Today is a post giving you a little slice of my family life. A shout-out to my brothers and sisters if you will.
I am the oldest of six children. We are four girls and two boys and are incredibly close in age: there is only seven years between me and my youngest siblings who are twins.
I have written a lot about the healing gift of friendship and the important role that my friends play in my life but I haven’t said much about the healing gift of my siblings mainly because I know they don’t want to read about themselves. If I’m going to write about them I usually ask them first just to make sure it’s okay. The same goes for my parents. And I respect that.
But today I would like to offer a personal point of view on having a brother born with Down Syndrome. I am not going to address the medical or moral options of bearing and raising a handicapped child. This is just about my experience.
Last week in the New York Times, Jamie Edgin, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona and Fabian Fernandez , a research associate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote an opinion piece titled “The Truth About Down Syndrome” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/29/opinion/the-truth-about-down-syndrome.html?_r=0) and one sentence in particular jumped out at me: 88 percent of siblings reported feeling that they themselves were better people for having a younger sibling with Down syndrome.
What a truth!
I’m sure many people read that sentence and thought “How can that be true?” Wouldn’t having a handicapped sibling be something you would be ashamed of, that you would want to hide or never talk about? Or that you would never want?” I can honestly say, and I know I speak for my brothers and sisters when I say unequivocally, NO. We have never felt that way about our brother. Ever.
My brother is my family. We love, support and protect him just as we do our other siblings. There are those who write or speak of handicapped people in a manner that is ignorant and sometimes just downright rude. Contrary to what people may think or say, my brother is not a deviant or a retard. Very far from it! He is a talented and hard working person who held down a job in a government hospital cafeteria for over 20 years. He retired a few years ago and he continues to generously help all of us, always finding ways to help our family in any way he can.
He is a sibling born with different challenges but he is loved for who he is and we would do anything for him. Growing up with him exposed us to other children with mental and physical challenges and seeing the bravery of their efforts and the incredible sacrifices that our parents and other children’s parents made for their handicapped children made us see how lucky we were. My brother is not a drag on me or an embarrassment. No way. In fact, he has helped me become a better person: more empathetic, more patient, more supportive, more willing to see life from another person’s perspective.
If you have never spent time with someone who is mentally or physically challenged I’m sure you might be a little afraid because you don’t know what to expect. Please don’t be. My brother will talk your ear off about sports especially the Redskins, the Nationals and the Capitals. He loves cars and boats and especially music. To this day whenever I hear a song by The Carpenters or Bread I always think of him.
Yes, there are times when we sometimes have to slow down the pace of our conversations so he can understand what we are talking about or for him to express his thoughts but he has a wicked sense of humor and an amazing gift for healing us as a family when we are arguing or going through a crisis.
His smiles are priceless and so is he!
My siblings and I are bonded for life. We are one big rambunctious package of contradictions and complications but we are also always ready to share the good times, the great laughs, our big hearts and big helping hands. We may roll our eyes at each other or take a deep breath and count to 10 before we respond to something the other has said but underneath all of that is a deep love and a great capacity for knowing that when the chips are not only down but flying all over the universe, we are committed to helping each other and will always be there for each other.
No matter what.