My Disability and My Sister (Part II)
How my sister and I grew closer because of my disability
Posted Oct 14, 2009
Although we may have had what I call "the perfect childhood," my sister and I couldn't escape the fact that I wasn't the typical big sister.
Our roles were often reversed growing up. Because of all my surgeries and the fact that the hospital became our second home by the time I was two years old, my sister had to grow up fast, bypassing a totally typical childhood for the sterile halls of doctor's offices and hospitals. She was a little person in a big, scary medical world, getting shuffled around to family members during my surgeries so my parents could be with me at the hospital, or sitting for hours in a hard hospital chair.
A child shouldn't know the words needle, IV or operating room better than words like playground, toy or Chuck E. Cheese, but she never once complained. Instead, she took care of me, playing games with me as I lay in the large hospital bed and telling me about all the exciting things she and my father did while they were home by themselves.
So when my father died, I worried about my sister more than ever. I became her protector and felt this intense need to take care of her, to give her the stable sort of life she craved during her childhood. I thought that if I could just hover over her like a mother hawk, I could ease her grief and prevent anything bad from ever happening again. I couldn't physically take care of her the way she did for me all those years, but I could be the emotional rock - the stability - that she needed. But maybe all my motives went far deeper than that. Maybe it was my way of taking care of her, of paying her back for all those years she took care of her big sister. Maybe I even felt guilty that my little sister was robbed of her idyllic childhood because of me.
For a long time, I wished my sister and I had a normal sibling relationship - the squabbling, gossiping, pettiness of sisterhood that I saw other siblings endure. I wanted that more than anything. Here I am, finally living and letting it course through my lungs at 28, and yet it didn't mean nearly as much to me as our old life - the medical life with me tangled to thousands of chords as I laid in a hospital bed with my hair an utter mess. It was our unique relationship that brought us close - that made us Mel and Nel, as my mother calls us, I'm the person I am - the woman I've become - because of her. She left her stamp on me, like an ink imprint on my heart.
I've always felt sorry for my only-child friends and often wonder if they know exactly what they're missing out on.
A few years ago, I happened to glance at Janelle as she emptied the dishwasher. And she was a carbon copy of my father. Her mannerisms, her meticulous technique of placing each bowl in its proper place - it was all my father. And yet she also looked like that little girl who once screamed in sheer joy as he pushed us halfway to the sky on the playground swings. I got a tear in my eye as I realized we're each other's last link to our father. She's the only other person on Earth who's had the same childhood and who will carry those memories of being with our father in her heart like I do. We may grow up, but I know we'll somehow always come back to each other. And maybe for a little while longer, it will still be us against the world.
Editor's Note: What did you think of Part I of my story yesterday about disabilities and the sibling bonds? Check out the conclusion and let me know what you think!