My unsung hero
by Christy Sillman
My older brother David and I have joked that he is the “silent” member of our four-person family unit. Not because he doesn’t like the limelight, he’s a rock musician after all, but because his spotlight has continually been stolen by the pressing health needs of his family members.
Many firstborn children get their world rocked when a second child arrives in the family. They fight for their parent’s attention, act out when this attention is lost, and generally grow to loathe the child who stole their childhood glory. However, when this second child is born with serious a health problem, very unique emotions spring forth. Feelings of abandonment, survivor’s guilt, fear, and loneliness can overwhelm the first child.
As I’ve come to know other adults with congenital heart disease, I’ve discovered that many have a strained relationship with their siblings and some of these siblings have developed mental health conditions, substance abuse issues and even criminal records – presumably trying to compensate for the lack of attention or unrecognized pain regarding their childhood. Why should they be in pain? They didn’t have the medical issues.
David has had to endure watching me undergo extremely scary operations, and continually has been by my side through it all. It’s very terrifying to face your sister’s mortality at such a young age.
I have a very vivid memory of him feeding me an ice water soaked sponge-sucker as my chapped mouth hung open for the breathing tube. He sat by my side for what felt like hours reminding me to breathe once they took me off the machines.
Here’s a life lesson: The person who reminds you to breathe has a very important job – they’re always to be trusted.
Luckily, I had a fairly stable childhood within the confines of frequent doctor’s visits and several heart operations, but between my medical flare-ups, our focus shifted to our father, who has battled cancer four separate times. David certainly wasn’t neglected by any means, but when you live with such medically needy people you can lack attention.
David did have his moment in the spotlight when he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma (skin cancer) several years ago. I was terrified for him, and we joked that he had finally earned his place in the family. You can’t wear the “Carl” badge proudly if you haven’t dealt with a life-threatening illness. Thankfully, his cancer was caught early enough to be treated through a simple surgery. I was by his side through it all, as he has been for me. I even handfed him macaroni and cheese after his surgery – mac & cheese beats out ice chips any day of the week.
David has had some rough periods of defiance, and even some moments of uncertainty, but what young man hasn’t? Overall he’s remained calm, collected, and steadfast in supporting his family. This is why I view him as the unsung hero of our family.
He could have joined the ranks of fellow sibling attention-seeking degenerates, but he choose to view the challenges he’s faced with honest reflection and a selfless clarity most people need in this world.
David once told me that our family medical drama already provides him with enough high-highs and low-lows that he doesn’t need to create more drama for himself. He prefers to keep his life and his emotions in the middle of all the chaos that surrounds him — even-keeled.
My brother’s story lies in the untold story, the story he avoided, the story I’m grateful doesn’t exist.
Sometimes the greatest acts of heroism are found in the people whose motivation for goodness lies from within and not for approval-seeking rewards. This is the purest level of goodness, and puts my brother above the rest in my eyes.