The first time I learned about the mere existence of Siblings Day was the spring after my sister’s unexpected death. This was pretty on-brand, given that every day since Alison collapsed unexpectedly felt like an alternate reality defined by life’s cruelest joke.
“Oh, your sister defied the odds and is in complete remission from her super scary cancer? I’m gonna go ahead and have her die from a side effect of a blood thinner! Mooohahaha!” And “Oh, you and your sister are closer than you’ve ever been in your lives? She’s (finally) your best friend? I’m going to snatch her from you forever!” And “What’s that? Your sister has a 21-month-old son and just last week had a meeting with an agency about ways of expanding her family after her hysterectomy? Scratch that plan!”
On the first Siblings Day I’d ever noticed, I found myself bombarded with photos of happy, vivacious siblings; just one of many experiences that highlighted the gaping hole in my life.
Most of us assume that SD (let’s just call it that, shall we?) is another unnecessary cultural norm birthed from social media — like taking photos of our food or artsy pictures of our feet. This is sort of true — SD first went viral on Twitter in 2012. But what most don’t realize is that Claudia Evart, the woman behind the idea and the nonprofit backing it, started SD in 1995 in honor of her dead siblings. Her sister, Lisette, died at 19 in a car accident. Her brother, Alan, died at 35 (reason unknown despite my expert Googling skills). Siblings Day is always on April 10th, Lisette’s birthday. The goal of the Siblings Day Foundation is to honor “siblings and the bond that is forever a special gift,” and to make April 10th as legitimate as Mother’s and Father’s Day.
Ironically, though, SD doesn’t feel like a safe space to honor the siblings that died too soon. That’s because this day has been taken over by social media, and most social media users are young(ish). Most young(ish) people don’t have dead siblings.
What sucks about people with “alive” siblings is that they usually don’t realize how easy it is to get punted to the other side of the line. We all think, at some point, about how we will outlive our parents. But we rarely, if ever, think about outliving our siblings. My dad died when I was 20 so I was supposed to be someone who ‘got it.’ I thought I knew about the insecurity of life. After my dad’s death, my new greatest fear was that my mom would die too. I woke up in deep sweats from nightmares that she had been murdered. I enabled tracking on her phone so I could keep tabs on her whereabouts. My sister and I used to joke that our mom drove like Cruella Deville, so I obsessively refreshed the GPS when I knew she’d be driving. In this high-anxiety state, not once did I ever consider that my sister would die. But she did die. Siblings die, and although it’s not that common, it happens.
Now that I know where to look for fellow surviving siblings, I’ve learned we’re really all over the place. I’ve met siblings whose brothers and sisters died before they were born, in childhood or as young adults. I’ve met siblings with multiple dead siblings. I have met others like me, who have lost parents and siblings.
What is hardest for me about SD? The attitude around it feels flippant. People post embarrassing childhood photos of their siblings and I know that they, as I did for many years, assume their sibling is a lifelong constant. Now that I’m of an age where friends have multiple children, I often see photos of tiny siblings, with captions about how they’re partners in crime for life. Hopefully they will be…but maybe they won’t.
Sibling death leaves you unmoored. Siblings are our life partners in the truest sense of the words, and though you may be polar opposites, they should be a mirror as you age. Even if you never got along, you have a shared history. You may both be nostalgic for the same childhood picture books or remember the same jingles from old TV commercials (my sister and I liked to sing, “My way is Hanes her way!” with a lot of attitude.).
My message to everyone with a sibling? If you have one who is alive and healthy, you are so very fucking lucky. Because a sibling with longevity is not guaranteed. When they die, you lose the security of your past and the base for your future.
On this Siblings Day, I’m sending love to all of those who have died too soon, and the surviving ones walking around with a huge piece of themselves forever missing.
Kellyn Shoecraft admins a take-over style Instagram account where those who miss their siblings can feel a little less alone. She is also the founder of Here For You, a company trying to change the way people support each other through life’s most difficult experiences.