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The Sibling Connection

"The Story of My Baby Sister, Joanne"

           My sister Joanne was born in 1959. I was 7 at the time. My other sister Laura was 5. I was very excited about having a baby sister.

          The first sign of a problem was that my Mom stayed in the hospital a lot longer then she was supposed to. When my Mom finally came home there was happiness, but a certain anxiety was making itself present. I learned or was told that my Mom had contracted Rubella. I believe there was some epidemic here in the NY area at the time.

           As Joanne was growing, problems started. Her movements were very spastic. Her eyes were frequently crossed. I found out later that she had cataracts and probably couldn't see anything. She also could not hear and was probably retarded. There were plenty of tantrums, and I remember a funny kind of crying. It seemed like she was in pain. She was born with heart defects.

           I knew something was terribly wrong. She could crawl like any normal baby but she was "different". I still loved her very much. I identified with her in a strange way. I was a very hyperactive child and I felt I was different. My sister Laura was very smart and I was terribly jealous of her.

           I can remember my Mom crying alot from the frustration of it all and my Dad just going to work everyday. I was having alot of trouble in school at the time. There was this constant feeling of anxiety that I experienced. It was probably all due to the extreme stress in the family. As time went on things did not get better. Of course there were the birthday parties and family day trips but always the reminder that we had a very sick baby living with us. The crying that she expressed was different.

           Again, I was 7 at the time, 43 years ago. I would ask my Mom, "Is Joanne going to die"? The reply, "Of course not" or something on those lines. I must have known there were ominous things going on. I would ask my Mom more then once. Usually, same reply. I used to think Joanne would cry because her heart hurt. The closest thing I could identify at that age was experiencing a gas pain in my chest. Maybe the pain felt like that. I couldn't stand thinking about it.

           Joanne and my other sister Laura shared a bedroom. I was down the hall in my own room. Usually in the morning, I could peek my head out the door to see her crib. She was usually standing, jumping or lying down screaming. I still can remember it very clearly.

           I have photographs of her 2nd birthday. She's actually smiling and looks happy. She was able to walk but had to be led around like a blind person. Her life continued for another 6 months.

           I can remember the saddest day in my life like it was yesterday. My Mom woke me up , probably around 6 or 6:30. She was very hyped up. She wanted both me and my sister out of the house immediately. In fact she practically threw us out. She said we would eat breakfast at the neighbor's house. I knew something was wrong. I remember eating breakfast at my friend Larrys' house and his mother was on the phone with my Mom. She was trying to fight back the tears.

           I was at school that day and was the sickest I have ever been with the worst case of diarrhea and stomach cramps that I ever had. There was no one to pick me up at school. I somehow made it through that day. I ran home after the bus dropped me off. I rang the bell. One of my relatives opened the door. There were several relatives there. I went into my room sitting there alone for several minutes not knowing what to think.

           My father came in and told me, " Joanne died last night". He did say a few more words and was as gentle as he could be. I remember feeling numb, and I said " Oh, that's great!" in a sarcastic tone. I was also very angry though I didn't know it. I saw all the grownups sitting in the living room, how sad they were. I made a vow that I would be the soldier and make them all feel strong. I couldn't show my grief at the time and suffered many years from this.

           What a shock it must have been for my Mom!. She came in to wake up my sister Laura to go to school and she sees my sister Joanne lifeless in the crib. It was a terrible, terrible experience. It's been 43 years. She died in 1961. You do not forget.

           I never realized how it had shadowed and followed me my whole life. I remember the day after she died , looking down the hall and seeing the crib completely empty. There was no child, nothing. I remember thinking it was a dream. I thought Joanne was just sick, she'd be back. My Mom had said she wouldn't die. I learned a major lesson about life and death on that day. I'm just beginning to understand it now.

           My sister and I did not go to the funeral. I don't believe children did back then. My parents had a small ceremony, no gravestone. I believe my Mom to get over her grief thought of Joanne more as a "thing". She did not want to be reminded of her. She could not face it.

          Last year my sister Laura purchased a gravestone for our sister Joanne. We know where she is buried. This Summer we plan to visit her and pay our respects. My parents are now both in their late 70's and 80's. I have a great relationship with them. My Mom will answer questions about Joanne but I can see it is still very painful. My other sister Laura and I are also close and we talk alot. You have to communicate.

           I want to thank you for letting me share my story. I still miss her and love her very much.

           Best Wishes to All,

           David






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