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Grief Related to the Experience of Being the Sibling of a Child With Cancer

Jenholt Nolbris, Margaretha PhD, RN; Enskär, Karin PhD, RN; Hellström, Anna-Lena PhD, RN

doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e3182a3e585

Background: Few studies have described the well siblings’ experience of grief when a brother or sister is treated for cancer. Knowing how sibling grief is expressed will guide clinician and family efforts to provide appropriate support.

Objective: The aim of this study was to describe siblings’ reports of grief related to the experience of having a brother or sister with cancer.

Methods: A qualitative descriptive method was chosen based on open-ended interviews with 29 siblings aged 8 to 24 years. Qualitative content analysis was applied to the interview data.

Results: Four categories of grief were identified: anticipatory grief after receiving information about the cancer diagnosis, grief and concern about the ill sibling’s loss of a normal life, grief about being unimportant and forgotten in the family, and grief that continues after the sibling’s death as a kind of bond.

Conclusion: Despite variations in age and gender among participating siblings, their thoughts were similar. Grief was experienced differently from the time of the diagnosis onward, in the form of concerns related to the illness and situation of the ill sibling. Grief related to sibling bonds remained after death.

Implication for Practice: This study recommends offering siblings realistic information about their ill sibling and support for them in their situation from diagnosis and continuously thereafter. To meet the needs of well siblings, it is necessary to ask the siblings about their thoughts and discuss with them their emotions and worries.

Author Affiliations: Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital and Institute of Health and Care Sciences, Sahlgrenska Academy, Göteborg (Drs Jenholt Nolbris and Hellström); School of Health Sciences, Jönköping University (Dr Enskär), Sweden.

Margaretha Jenholt Nolbris has received funding from Solstickan Swedish Match with US$6000 for inclusion of participants and printing of all interviews. This study was supported by grants from Solstickan Swedish Match.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Margaretha Jenholt Nolbris, PhD, RN, Department of Children’s Rights of Health, Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital, Rondvägen 10, 416 85 Göteborg, Sweden (

Accepted for publication July 3, 2013.

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins