From sister to stranger. This blog shares how the relationship with my brother drastically changed in 2015. And our journey to rebuilding our relationship over the last five years with some caring in between.
My brother and I were incredibly close growing up. We would walk to school together, play games, share birthday parties and even have matching Christmas presents. Even though we were so different, we did everything together and we were each other's biggest supporters.
But our life changed in a split second.
On 11 October 2015, my brother had an accident on the football pitch and collided heads with the opposition's goal keeper. By the time that he arrived at the hospital, he was a total stranger in his own life. The brother I grew up with was gone. I will never forget the blank look on his face when I arrived at the hospital. He had no idea who I was. It was at that moment, I became a carer.
For a long time after, I was solely focused on helping him recover. I was incredibly protective from a distance and would find myself watching his every move, making sure he was okay and coping. I lived my life on standby, even when I was at uni. Even if he didn’t know I was his sister, he was always going to be my little brother.
When I talk about the impact of my brother's brain injury, I often described it using a puzzle in its box. If you imagine that the puzzle inside is what makes us who we are; our memories, strengths, skills, experiences etc. When he had his accident, it was shaken and so he lost a lot of the puzzle pieces. These pieces were our shared memories, inside jokes, and the things we enjoyed doing, which simply fell out of the box.
As a family, we spent years trying to recreate the puzzle inside, trying to share our puzzle pieces with him. But no matter how hard we tried, we could not recreate that puzzle. Pieces of another person's puzzle were never going to build the same picture. All this did was lead to question whether the memories he had were his own, or learned from us. It became so confusing and frustrating for us both.
In order to go back to being his big sister, I knew I had to make a change. I needed to let go of the past and recognise that we were strangers to one another. My turning point came when I accepted that the relationship we had was gone and realised that I had the opportunity to create a new relationship with the brother I have now.
I acknowledged that it wasn’t important that he didn’t remember the past and we focused on making plans for new memories moving forward. Not much longer after that I took him to Rome for his first city break!
As a carer and his sister, I found myself doing a sort of cha cha whilst I found the balance of both roles. As he took steps forward, I took steps back to allow him to grow and be independent but if he was unwell, I always stepped up to be there when he needed me.
Over time, we found ourselves in new routines and started to use new ways to cope that we had never considered before.
Now, as his sister, we get on great. For the last two months we have been living together as housemates and it has been a great opportunity for him to learn life skills. As part of this, he has taken huge strides towards independence. We are closer than ever and as we continue to evolve we know we are making this journey together.
Many caring roles change and evolve throughout a caring journey and this can be difficult when we feel we are making the journey on our own. My experience has taught me that we can't always recreate the puzzle we lost. We must accept when pieces are missing. The next thing I could do was create a whole new picture.