When Siblings Suffer


This week my brother turned forty.



Siblings aren’t supposed to get old. It’s disturbing.

I want my brother to stay the same age he was when he would bring home a big bag of Skittles, divide each candy by color into separate piles, have the rest of us siblings sit in a circle, and then distribute each pile evenly so that everyone had the same amount of red, green, yellow, purple and orange.

Kindness and fairness. This is what I think of when I think of my big brother.

But siblings grow up, and together you experience all the things in the world that aren’t fair. And when it’s your own brother or sister who must endure the pain of being human, you cry alongside them.

No matter how much you once fought or competed with your sibling, when a sh*t storm strikes, you’re reminded that your siblings are an extension of yourself, a walking time capsule of your past, and a guaranteed presence in your future. Their pain is your pain.

I remember each of my siblings’ sh*t storms like they were yesterday. I remember mental hospitals and paper gowns. I remember holding painful secrets and hearing shameful confessions. I remember helpless sobbing on the other end of the telephone. I remember when dreams were shattered.

In each of those moments I didn’t know what to say. I pretended to be strong, for their sake, and then I cried in privacy afterwards, thinking: No. Not them.

But I think what’s so special about siblings is that words aren’t needed. Presence is. Particularly, the presence of people who know your story inside and out, no explanation needed. Their presence on your worst and best days says, I’ve got your back.

But back to my brother turning forty. That’s his crazy festive birthday cake in the photo up top. All of the party attendees were asked to bring a cake topper or candle. Then we were instructed to place it on his cake, and tell him, as he sat blindfolded by a handkerchief, how we feel about him.

When it was my turn, I placed a tiny Darth Vader on the icing. I embraced him, remembering all the quality time we spent together on a recent cruise vacation. And then I told him I loved him so much, and that I’m glad we’ve gotten to know each other in a deeper way, as adults. He said, “It only took forty years.”

I can only hope for another forty more years of togetherness with my siblings. And even then, it is not enough.

Your Turn: Has a storm ever tested or proven the strength of your sibling bond?

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2 Responses to When Siblings Suffer

  1. Steph says:

    Interesting post! I feel like I was a crappy big sister to my little brother growing up. He has Aspergers and struggled a lot socially. I struggled socially too for other reasons and instead of sticking up for him I tended to lash out at him and push him away emotionally.
    As adults I’ve coming to find my parents were actually telling the truth when they told me “you may not like each other a lot now but you will be closer once you grow up.” Part of it is of course being able to live on my own now and part of it is increased maturity. I’ve come to really value the relationship I have with my brother and am so PROUD of his tenacity and persistence. Despite his social challenges he has gone on to finish high school, get his drivers lisence, get engaged to a wonderful gal and graduate debt free from a 4 year college. He is now a recent college grad chasing after that first “grown up” job and I know he will get there soon!

    • Kimberly says:

      Yeah, I think there’s something about moving out and having some space from you sibling (and the rest of your family for that matter) that makes you appreciate where you came from. Plus, unless there was some real trauma experienced at then hand of your sibling, you realize that family doesn’t live forever, and you crave meaningful relationships with them before it all ends. When you’re a teen and in your 20′s you want to break away. After that, you love coming home. It’s kind of beautiful, coming full circle like that.

      Also, go little bro! I hope he knows how proud you are of him. :)

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