Weekly Calls and Wild Pizza: Helping Siblings Forge Connections
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Caroline McGraw at A Wish Come Clear
This year, I made a resolution to make this year the year of wishful thinking I’m determined to be upfront about the things I hope for, as straightforward as my brother Willie when it comes to expressing what I truly desire.
In practical terms, this resolution means that I call my brother (who has autism and lives at home with our parents) and speak to him on the phone once a week. Why? Because I got honest about the fact that I want a closer relationship with him.
Though Willie won’t usually stay on the phone with anyone for more than forty-five seconds, I treasure our weekly talks. I know that they’re helping him to practice his conversational skills, but they’re also helping me to re-focus on what’s truly important.
As siblings, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that what we have to offer in terms of relationship (especially long-distance) won’t be enough. This fear can prevent us from taking simple steps in the right direction.
By making simple resolutions (like calling, writing, or Skyping on a regular basis), we can start to let go of the guilt and enjoy connecting with our siblings. Sure, our first few attempts at conversations and connections may be awkward. We may question whether or not our siblings care about our calls. In my experience, however, connections become easier with time and practice on both sides.
For example, after weeks of very short conversations, Willie and I had a breakthrough: a conversation that didn’t require prompts from my mom. It went something like this:
Caroline: Where are you going tonight, Will?
Willie: To video night!
Caroline: And are you going to eat the pizza they serve there? [Willie doesn't eat gluten or dairy, so our parents pack him a separate meal to eat there.]
Caroline: …Really? You ARE?
Willie: (starts laughing) … um, NO!
Caroline: Willie, do you remember the time when you ate FIVE slices of pizza at video night?
Willie: (cracking up) Yes!
Caroline: You were CRAZY!
[Conversation ends in wild laughter.]
This simple dialogue with my brother brought me such delight. To be able to make Willie laugh, to forge a small connection with him … it feels miraculous to me. My brother and I have been through dark times together; times when I feared him, when I thought that the person I knew was lost forever. Yet even in those difficult hours, I found sustenance and hope in the fact that I could still (sometimes) make him laugh.
And so I challenge you: today, reach out and connect with your sibling. No matter how long it has been, no matter how far away you are or how awkward it might be … take a shot at a closer relationship. (And if you miss, keep trying.)
Being in relationship with someone with special needs can be challenging, but it can also change you in ways you cannot fully comprehend. It will put you face-to-face with injustice, but it will also transform you into someone who embodies hope for our future.
And yes, sometimes it’s hard to be a sibling of someone with special needs. There are additional responsibilities, considerations, and care that come with the role, and sometimes, these things feel weighty.
At times I feel stressed, but mostly, I just feel special. I get to be the sister of an amazing young man, someone who has overcome more adversity in a few years than most people face in a lifetime. I get to be the daughter of parents who do the best they can, every day, to create a world of support and acceptance for Willie and for me. It is a world of beauty to which we are invited, and, for my part, I’ve decided that it would be foolish to decline.
Caroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist-turned-storyteller who digs for treasure in people with autism and intellectual disabilities, and empowers caregivers to do the same.
She writes about finding meaning in your most challenging relationships at A Wish Come Clear, where she invites fellow siblings, parents, and caregivers to visit and receive a complimentary copy of her book, Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive)”.