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The Sibling Connection
Experiencing the Death of a Sibling as a College Student

Caretaking and Caregiving

          The word "caretaking" (key word "take") has become a pejorative word associated with dysfunctional families and co-dependence. There are two components to caretaking:

  • Taking care of someone else, but to your own detriment--never being able to ask for care or help for yourself.
  • Taking care of other's emotions so they will never suffer unpleasant emotions ( like hurt, anger, jealousy, or guilt) instead of letting them work through their own emotions.

          The key part of the word here is "taking"--this person doesn't wait to be asked -- sometimes they push their care onto others. This is "giving in order to get". Unhealthy caretaking begins when a young child learns that they must give care in order to get any attention -- to take care of parents just so they can be around their parents. These individuals sometimes develop compulsive caregiving attachment patterns. This is a disorder in which all the person's relationships are based on their being the Giver and the other person being the Receiver. Like a movie projector projects onto a movie screen, they project their own neediness onto others, for whom they take care.

          Caregiving (key word "give") is different from caretaking. While caretakers give because they are empty and have many unfilled needs, caregivers give because their hearts are full of love for the other. Yes, it is associated with the loss of a sibling. When parents fall apart after the death of a child, it is often a surviving sibling who takes up the slack, so to speak, and becomes the "parent" to his or her own parent and keeps the family running somewhat normally. Usually, this role reversal is just a temporary measure, which changes when the parents recover and can resume their normal roles.

          After the death of a sibling, younger children may look to their older siblings to help them understand what happened, and be available to them for emotional support when parents are too distraught to be helpful. This explains why older siblings, especially young adults, such as college students, often put their grief on "hold" until the parents are functioning again. This kind of caregiving comes from a full heart, rather than an empty one.










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