Can You Fix Sibling Estrangement After a Parent Dies?


Sibling estrangement can be a difficult thing for most families to deal with. Life can throw obstacles your way that can lead to siblings fighting and stop talking to each other. Some of the more common ones are sibling rivalries, favoritism, birth order, gender, and traumatic events that happen within the family. Sometimes, parents themselves play a significant role in the breakdown of relationships between siblings.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Childhood differences that remain unresolved often lead to estrangement as siblings grow up and move away from home. As adults, other things can further complicate those relationships. For instance, marrying a spouse that's less than agreeable, divorce, substance abuse, and lack of academic or career success. All these factors can culminate in resentment between siblings.

Despite it all, there's still hope in rebuilding those relationships. The process may take a sincere effort and malleability on everyone's part.

Tips for Reconnecting WIth Estranged Siblings After a Parent Dies

Siblings who are hoping to reconnect with one another often ask the same question, “Can you fix sibling fights or estrangement after a parent dies?” The answer’s not always an easy one. A lot of times it bears down on what caused the rift to begin with. People can get hurt and hold on to resentment based on their perceptions.

Almost always, the cause of the estrangement is seen from different viewpoints. When parents are no longer alive to help mend things, it makes it easier to walk away. Parents often are the glue that binds the family. When that tie is no longer there, relationships tend to break down. The following tips might help you repair a broken relationship with your sibling.

» MORE: Make a difference this Memorial Day. Create a plan to honor those you love.

1. Talk about it

Because it's easy to remember things the way you want to, you might be shutting yourself off to other possibilities. It's good to talk things through to see how others perceive things.

Over time, you might've forgotten important details that caused you to pull away from the relationship with your sibling. They may be feeling the same way. When you combine potential faulty memories, hard feelings, and egos, it can create a ripe environment for sibling discourse. Sometimes it's better to talk about things to see where you both stand. Try and remain open-minded as you listen to their perspective.

2. Rivalries

In families that are affected by sibling rivalries, it can sometimes be difficult to mend those relationships. When the root cause of the problem was the parent who died, it can be more difficult to sort things out. You'll benefit from getting to the bottom of things by being direct with your sibling.

Try asking the following questions to get the conversation going:

  • What was your perception of me when we were growing up?
  • Did I do anything in particular to encourage those feelings towards me?
  • Was it something that mom or dad planted in your head?
  • Did you feel that they pitted us against one another?
  • How do you feel about me now?
  • What exactly makes you feel that way?
  • What can I do to fix things between us?

Sometimes, it might’ve been your sibling that created the rift between you two. If you’re ready to reconnect, try approaching them with love and compassion. A difficult conversation is easier to have when you approach it with a level head and balanced emotions.

Some things that you can say to help you have this conversation are:

  • “You know, I admired you growing up, but you hurt me when…”
  • “Do you remember when you said _________ to me when we were growing up? That hurts me to this day.”
  • “Brother, I always felt inferior to you because … I was hoping we could talk about that. I would love to reconnect with you. I miss you.”

3. Substance abuse

When a member of the family suffers from substance abuse, others tend to consider them the black sheep of the family.  Most family members will stay away and avoid interacting with them. When someone's addicted to drugs or alcohol, it may be difficult to deal with them. They may become irritable or be physically and verbally abusive when under the influence.

Unfortunately, unless there's a professional intervention, helping a sibling recover from addiction can be difficult.

Some ways to help your sibling is to suggest one or more of the following:

  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Internment in a sober-living house
  • Family counseling or therapy

4. Divorce

Divorce can have a lasting effect on sibling relationships. When parents divorce when the children are young, it can forever change the family dynamic. For example, when children are given a choice of which parent to live with, resentments are likely to develop. Parents may feel rejected. And children may not understand when their sibling chooses to live apart from them. 

When parents divorce later in life, issues of favoritism may also arise. Adult children might find themselves pitted against each other as their parent's divorce drama unfolds. They may find themselves having to choose sides between the parents, and sibling disagreements are sure to happen.

When it's one of the siblings who are divorcing, it may be that the others blame them for the marriage breaking down. This can cause estrangement due to resentment and lack of support.

» MORE: Everyone's life is worth celebrating. These tools keep their memory close.

5. Past trauma

Experiencing traumatic events as a child can have a lasting effect well into adulthood. Trauma can run the gamut from surviving parental abuse, sibling abuse, a death in the immediate family, or catastrophic events such as a fire destroying the family home. All of these things when left unresolved, can color a child's perspective later in life.

For example, there may be lingering feelings of resentment because they may feel that the sibling didn't intervene against parental abuse. Or, it may be that the sibling was the source of physical or verbal abuse. Whatever the case may be, a childhood trauma left untreated is likely to resurface later. 

Tips for Preventing Sibling Fighting When a Parent Dies

The death of a parent is sometimes the breaking point for many families. This is especially true if it's the second of the two parents to die. With no one left to head the family, siblings may not only turn against each other, and may also walk away from one another for good.

One way to prevent this type of estrangement after a parent dies is to lay down some family rules. This can begin with establishing a protocol for what the funeral etiquette for the estranged family will be.

You should all discuss things like who will be responsible for what, and how to deal with greedy family members after a death.

6. Be transparent

You can sometimes avoid fighting with your siblings when your parent dies by having important conversations with your parents before they die. Some of those things to discuss include whether or not there will be a will and a proposed estate distribution. Discuss with them their end-of-life planning and anything else they still need to be done.

Try and include all the siblings in these important conversations. Questions to ask your parent before they die may include:  

  • Did they write a will?
  • Where is it, and who is named executor?
  • Are all their end of life affairs in order?
  • What would they like to happen after they die - burial or cremation?
  • Is there a pre-paid funeral in place?
  • Do they prefer to die at home or in a hospital setting?

7. Act civilly

Keeping things civil between siblings can sometimes be hard after a parent dies. People who experience the loss of a parent can be experiencing deep sorrow and pain over their death. They may not be thinking rationally, and their emotions may get the better of them. Try to understand that their grief may be making things more difficult for them when dealing with family issues.

A dose of civility goes a long way in repairing damaged relationships. Give things time to settle before attempting to have serious conversations with any of your siblings when they’re experiencing deep grief.

» MORE: Explore the modern way to prepare for tomorrow. Get started in minutes.

8. Offer to help

The more helpful you are to your siblings during your time of loss, the more likely they are to remember your actions later on. An important thing to consider is how the death of your parent affects each of your siblings.

Take into consideration the relationship each had with your parent. The oldest child may have always been the favorite. Maybe they'll take the death the hardest. When grieving, it may be difficult for them to deal with end-of-life issues like planning a funeral or making certain decisions. Step in and help where you can. Don't always assume that it's the oldest sibling's responsibility to deal with such matters. 

9. Spread some love

Everyone grieves in their own way. Even a sibling who was estranged from your parent will grieve their loss in their unique way. Offer words of support and condolences even when you think they aren't needed or wanted.

Your words should mirror your sibling's relationship with your parent. Don't overdo it by painting a false narrative. If they weren't very close, keep your words of condolence simple, short, yet sincere. 

Reconnecting With Your Siblings

Re-establishing broken relationships with your siblings after your parent dies is important to keeping the family together. When a family is unified, cousins get to grow up together, family traditions continue, and later generations have family they can call on in times of need. 

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.