Each year on April 10th, my Facebook newsfeed floods with pictures and posts of friends and family members tagging siblings in photos new and old under the #NationalSiblingsDay hashtag. Siblings Day is recognized in some US States, and a campaign has been ongoing for several years to declare April 10th as a nationally-recognized date to honour the sibling relationship. While I’m not aware of a similar campaign in Canada, I can certainly see the enthusiasm for jumping onto the #NationalSiblingsDay bandwagon!

As I scroll through photos of happy and alive siblings, I wonder how many of those sharing their sibling love know the origins of the day. Siblings Day was started by Claudia Evart, a New Yorker who lost both of her siblings early in life and set out to establish a National Siblings Day on April 10 – the birthday of her late sister, Lisette.

I was recently reminded of a passage from Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn’s The Empty Room – a book I enthusiastically recommend for anyone who has lost a sibling (and originally recommended to me by one of our amazing facilitators, Karen Simmonds) – that helps to explain something fundamental about sibling relationships and how we grieve our siblings by carrying them forward in our lives.

“We try to carry our siblings forward because they are part of our identities, and our half of the relationship doesn’t end with their deaths. We need them as reference points to remember who we are. We do it because loyalty and fairness are two aspects of life we learn within the sibling relationship. They continue to inform it well after we’ve become adults, whether our siblings are alive or dead. We do it because it can feel too disorienting and disloyal to move forward and leave our siblings behind. We carry them forward in order not to leave part of ourselves frozen, unaged, in time. We carry them forward because siblings were meant to be parallel travelers, in life’s longest relationship. We carry them forward because in order for us to go forward with our own lives, whole, unhampered by guilt at having been the ones chosen to survive, we often need them to come, too. And so we find a way.”

And so, on April 10th, those of us with siblings that are no longer here in physical form find some way to carry them forward with us: as a photo, a memory, or a message. As I share a long-ago photo of me and my brother, I’ll be thinking of my Threads of Life siblings missing their brothers and sisters in a way that can only truly be understood by other siblings – as parallel travelers in our hearts.

Photo: Me and my brother Lewis at his high school graduation, less than a year before he was electrocuted at his summer job.

For more information on the Siblings Day Foundation, visit their website: siblingsday.org. The Empty Room: Understanding Sibling Loss by Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn can be found through Chapters-Indigo or your local library.

Sarah Wheelan