when the death of a sibling disrupts the household structure (2008). This is more so related to death during childhood or when the siblings have not graduated high school and are living at home. I believe White is indirectly talking about the shifting of family dynamics. No matter how many siblings are in a family, birth order will shift. This could leave siblings now an only child, the oldest child, or the youngest child. Each dynamic bears its own anxiety for the survivor. White also mentions that a reason families may experience conflict is because each person lost a different relationship with the deceased (2008).

White further mentions that college students may have a harder time with expected or unexpected loss (2002). The reason: college is a Status Passage, i.e., a time when a person tries to discover who they are and what they want to do with their life. This may also be the first time the surviving sibling lives away from home. In college a person has many first time experiences. Navigating grief should not be one of them. However, should a tragedy occur, it is important to seek professional help or research an online or in person sibling bereavement support group. Grief, especially traumatic loss, if left unchecked will fester inside a person until one day a word or symbol will trigger and the person will verbally explode. As White stated, “Traumatic grief must be dealt with bit by bit, not all at once” (2008, p. 15).

White also brings up disenfranchised grief. This is “After the death of a sibling, adult survivors often feel abandoned by society” (White, 2008, p. 19). I fell into this category. I was already married and living with my husband, dog, cats, and birds. This chapter was very applicable to my situation and helped explain why “we” are generally ignored by society. I remember after the death of my brother people would ask me how my parents were. I was always frustrated because I was right in front of them and felt as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I kept thinking if you do not know what to say or ask me go buy a Hallmark card. A year or so after the death, I did look at the sympathy cards and did not find one for the unexpected death of an adult sibling. White is correct in stating this group is disenfranchised.

Another area where grieving people struggle is during special occasions/times of the year. White referred to these as “Anniversary Reactions,” I refer to them as symbolic interactions (2008). Whatever term a person is comfortable using, no person experiencing grief can ignore dates. I have heard that people have an internal calendar and without even looking their moods can change when painful anniversaries approach. White brings up the internal calendar to explain this phenomena (2008). She offers advice for how people can deal with these reactions, but cautions that they may come up decades later (2008).   An example could be an older brother dying at the age of 25, when you are 17. Once you turn 25 the implications of being the age of your older brother may hit you like a ton of bricks. What makes this situation further unique is that the surviving sibling may have reached acceptance, but the event of turning 25 temporarily brings them back to grieving.

Overall, this book is a valuable read if you lost someone and want to understand why at certain times of your life various issues emerge. This book should also be read by a person who does not understand why their friend or family member stopped talking to them after their friend or family member lost a sibling. It will temporarily transport a person into the shoes of another person who experienced the death of a sibling and provide the guidance for building a bridge back to friendship.

After reading the book, White provides a list of references for further reading and a link to her website. Grieving is a lifelong event, however, it does not have to be an everyday event.


White, P.G. (2008). Sibling Grief: Healing After The Death Of A Sister Or Brother. Lincoln, NE:


Legend of the Tear Jar

Throughout my numerous readings on sibling loss, I came across the following legend:

Tear bottles were fairly common in Roman Times, around the time of Christ, when mourners filled small glass bottles or cups with tears and placed them in burial tombs as symbols of respect. Sometimes women were even paid to cry into these vessels, as they walked along the mourning procession. Those crying the loudest and producing the most tears received the most compensation, or so the legend goes. The more anguish and tears produced, the more important and valued the deceased person was perceived to be.

In the dry climate of ancient Greece, water was prized above all. Giving up water from one’s own body, when crying tears for the dead, was considered a sacrifice. They caught their precious tears in tiny pitchers or “tear jars”. The tears became holy water and could be used to sprinkle on doorways to keep out evil, or to cool the brow of a sick child.  

The tear jars were kept unpainted until the owner had experienced the death of a parent, sibling, child, or spouse. After that, the grieving person decorated the tear jar with intricate designs, and examples of these can still be seen throughout modern Greece.  

This ancient custom symbolizes the transformation that takes place in people who have grieved deeply. They are not threatened by the grief of people in pain. They have been in the depths of pain themselves, and returned. Like the tear jar, they can now be with others who grieve and catch their tears.

Tear bottles reappeared during the Victorian Period… when those mourning the loss of loved ones would collect their tears in bottles with special stoppers that allowed the tears to evaporate. When the tears had evaporated, the mourning period would end.

During times of sadness, such as illness or death, a tear bottle or lachrymatory is especially meaningful and can express deep sympathy to loved ones.

I find the above legends beautiful. They demonstrates that people as a society can grieve in a peaceful respective way. According to where I took part of the legend, archeologists have found tiny bottles in Greece, Italy, and Israel proving the existence of the tiny jars. However, the use of the jars may have been different.

I and other scholars often refer to adult bereaved siblings as disenfranchised grievers. This term is used because “society” as a whole does not recognize the pain, unexpected consequences, or long-term effects this particular group faces. I am not trying to diminish the pain a parent feels after the loss of a child. I am merely pointing out that there are different challenges a sibling will face, such as shifting of family dynamics in terms of sibling birth order.

A surviving sibling may not have access to resources to work through their grief. Small jars can be purchased at art and craft stores, antique malls, or purchased on the internet. If a person does not possess artistic ability, they can always use puffy paint to personalize the jar.

The jars also remind me of discreet way to have a private memorial for your loved one. Many people when asked about a deceased person hide their true feelings because (1) they do not want to create an awkward situation, (2) hear an inappropriate comment, or (3) end up inadvertently comforting the person who asked. The tear jars are a form of protection to the bereaved; because they will look like an inconspicuous decorative object, thereby, ignored by most people.

Please refer to the following websites for pictures of the tear jars and the complete legend:

Robyn Faust Gabe © 2014