Review of Joanna H. Fanos' Sibling Loss

1996: published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Mahwah, New Jersey

Spring 1998

by Kathleen Flynn

This book focuses on the loss of children due to cystic fibrosis. It includes extensive interviews with the now- adult siblings in the family and describes their varied experiences with losing a sibling. The author, Dr. Fanos, found that most of the siblings continued to struggle with their loss ten to twenty years later as they suffered with depression, chronic guilt and interpersonal relationships. Those who were able to come through the experience with more resilience generally came from families who were able to provide consistent emotional support to the surviving children and also had the ability to help the siblings mourn their loss.

Robert S. Weiss, research professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, notes the following in his review of the book: "Too often we give too little to the child's siblings. Fanos brings home to us with insight and compassion the siblings' reactions: their resentments, their guilt, their fears and their deep and persisting sense of loss." Many of the surviving siblings talk of the denial within the family about the seriousness of the illness, and of how unexpected and shocking the actual death was due to this perception. In retrospect, they express the wish that there was time to mentally prepare for the death.

This book may be especially useful in sensitizing parents and health professionals to the emotional needs of siblings. The book also provides a forum for the unique perspective on illness, coping and loss that siblings experience during chronic illness and the loss of a family member.

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