THE “D” WORD
FOR THE SIBLINGS
When a child has a chronic illness, it affects the whole family. Everyone is worried, especially in times of crisis. Everyone is called into service. Everyone’s attention is on the sick child. Siblings often play a crucial role and are deeply affected by this experience.
Before we ever knew that my daughter had Crohn’s, we knew she had tummy aches. Often our plans were changed at the last minute because she was feeling sick. Sometimes we had to leave a party early or deal with some other disruption to family outings.
I remember one time I had plans for the evening to go to the theatre with friends. My daughter had arrangements to sleep over a friend’s house. My son had plans to go out with his high school friends. At the last minute, Dara got sick. My son insisted I use my tickets and volunteered to stay home with his sister. What a hero. I’m sure I thanked him, but often this kind of sacrifice on the part of brothers and sisters is taken for granted.
In my book, you are all heroes for the many times you have selflessly put your sibling first, helped mom and dad by keeping out of the way or running errands for them or whatever you could do to help out.
And there are times when mom and dad have been too stressed to remember to appreciate you. Isn’t it true that while you have been “The World’s Best Kid” you have sometimes had your feelings hurt? It is so unfair. But it happens. Friends and relatives call or visit and the first thing they say to you is, “How’s your sister/brother?” It may feel like no one is interested in you.
At one point, I brought up this subject with my son and found out some interesting things that I never knew before. He told me that when his sister first went into the hospital he had nightmares. He dreamt that he was talking care of her and she disappeared. He was looking for her and couldn’t find her anywhere. It was very scary.
Also, he mentioned that after finding out she had Crohn’s, he’d felt guilty for the many times he had ignored her or teased her when she complained of a tummy ache. Of coarse, none of us knew what she had, not even the doctor. But he still has feelings that he let her down.
I remember him as being wonderful when his sister was in the hospital. He would come to the hospital and play video games with her. He was always cheerful and encouraging with her. He cheered me up too.
Now that I have told you how perfect my son was, I will tell you another story. This Thanksgiving we were all together. My children, both adults now, were reminiscing. “Remember when you dropped me on my head?” Dara said accusingly. I looked at him thinking he would deny it. Mr. “Perfect Brother” looked very sheepish and said, “That was an accident.” Right.
I know how it is being a sibling. I am a sister too. Don’t ask my brothers how I was as a kid. So I know you have played your tricks on your siblings. That’s what siblings do. But as a mom I have to say, “Don’t do that again!”
Often it’s the trouble we have gotten into that is remembered. And remarked on loudly. So, in spite of that, take a moment and pat yourself on the back for all the other times. And there are many. You should be applauded and recognized for the times you were helpful and well meaning. These times are often taken for granted.
Working as a family is exactly that, work. We work together to get the dishes done, to keep the house clean, to take care of the baby and each other. All members of the family have their part to play. We also have to share. Sharing includes sharing the attention of mom and dad. There is always competition between siblings. That is natural. But the attention of mom and dad is often skewed when one child has physical problems.
If you are an adult now, remember how much fun you had playing with your sister/brother. If you are still a child, think of times you are happy to have your sibling as a playmate. Remember how much you really love each other. Remembering these happy times can balance resentments and hurts you may feel. What I wish for all brothers and sisters is that they grow up to be friends.
I am writing this for siblings of all ages. I am hoping that it will open a dialogue in the family about how it has been for brothers and sisters growing up with a chronically ill sibling. A time when, hopefully, you can admit that you have been worried, felt guilty, felt hurt and jealous.
And a time when the rest of the family can let you know how much you mean to them. A time for them to say, “Thank you.” to you.
So, today, I send hugs to the brothers and sisters just for being who you are, for all the help you give, and to acknowledge you’re going through this too.
Copyright 1996 - 2002 Arlyn Serber