Most of you haven’t a clue to what it is like growing up with a handicap sibling. That’s alright. I have no clue what it is like to have a family member die of cancer. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a single parent household. I don’t know what it’s like to have experienced a lot of the situations you may have experienced in your life. I can at least give you some insight into what it was like to grow up as my brother’s younger/big brother. The tricky part will be to do that without writing a novel.
Here are 10 lessons I learned from the unknowingly wise, most amazing teacher I ever had, my brother Jeremy:
Being different is not known, until society teaches us what is different. It’s up to you to determine how full of crap society is –and it usually is filled to the brim!
When I was really young, I had no earthly idea that my brother was different. He was my best friend. We played, laughed, fought, and grew together. Learning that he was different took time, years in fact. I have my mom to thank, because Jeremy never seemed to be treated differently in our house , nor did he have different or less strict expectations. I did not learn of differences until I was older, and some were revealed and some discovered. For example, when I was a very young kid, I was my brother’s translator as his speech capabilities were severely hindered by physical and mental handicaps. My parents told me stories of him speaking in Jeremy-speak, and them looking to me for translation. I apparently understood every syllable of gibberish that left his mouth. I did not know until I was older that he was different in any way. Truth be told he wasn’t different back then and he still is not different. He just is. He is Jeremy. Jeremy is my brother, and the best brother.
2. Cruelty is taught by adults, and adults can be really awful.
As time passed, and my little mind learned and experienced more about the world, the differences between him and myself grew. He is my older brother, but from an early age I was bestowed the honor and responsibility of being his older brother in mind and spirit. I realized that the world was cruel, and stupid without just cause. The worst part is not seeing other kids being cruel, but adults, parents of other children. The teachers of hate are ignorant parents and “adults” Adults…. If you can call them that without throwing a few profanity laced tirades to accompany the word. I remember grown adults imitating and making fun of my brothers walk to their children in store parking lots. I remember adults making fun of the way he talked. I remember adults beating their chest with the side of their hand. I remember adults starring at Jeremy like he was the plague. I remember adults never talking to Jeremy, but would say something to me. Freaking grown adults! I don’t pretend to understand what other races claim to feel or experience when dealing with racism, but I do know what it is like to experience extreme prejudice for something that is not within control. People are horrible, but that is okay. Not everyone is horrible, nor can horrible people be useless. Horrible people taught me how not to be horrible, and to treat others with love and respect. So, thank you to all of the ignorant a-holes that treated my brother like crap to build up their own defenses against their insecurities. You taught me well, you un-wise sages, you taught me well. BTW, I do love the ignorant a-holes, and respect their right to ignorance, but being loving does not mean sugar coating things to people with thick skulls. You have to hammer truth into their ignorant thick skulls. Truth is loving. Making fun of handicap people is terrible. Teaching your child to make fun of handicap people makes you a ______________ (Fill in the blank in the comments section below if you choose).
3. Not everyone experiences life’s milestones.
As you grow up with a mentally handicap brother, only one of you really gets to grow up. As I would hit and experience life’s little and large milestones, there would always be a mixture of pride followed by guilt, followed by sadness. Little things you and I take for granted are events that someone, my brother in this case, will never be able to experience. The best way to think of my brother is, he has the mental learning capacity of a 4-5-year-old, the hormones of a normal male at normal times, the speech ability of a 13-year-old. His ability to analyze a situation can take minutes, hours, days, years. In many aspects he understood more than I ever gave him credit for, because even the understanding brother can underestimate the handicap brother. So, when I had my first girlfriend, or got calls to the house (pre-cell phone… aka the dark ages), it did not occur to me that Jeremy was missing out on those same moments. He would never dial 6 numbers and hang up before dialing the 7th (before area codes were mandatory… again, dark ages). He’d never stay up late on the phone and have a “No you hang up”, battle. He saw me have it though, and he himself started to realize he was not experiencing things that I was. He wanted to do those things, but didn’t know how. Not many things in life will break your heart more than seeing someone you love be in pain because their mind and body are a personal prison. It’s easy to think that he doesn’t have that level of understanding, but you gather little clues throughout a lifetime that say he does understand. He wants to be normal more than we want him to be normal. He wants to drive a truck. He wants to get married. He wants to be a dad. He wants to go to work, and have a real job conquering daily challenges. He wants a life that is not hindered, not handicapped… like him. He wants a full life, and not the one he is limited too. As his brother, my heart has always been pierced with pain during a major life event, as I realize that Jeremy will never experience it. I am no saint. I try to forget that fact sometimes, and other times I let the little feeling barely affect me. It’s easier to think about how great his life is rather than all the things that are sad. Focus on the positive rather than the negative. That is mostly what Jeremy does, but his eyes don’t lie and sometimes reveal that pain deep within him.
