Last week I saw an amazing film, “My Hero Brother,” about a group of Israeli siblings, one brother or sister with Down syndrome, traveling together to India for what seems like an impossible feat, to trek high into the mountains.
Watching “My Hero Brother,” I experienced the frustration of not knowing what was going on in the “special” sibling’s head, feared for the young adult with altitude sickness, and wondered if the trip itself was a smart idea. I was on the journey, from muddy, rutted roads to the summit. When everyone makes it, I celebrate along with the siblings.
A week later, I’m still thinking about siblings. In the film, an older brother with Down syndrome bristles when his younger sister tells him what to do. Siblings, younger or older, take on the responsibility of caring for their special brother or sister. For many, the trip is the first one-on-one time with their siblings. But for one young woman whose parents died, caring for her brother is already a huge part of her life and always will be.
Siblings caring for each other after the death of a parent is huge. Close to home, I watched responsibility shift from the elderly parents of a schizophrenic daughter, diagnosed as a teen, to her younger sister. Over the years, the sister has worried about finding the right living situation, proper medications, and doing whatever possible within their means to give her sister the best life possible.
And I watch the brothers of a special friend take care of their younger sister. That she has been able to marry a special man and lead a normal life, more or less, with the supervision of family and social workers, didn’t happen in a vacuum. It began with a mother who got her daughter the help she needed to bring her to my public high school from a program for kids with special needs in another school district. While life isn’t easy, she’s a valued employee and has a closet full of Special Olympic medals. Long-distance caretaking goes on 24/7.
Two summers ago, shortly after our mother died, my sister and I traveled to England for a cousin’s wedding party and then to the Netherlands. While neither of us has special needs, it was powerful. Without partners or children, we got to know one another as adults. The story could have ended badly, but everything fell into place and seemed easy. That one of us ate more sweets and the other drank more cocktails didn’t matter.
During a Q & A with filmmaker Yonatan Nir, I learned that after the trip lasting friendships were forged and the group continues to meet. Whether it’s going to a movie or traveling to Paris, the siblings are spending time together. We can all learn something from this film.