My Siblings and My Cousins Suffered Too

“My brother died.  The ripple effects of loss are still felt, 60 years later.”

Johanna Glaser*, a replacement child from Germany comments on her experience of being born after a loss. (*Her memoir is in the process of being published in German.)

Photo by Juliane Liebermann

I have done a lot of research and a lot of therapy simply because I was given the role to be a replacement child; my brother Johann died in 1961 in a tragic road accident when he was only five years old, he was hit by a motorcycle when he ran across street, a motorcycle he had not expected since it was from his view behind a truck. I think my parents might have expected me as a boy and they simply named me Johanna. 

When Kristina Schellinski writes that it is necessary to see what the death of a child does to the WHOLE family I can only agree. My brother’s death has had a much bigger impact, it has affected my life from the very beginning but also others in the family, there are long-term consequences. One of my cousins told me recently that when he was a little boy, he was told to tell his mother that our  Johann had died. His mother cried so much and this made him feel so utterly helpless. He could remember that vividly to this day.

Another cousin, whose sister has recently died of Corona, is suffering a lot; she is so fragile and she can’t accept the loss of her sister. In this connection, she told me that she had seen my dead brother Johann when she was a little girl and that she still hasn’t come to terms with that. That image haunts her. The trauma of when she was a little child is reactivated now, by the recent loss of her sister.

What the death of little Johann did to the siblings, I can’t even begin to think about that, they were left without any help at that time, there was no grief counselling neither for my parents nor my brothers and sisters.

My feeling is that there is a lot of energy working there, still today, sixty years later. I think the death of my brother is still having an impact on all of us in the family. Bessel van der Kolk, a world-renown expert on trauma, writes that trauma must be remembered and looked at.

In the end, we are all connected. I am beginning to feel a new connection with my siblings, after decades of having felt isolated and apart, alone and burdened. A heavy weight is beginning to lift.

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