How it feels to grieve the brother I never knew

A blog post by Andrew, whose brother died before he was born

Part of you feels a sense of “inheriting grief”, almost being a bystander of your family’s loss

It is difficult to express how it feels to be a child born after a loss of a child. Losing a child or sibling is heart-breaking and world-changing.

But how does it feel when you did not experience the heart-break first-hand? When the changed world is the only world you know?

When you are born after your family has lost a child, it can be confusing and has taken me years to understand how I feel, to unpack and identify my own loss.

When you are born after your family has lost a child, it can be confusing and has taken me years to understand how I feel, to unpack and identify my own loss.

There are many conflicting emotions. You feel sad but you are scared to voice this with your family in case it will make them sad too. Day-to-day, you sometimes forget you had another sibling, filling you with guilt when you realise you had forgotten. Jealous that your family got to meet and know your brother and you didn’t, no matter how short a time it was. You have feelings of uncertainty in yourself and your place in your family – if my sibling had lived, would I have been born?

Part of you feels a sense of “inheriting grief”, almost being a bystander of your family’s loss. You see the sadness of your family on those special days, hear the stories from your parents and older siblings and see how it affects them. You want to support them and console them but are worried about sharing your own feelings in case they may not be seen as valid. Which they are.

It’s difficult to describe how you miss someone that you never met. The old cliche goes “You can’t miss what you never had”. But that’s not true. You mourn the person you never got to meet and the experiences you never got to share.

As a child, I used to think about the games we never got to play, the birthdays we did not get to celebrate, the toys we could have shared, the embarrassing primary school photos with the bad haircuts, growing up together.

As a teenager, I wondered if my big brother would have been my confidante, my secret-keeper, my argument sparring-partner, my saviour after drunken teenage parties, my partner in crime.

As an adult, I imagine if they would have approved of my partner, helped me move into my first home, been the best man at my wedding?

These feelings are not unique. I know that these are the same thoughts that my older siblings have thought about the brother they lost, my parents about the son they lost. No matter at what chapter you enter your family story, losing a sibling changes how that story continues and impacts all its characters in different ways.

Something I find really special is how I picture my brother in my mind. When my family speak of my brother, they speak about him as a baby. The version of him that they knew and loved. For me, he is always a bigger brother. I imagine him as tall like myself, sporty like my older brothers, funny and intelligent like my parents.

In Portuguese, there is a way to describe this indescribable feeling: 'saudade'. Saudade (sau-da-gee) is a feeling of missing, longing, nostalgia, loss for something or someone that you may have never known or experienced.

In Portuguese, there is a way to describe this indescribable feeling: saudadeSaudade (sau-da-gee) is a feeling of missing, longing, nostalgia, loss for something or someone that you may have never known or experienced. It is a feeling for a time or something that could have been and never was. It doesn’t diminish the strength of that feeling or the sadness and grief associated with it. It is just different. And unique to every person.

Losing a brother I never knew is still a loss in my life. As with every loss, the experience and feelings are unique to each person. I love him, I miss him and I mourn the life we could have shared together