4. I am a selfish daydreamer that wanted a different brother than what I got, but I learned that mine is who I needed.
There are many selfish thoughts that infiltrated my mind throughout my life in regards to Jeremy. Most common was, “Why can’t I have a normal older brother” & “Why does he always have to embarrass me?” Do you see now that I am not a saint? I’m human, and while life with a handicap brother is not as hard as some think, it most certainly is hard at times. Both those common thoughts of selfishness are centered around me, and how he affects me. Silly, childish, naive, and truly selfish thoughts. Not all my thoughts were/are selfish, but the ‘normal’ thing is fairly constant. I daydreamed often about what his life might look like and how our relationship might be. Whether it is healthy to ponder such things is of no concern to me. I see a ‘normal’ Jeremy as a heavy machinery operator because he loves tractors, lawn mowers, and anything with mechanical power. I see him as carefree, and rugged. I see him as better looking than me, and far better with the ladies (growing up). I see him having a simple life, but a fun one, filled with friends, fishing, and wood work. I see him being a loving husband, but less ambitious about his future than I am. I envisioned him being a jerk to me, but being there for me when I needed him. I envisioned learning at least a few purposeful lessons from him, rather than the hard way. I envisioned him teaching me how to fight, instead of the hard way. I envisioned me wanting to always be around him and his friends, but him always telling me to get lost. The point is… I wanted more for his life, and some of the reasons were selfish, but mainly I wanted more for him. I love him. He may not have been the brother I sometimes selfishly dreamed about, but he was always the brother I needed. He was maybe the biggest influence in making me the man I am today.
5. Embarrassment is for the young and weak.
Another less than admirable, un-saint-like, kind of despicable attribute of growing up with a handicap brother was the embarrassment I felt. It’s easier for parents not to be embarrassed because they know that you shouldn’t care what others think. They also know that Jeremy was and will always be a child, he’s just a bigger child now. So, if he has an accident in his pants, or any other hygiene problem, it doesn’t embarrass a parent. I was no parent. As a teenage boy, what would you do if every girl you ever met in high school asked you; “Are you Jeremy Lemon’s brother”, when they learned your name and when you said yes they replied, “He grabbed my butt one time.” Thanks to many jerks influencing my brother to do bad things, many girls body parts were grabbed. Many racist and religiously atrocious comments were fired from his mouth towards some influencers enemy. A friend of mine who is Jewish, told me years after high school that my brother uttered the worst words anyone had ever said to him. Someone had relentlessly urged my brother to walk up to this friend and say; “Did you find your grandmothers fingernails dug in the wall?”. To put those words into context, this friend had just gotten back from visiting the Jewish internment camp his grandmother had been murdered at during World War II. A friend of my friend had to be the culprit, because only his close friends knew anything about his trip, and most certainly my brother did not. Again, people can be horrible. Either way, I was embarrassed a lot growing up. The one time that embarrassed me the most –I do mean like crawl in a hole and never come out bad– Was the day I realized how shameful it was for me to be embarrassed by my brother. I let him down all of those times, by being just like them. I knew better and still allowed embarrassment and resentment to fill my selfish heart. I was so embarrassed of myself, that I never again allowed myself to be embarrassed of him. I embraced those moments with steely determination to help him and protect him without care of myself or my feelings of weakness. (Side Note: I want to truly thank all the people that showed maturity, understanding, compassion, and empathy towards my brother, ESPECIALLY to those that encountered the evils of others through my brother’s words and actions. I am truly sorry that he that he was used as the hand of evil. I am truly sorry that he may have hurt you with words or fist. I am sorry to those that he crossed a personal line with groping urged by others. I pray that none of you experienced continued pain.)
6. Sticking up for the innocent is worth the fight.
I mentioned in my last post about having a “Case of the Mondays”, that I got in a lot of fights for my brother. I hate fighting. I hate hurting other people. I’ve had nightmares about it in the past. My parents know very little about the numerous fights I got in, and I was lucky to never be jumped, or caught fighting at school, but I fought a lot. It’s easy to stop caring about hurting someone when that person is hurting your defenseless brother. My first real fight was because some jerk thought it would be funny to slap my brother. Too bad for him, I saw it happen. If anyone has seen the movie “A Christmas Story”, when Ralphie finally attacks the bully… yeah it was something like that. I was in middle school, and tears were streaming as fists were flying. It was a blind rage. No thought, no hesitation… just fists. I learned a very valuable lesson that everyone should know about fighting. IF you have to fight, do not hesitate and make sure you punch first. Do not do the silly pushing back and forth thing first, that is how you lose a fight. I do not condone fighting or harming another human being, but protecting the innocent is of the upmost importance to anyone with a shred of character and moral fiber. Just remember that every handicap man, woman, boy, or girl, is a child now and forever. So, do not stand by and allow a child to be assaulted. Make sure you do the assaulting against the enemy of innocence.
