Brother: “Does Dad still drive a car?”
Me: “Yes, he does.”
Brother: “But Mom doesn’t… right?”
Me: “That’s right. Mom doesn’t drive anymore.”
This is a recurring conversation I have with my brother. We began having this exchange back in 2016. My answer is always the same. Measured but reassuring (as much as I am able to reassure my brother): Mom doesn’t drive anymore.
You might wonder why this is significant. It is, at least to me. You see, my brother is developmentally disabled. And while he may not have the same IQ as other non-disabled adults, he’s exceptionally sensitive. He knows something is off–has been off–with my mom. And by off I mean her health is not always optimal. She has a chronic illness she’s been battling for more than three decades. She’s been hospitalized more times than I am able to count, by no fault of her making. It’s an illness. Chronic. That’s what chronic illnesses do. They cause hospitalizations. And most times, they’re hard to observe.
As my brother’s oldest sibling, I try to be a good big sister. Of strong resolve. Unbreakable, hopefully. I call him every couple weeks to touch base and catch up. When my budget allows, I fly to Chicago so that I can spend time with him. We have an established routine, which I think he appreciates. We go to Walmart so that he can stock up on basic necessities and then Culvers for lunch. When he flies to visit my parents in Florida, which is twice a year, he calls and asks me if I am going to take him to O’Hare. And that is where I break a little. Because I’m not there to help get him to the gate. I remind him that I don’t live in Chicago anymore. I live in Mississippi. “You live in Miss-suh-sip-ee?” he asks. This is a question he also asks me often. I reply that I do, and I try explaining that Jackson, Mississippi, is 12 hours south of Chicago, but this fact remains abstract/confusing for my brother. He’s used to me being there (Chicago). Being able to help him when he needs it. And although I wish it didn’t, our conversation invariably leads to Mom and her car, which my parents gave me following Mom’s last hospitalization in 2016. And my reply is always the same: Mom doesn’t drive anymore.
I share this piece of me not to invite pity or praise. I think that all families deal with challenges like this. I suppose the difference is how you deal with it. I wish I had done a better job of this in 2016 but I can’t change the past, as much as I want to. For what it’s worth (and it’s worth plenty in my book), my mom has had a roll of good days the past several months. It’s like having Mom back, which has been awfully nice.
And sometimes the universe shows you outrageous kindness when you least expect it. You just have to be open to receiving it. Last year I found myself alone for Thanksgiving and Christmas and was welcomed by two friends to join their family celebrations (one in the Jackson area for Thanksgiving, and the other in the Greater Chicago area for Christmas). I welcomed both invitations and had the most amazing experiences. And when I was in Chicago for Christmas, I also got a chance to spend time with my brother on Christmas Eve. To remind him that he’s not alone. And that he is loved.