Dec 15, 2011 0 Share

Sibling Support: A Story of Friendship

Illustration in silhouette of two little girls playing, holding balloons.

As I shared the news of my recently-launched digital book with a sibling support network on Facebook, I remembered the first form of sibling support I ever experienced, which took the form of a friendship with a fellow sibling named Holly. Our mothers introduced us because they thought we could both use a friend. (They were right.) Yet Holly and I connected not only because both of our younger brothers had autism spectrum diagnoses, but because we were both shy, creative, and extremely introverted girls. Meeting Holly was something of a strange relief; for once, here was someone that I could help come out of her shell. Yet beneath Holly's shyness, I could distinguish the outlines of a vivacious, smart, witty, one-of-a-kind personality, and I couldn't help but want to get to know her. 

We were fast friends, spending untold hours together. When we weren't actually visiting at each other's houses, we were talking on the phone. The fact that we could understand one another's unique siblings was a significant part of the foundation on which our friendship flourished. Whenever my brother ran away or lost his temper, I knew that I could count on Holly for support. This support sometimes took the form of in-depth conversations about the nature of autism, but more often than not, it simply took the form of companionship. With Holly, I felt freer to try new things, and we would include our brothers in our adventures, from skateboarding to trampoline bouncing to picking up litter. This last effort was a part of our Kids Can Do Anything! Club, the mission of which was simple: Save the world by picking up litter, one piece at a time. But regardless of what we were doing, being with Holly and her brother helped me to feel accepted in a time when I wasn't quite ready to 'leave normal' on my own.  

Self-publishing my digital book also reminds me of Holly, because we developed and published a small neighborhood newspaper, The Whippany News. We typed the paper on her family's computer, begged her dad to print out copies at work each month, and sold it door-to-door for 25 cents a copy. (Special anniversary editions were 50 cents.) I would write articles, and Holly would do layout, provide graphics, and illustrate our signature comic strip. We were so proud of our paper, and rightly so; it was a challenge to put together every month, and an even more daunting task to overcome our shared reticence and sell it door-to-door. But we believed in our work, and we believed in each other. 

Sadly, Holly passed away in 2006. Yet I can't help but feel that she would have been proud of me for self-publishing, and that she would have applauded my book's title, "Love’s Subversive Stance." She loved anything contrarian and subversive, and she would have cheered me on in telling the stories of the people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that have changed my life. 

When I think of her, I know that the success of this book is not about monies earned or number of copies sold. Instead, its success is about whether or not the work speaks to people, whether or not the stories ring true. It's about whether or not I could write stories to encourage other siblings and caregivers, whether or not I tapped into that same spirit of adventure and courage that helped two very shy girls to go door-to-door with their neighborhood newspaper so many years ago. I only need to think of my brother, playing the piano, or of Holly, drawing comics, to remember what success really means. When I think of them, I remember that true success is about love. Which, as it just so happens, was Holly's middle name.