Cindy Crawford Describes Having ‘Survivor Guilt’ After Brother’s Death

The supermodel’s brother, Jeffrey, passed away from leukemia when she was 10.
Cindy Crawford Describes Having ‘Survivor Guilt’ After Brother’s Death
Cindy Crawford attends as Ketel One Vodka, Tequila Don Julio, and Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur celebrate Miami Art Basel at Barneys New York's Anniversary Party at Nobu Miami in Miami Beach, Fla., on Dec. 9, 2023. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Ketel One)
Audrey Enjoli

Cindy Crawford, one of the premier supermodels of the ‘80s and ’90s, has opened up about a harrowing period of her childhood.

During an episode of the “Kelly Corrigan Wonders“ podcast, published May 11, the 58-year-old described the ”survivor guilt” she and her two sisters experienced after their younger brother, Jeffrey, tragically passed away from leukemia at the age of 5.

“I’m not sure [our parents] definitely wanted four kids, but they wanted a boy—my dad wanted a boy. So that, you know, the fourth was the boy, and I think that there was a lot of guilt ... there’s like that survivor guilt of the other kids and especially because we knew that my dad really wanted a boy,” Ms. Crawford explained.

“We felt like, well, it should have been one of us. And it was so weird, like, for years, my sisters and I would all have, like, these same nightmares that ... it should have been one of us,” she added.

Navigating Grief

The Illinois native—who briefly attended Northwestern University on an academic scholarship to study chemical engineering before dropping out to pursue a modeling career—was only 8 years old when her brother was diagnosed with leukemia. Jeffrey, then almost 3, went on to battle the disease for about two years until he succumbed to the illness.
According to the American Cancer Society, leukemia is a form of blood cancer that develops in the body’s bone marrow. It is the most common type of cancer among children and teens, accounting for about a third of all diagnoses for this age range, and is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among children, adolescents, and young adults, per the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Speaking with Ms. Corrigan and the podcast episode’s co-host, fellow fashion model Christy Turlington Burns, Ms. Crawford recounted the difficulties her family faced as they navigated Jeffrey’s illness.

“We kinda had to get pawned off on aunts and uncles and grandmas and, fortunately, we had an extended family in our town,” she explained, noting that her mother was busy tending to her brother while her father worked to pay the bills.

“That definitely was a hardship on the family,” she continued. “We had enough, you know, um, extended family around us that I didn’t really feel it as a kid. And I didn’t know—we knew he was sick, but we didn’t really know what was going on.”

After Jeffrey passed, Ms. Crawford said the entire family was devastated. Her parents coped with their loss in different ways, eventually deciding to divorce.

“I think for my mother, she was able and chose to really grieve properly—she went to death and dying courses, she has a very strong faith—so she was able to move through grief,” she shared. “I think for my father, he had to go to work three days later, and so, you know, they just handled it very differently.”

Overcoming Loss

Ms. Crawford went on to welcome two children—Kaia, 22, and Presley, 24—with her husband, businessman Rande Gerber, whom she wed in 1998. The model acknowledged that it was only after having children of her own that the magnitude of what her mother went through with losing a child sank in.

“I remember when I had my first kid, and I called my mom, and I was like, ‘Okay, how did you survive,’ you know, because you can’t imagine losing a child until you have a child, and even then, you don’t want to imagine it,” she recalled.

“But I remember her saying, ‘Well, I had three other kids looking at me, like, to lead them through this,’” she continued. “And I think that because of us, she kind of got out of bed and had to do, you know, just did what she had to do.”

Ms. Crawford’s mother was just 26 years old when she tragically lost her son. Since the family matriarch was not employed during that difficult time of her life to care for Jeffrey, she was able to be there for Ms. Crawford and her two sisters as they maneuvered through their own grieving process.

However, despite her mother’s presence in her time of need, the model said her survivor’s guilt persisted. While attending a coaching workshop during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Crawford explained that she was finally able to resolve her lingering feelings following the traumatic event.

“I realized that one of the questions the coach asked me was something like, ‘What did you need to hear at that time that you didn’t hear?’” she recollected.

“I needed to hear, ‘Yes, we’re so sad that Jeff died, but we’re so happy you’re here,’” she continued. “And of course, my mom didn’t know how to say that, but then through doing the work on myself, I was able to ask my mom to say that now as an adult, you know, just to kind of close the loop on that feeling.”

Audrey is a freelance entertainment reporter for The Epoch Times based in Southern California. She is a seasoned writer and editor whose work has appeared in Deseret News, Evie Magazine, and Yahoo Entertainment, among others. She holds a B.A. from the University of Central Florida where she double majored in broadcast journalism and political science.