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Vacation

How My Siblings Have Helped Me Through My Invisible Illness

Passage to the beach at sunrise- Key West, USA

Every year, my sister, brother, and I try to get together for a long weekend. At first, our trips were folded into larger family reunions with spouses and kids for a week at the Jersey Shore. Sometimes those trips were tense, because we were caring for my elderly father who could be difficult, or the younger kids would fight. I do have wonderful memories of my nephew and his friend, who are about 10 years older than my son Daniel, burying Daniel in the sand, making sand castles with him, playing with his trains in the beach house.

A few years after my father passed away, my siblings and I realized we were drifting away from each other. We all had jobs, kids, and busy lives, and it was hard to carve out time to see each other. So my sister Deborah began the tradition of the “sibling trip.” Once a year, we would get together, somewhere, for a long weekend.

For the first few trips we met at her house in Orlando. We have two aunts who had never been to Disney World so escorting our aunts around Disney became our sibling trip for that year. Those trips were really fun and I was glad to get away, but Disney isn’t exactly my favorite destination.

This year, my brother Marc and his wife Ellen had a timeshare in a resort near West Palm Beach, Florida. It was a two-bedroom condo with a view of the ocean. They invited my sister and me to meet them there for a long weekend. Since I am a beach bum at heart, I really wanted to go. But as a single mom of two teens, getting out of town requires a fair amount of juggling. But with the help of a few friends, I met them in Florida.

There were a few bumps prior to us getting together. Due to a miscommunication, they originally scheduled the trip the one week I couldn’t travel so that required several phone calls and everyone adjusting their schedules. The larger issue is that while Ellen and Deborah love each other, they don’t always get along and have had some epic fights during past trips. I figured I might have to run interference between the two of them.

I’ve been home for two days and reflecting back on the trip. Deborah and Ellen got along great and the rough edges I was anticipating were gone. Even better, Deborah, Marc, and Ellen made me feel so supported and loved. I’ve had multiple sclerosis since 1997 and for the most part have been able to keep the symptoms under control and function at a pretty high level.

Those days are over now, and I generally don’t feel well, though I don’t “look sick.” They were so compassionate and understanding. Since heat is bad for me, Marc and Deborah made sure I could rest in the shade under a beach umbrella. Ellen took long swims in the ocean with me so I could cool off. When I need to be in air conditioning and rest, they made sure I could go back to the room for a nap.

One night we had planned to explore one of Florida’s beach towns, about a half an hour away. My fatigue was really bad that day and I wanted to go, but knew I wouldn’t be able to manage it. I was frustrated at being the “party pooper” so I suggested they go to dinner without me. All three of them immediately shifted gears and emphasized that it was more important that we be together than eat at a fancy restaurant. Everywhere I turned, one of my siblings was there to help, encourage, and support me. I’ve always been self-reliant and as a single parent, even more so. But what came through loud and clear on this trip was both my siblings’ kindness and the love behind it.

You don’t get to choose your family. And we have had some big fights, including one in the distant past where Deborah and Marc almost got in a fistfight at a fancy restaurant. We don’t always agree about politics, religion, or how to raise our children. In the end, though, none of that really matters because of how much we love each other. On this trip, I was embraced by that love.


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