A woman in New York recently found a letter from her brother written more than 30 years ago. The letter, stashed away in a box and uncovered during some housecleaning, brought her to tears — and not because of her little brother’s penmanship back then (which actually wasn’t bad, all things considered).
She became emotional because the letter reminded her of their incredible closeness while growing up — and how that closeness, as they’d grown and experienced life’s ups and downs, had been a secure part of their lives for as long as they knew.
A somewhat obscure author, Clara Ortega, once wrote the following about siblings: “To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.”
Brothers and sisters have a unique bond. They share the deepest of bonds, born of the same parents. As utterly different as they may be from each other, they also tend to have tremendous similarities.
In the best of circumstances, they become best friends, lifelong cheerleaders, caretakers, partners in mischief — and fellow sufferers. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and have their sibling’s backs like no one else possibly can.
The sibling bond can be particularly powerful in tough times. Even when we have close friends who will do anything for us, having a sibling who will do the same somehow carries more significance. They are our blood. They are our reflection. There is an unspoken, primal connectedness that makes their support all the more meaningful.
Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
The relationship is at once symbiotic, yet also highly individualized.
The sibling relationship differs from friendships not merely because of the amount of time spent together, but when that time is spent. A younger sibling is imprinted from birth by the behavior of the older sibling. The younger child’s response to various stimuli may mirror that observed in the older child. Younger children learn about basic activities of life by observing their older sibling.
As they grow older, they witness the parental response to the older sibling’s behavior — and learn how to either mirror or avoid it.
So when tough times roll around, an older sibling’s wisdom may unconsciously assist the younger ones. Conversely, younger siblings may have developed emotional skills that supplement or augment those that an older sibling lacks. Nowhere else does this kind of relationship exist. It is at once symbiotic, and yet also highly individualized.
Keep in mind:
- Siblings make younger family members feel “grown up.”
- They’re teammates for life.
- They share a perspective no one else in the world shares.
Without recognizing it, in the best of cases, siblings understand each other better than anyone else.
It isn’t always something that can be articulated — but we can often predict how our sibling will respond to a certain situation. That gives us invaluable insight on how to handle difficult events and how to support or be supported by our sibling.
Of course, what greater challenge comes when parents die? Siblings have a grief that transcends that of anyone else. It can divide them, as unresolved tensions and conflicts from both childhood and adulthood can surface. Old resentments can bubble up. The patterns exhibited in childhood can come back to life, but now without the parental referee.
However, in the best of cases, siblings will bond more closely than before, for both are now orphans. Now they have only each other. Parental death will often occur in the respective siblings’ second half of life, after major life goals have been achieved or lost. Siblings have an opportunity to come together and learn about each other anew.
They spend all this time together when young, then fiercely battle to distinguish themselves from each other and to individuate, and now come back together to live out the remainder of their lives.
With the perspective of adults, they can help each other put things into context in ways nobody else ever can.