7. A brain that functions at the level of a child means the owner of that brain is forever a child.
Speaking of Jeremy being a child forever, there are some fun things that go with that. For example; Santa still existed in our home until I was about 26, and semi existed until I was 28. I had the pleasure of embracing Jeremy’s innocence and childlike thoughts and behaviors a lot, and it was always a blast. Bowling with bumpers. Making fart noises still cracks him up. Punching him and then running away. Telling “Your Mama” jokes (no the irony is not lost on me). One of the most fun weekends of my life was when my parents went to New York for the weekend, and I got to adultsit my adult brother. We ate pizza, did yard work, went to the hardware store, flirted with the cashier (I was single at the time), and he and I talked and talked. He is so deep. His childlike mind is truly the fountain of youth, and should be a great reminder to us all that life is short and should be enjoyed. Man he is a lot of fun. Some of his child like behavior is not fun though. Moody when he is hungry or sleepy. Bored easily. Maker of historic messes, and the list goes on. As any parent would say, the good far out ways the bad.
8. Not all handicap people have Downs…
Here is a lesson not learned by me, but one I want to teach all of you. Read carefully. When someone is talking about their mentally handicapped family member, NOT ALL HANDICAP PEOPLE HAVE DOWN-SYNDROME! Seriously, just about every person I have ever talked about Jeremy with, asked if he had down-syndrome. I know that one time that you met a down-syndrome person was cool, because they were so loving and affectionate, but not all handicapped people have downs…. Nor do all of them have a specific syndrome, with a fancy name. Do I sound sensitive? Well, it is annoying and it is a little ignorant. If someone is discussing a family member who has cancer, I do not just start guessing what type, especially when I only know one type…. It’s really stupid and kind of hilarious.
“I like food.” The person stated.
“Awe…. I’m sorry. Do you like spaghetti?” Said the random guesser.
See how weird it is to just guess? So many options of food, and only one guess…. Hmm, makes sense.
9. A simple mind is not always a shallow mind, but a deep eddy of truth.
The thing that surprises me the most about Jeremy, is the depth in which he feels, and the expression of that depth with rare and profound words. I can think of a few times in my life where he has let out some jaw dropping, unbelievably wise, and loving desires, dreams, or reality checks. He has blown me away, and every time he has blown me away, I am forever moved deeply. He waits to reveal these truisms when he has your undivided attention. He waits until you are focused on his face so that you do not miss one ounce of emotion escaping his eyes (heart). He doesn’t tell you something this important without knowing you will hear it. You see, he’s about to tell me something that has taken him years to understand and years to determine how to feel about it, and years to figure out how to express it. At these rare moments is when I feel like it is God talking to me through Jeremy’s heart, and what a beautiful heart it is. These moments where he opens up to me are incredible, and unfortunately I will not give any examples. These moments are treasures, and I will keep them for myself. He revealed these things alone and in confidence, so shall they remain. You understand, of course.
I could write about him and my experience with him, because of him, for him, and in honor of him for weeks and months, and probably have an interesting novel. I’m not going to, at least not now. This was written as all my post are written, and that is not to preach, not to demonize, not to evangelize, but to remind myself of something important. The importance of not forgetting lessons I have learned. If someone else can take something away from what I write, then I could not be happier, but this is for me. A release.
If you have taken the time to finish reading this, I thank you. I thank you for reading about the amazing person that is my brother. If I could leave you with some parting thoughts, it would be:
Whether it is skin color, social standing, origin of country, religion, physical condition, mental condition or ANY other separator, no one is different and yet everyone is unique. Do not feel sorry for those who society deemed to be in need of lifting up. Everyone has struggles. Everyone has different realities that they live within. Everyone wants more for their life. Everyone feels pain, and everyone can receive love. God has called us to LOVE everyone. My brother is no different than you as a human, he just has different circumstances and different struggles. There is no ‘normal’. My advice is to love everyone, including yourself.
People who are parents, siblings, or friends to a handicapped person are not heroes. They are people that choose to love, and are no different than people who choose to love me or you.
“Learn from anyone and everyone, especially those whom circumstances are most different from your own.”
10. What I learned from my handicap brother, was everything.
What I learned from my brother was everything. He taught me to be humble, to live, to laugh, to fight when fighting is needed, to run without care, to rise above adversity, to long for a better future, to love without condition, to support those in need of support, to only cast judgement at myself, to only feel embarrassment in the riches of love, to be free, to know your own prisons, to be patient, to empathize, to sympathize, to have childlike joy at all costs, to be obsessed with the things you love, to be there when people need you to be, to be a friend, to be a brother, to be me.
I love my brother, and I am Eternally grateful to God that I have the pleasure to know, love, and experience this world with one of the greatest people to ever live. Jeremy, I love you bro!
Diary from a brother to a handicapped teacher of life.