The death of Holden Caulfield’s brother, Allie, occurred before the action begins in The Catcher in the Rye. The Caulfield family’s difficulties in moving through the stages of grief and recovery are most likely the main reason that Holden is experiencing so many emotional and mental health problems. His father is withdrawn, his mother is emotionally fragile, and both parents are uncommunicative. It does not seem that any family members have received counseling.
Not only did Holden idolize Allie, whom he believes was a better person than he is, but he lived with a seriously ill brother for quite some time. Allie died of leukemia. Holden feels guilty, because he could not help his brother and because he was away at prep school and could not be with him all the time.
One manifestation of his unprocessed grief is arrested development. Holden is aware that he is not maturing emotionally as he should, but he feels powerless to change this. He points this out in relationship to an unusual physical maturity—his gray hairs. At sixteen, he mentions that he believes his emotional age to be closer to twelve or thirteen.
Holden’s unfulfilled wishes to help his brother also manifest in his protective attitude toward their sister and, more generally, in his fantasy of “catching,” or saving, all children.