To my sick sibling,
Illness will always be something between us,
Yet there’s one thing we do not share. You are sick and I am not. You struggle with your health and it will always be something you think about, whereas my life is not like that. You have doctors’ appointments and medication and a whole world into which I can never enter fully.
I wonder, sometimes, how this makes you feel. Do you ever feel guilty when you get attention, or when people tell you how brave you are? Do you ever feel jealous of me? Do you ever look at me and wish we could swap lives, swap bodies, swap trials?
Do you ever want to strangle me, because I can be carefree and you must be responsible? Or do you ever hate yourself because you look at me and feel weak and needy in comparison?
Do you ever feel as though you’ve failed me? That you’re not the sibling you could have been? Or do you shatter inside when I’ve neglected yet again to really understand you, and do you feel as though I’ve failed you?
My dear sibling, I suspect these feelings will always be between us. After all, whenever differences exist between two people these questions exist too. Yet it’s different, isn’t it? After all, we’re siblings.
but I do not see your illness,
We know the best and worst of each other. I suspect we know each other better than our parents know us. After all, they see the person they have created. They see their hopes and fears and projections. They are swamped in responsibility and ownership and love.
We, however, are free from all that. Instead we see with a clearness and a discernment that no one can match. When we look at each other we see a distinct person and also a part of ourselves. As a result, we know exactly what the other is capable of – and we hold them to a far higher standard than anyone else.
My sibling, I see you better than any other – and when I see you, I do not see your illness. I see you as the radiance to my darkness and the shadow to my light. I see you succeed where I fail, and I see you stumble where I run. I see a brilliant, frustrating, complex, wonderful person. In short, I see you exactly how any other sibling sees their sibling – and on top of that, I love you.
instead I see you as innately capable,
If you feel needy or dependent, know this: I see you as innately capable. Capable, perhaps, in areas different to mine, but capable nonetheless. I don’t pity you, my sibling. We are too close to each other for that. Siblings are born to be rivals, after all. If all the world looks at you and pats you on the head and sighs deeply – know that I do not. When people treat you like glass, know that I see you as stone. In my eyes you are my equal.
All those times you have had to rely on me? I don’t hold them against you. That’s what siblings do. We give and take. In letting me serve you, you have given me so much. I will never be able to repay you for all the lessons you’ve taught me. For the empathy you’ve hammered into me, for the thoughtfulness (small as it is) that you’ve forced me to cultivate. For the way you bring me sharply down to earth and the way you teach me to dance in the rain.
and I rely on you as much as you rely on me,
Besides, never think that I am not prepared to call in favours, that I am not ready to rely on you in turn. That’s what siblings do.
I’ve seen you in tears and I’ve seen you in laughter. I’ve seen you in dark depression and utter euphoria. I wonder, at times, whether you wish I hadn’t been a witness. Tough, sibling mine. You’ve seen me in all those stages too.
Still, I want you to know this: your laughter is precious to me. I may hide this behind a supercilious facade – after all, siblings don’t get soppy – but your smile makes me happier than almost anything else. I’m not sure if it’s because I know how hard you’ve fought for it or whether it’s some mystical siblings connection. Either way I thank you. Every true, unfaked smile brings me a sense of happiness and contentment which I would not experience had I not known you.
There are times when I suspect you groan under my teasing. Situations in which a passerby may be left wondering whether we actually like each other. I could explain this away by saying I’m Australian and that’s our brand of humour, or we’re siblings and all siblings bicker – but I think there’s a third reason.
I do not pity you,
Teasing is a sign of respect. Apart from the times where my tongue and ego run away from me – and for those I beg your forgiveness – I tease when I know you can handle it. I tease because I know you will tease me back. I tease because if we can’t pick our insecurities apart together – who can we voice them with? I don’t tread lightly around you, sibling, because I don’t have to.
So, my dear sibling, your illness doesn’t make you weak and me strong. Instead it makes us both weak – and therein lies our strength.
A cord of many strands is not easily broken. Never have any doubt – I would choose no other besides you. I do not begrudge you anything. Your illness does not reduce you in my eyes. Rather, it makes what lies between us richer.
I am not an unwilling witness, I count it as my privilege, and –
I’m not going to Romanticise it. It is awful and terrible and heart-tearing and if I could take it away I would. But know this: as long as your illness exists, I will never be an unwilling witness. It is a privilege to be your sibling, in sickness and in health.
My sibling? If you’re drowning in saccharine sweetness by now, relax. I’m not going to say this again. I’m not going to start comparing your eyes to the moon or waffle on about your pure heart. We’re siblings after all, not lovers. So let me drag this letter back into a breathable atmosphere with a popular party song –
“What if I’m far from home? Oh brother, I will hear you call!
What if I lose it all? Oh sister, I will help you out!
Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you,
there’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.”
~ Avicii “Hey Brother”
I will never leave you.
your ‘healthy’ sibling.
//Do you have a sibling who struggles with their health? Has it affected your relationship? In what ways?
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2 thoughts on “An open letter to your sick sibling”
You are a very “intuitive” sister, dear one! Someone who is in a constant state of illness just wants to be treated like everyone else, I believe. Sounds like you have that aspect of your relationship well in hand!! I, too, have an ill sibling. She is in constant, severe pain, yet most days acts like there is nothing the matter. It amazes me how she can handle it, but I know that this is a part of her relationship with God almighty. God bless you and your sibs!
Thank you Janene for your thoughtful comment. I love this bit: “I know that this is part of her relationship with God almighty” – so true! May He be close to and guide both of you 🙂