When you’re a sibling of a sick kid


Sally Lichner

When you’re a sibling of a sick kid sometimes it feels like you’ll never be anything else.

Sally Lichner, Entertainment Editor

The children behind the hospital visits and the doctor appointments. The children who sit in the waiting room alone with a coloring book in hand. The children who hold their mom’s arm as they pace down hospital hallways.

I came home from my 6th grade science class and saw my family sternly staring at me from the living room. Then the dam walls broke and the news flooded in so fast I couldn’t comprehend it: Stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

When you’re a sibling of a sick kid no one tells you how differently people treat you when they pity you. The family I hadn’t spoken to in years, and haven’t spoken to since, sent me cards, packages and phone calls. Aunts and uncles offered me to stay with them for a while, as if I wanted to be ripped away from my sense of normalcy even more.

Neighbors I hardly knew sent gift baskets. Old friends called and reached out of some sort of moral obligation even though we both knew there was nothing to say. I sat and watched from the couch in the living room as the cards and gifts piled up at the front door with nowhere to go.

As a thirteen-year-old girl, I was left to manage the influx of attention all by myself. Voice mails rang through the empty house with teary grievances. Most of the time it was distant friends and family seeking relief: not for us, but for their own consciousness.

If I answered the phone they could wipe their hands and disappear again for good: I never picked up.

When you’re a sibling of a sick kid no one tells you that when your life has been utterly derailed in a matter of seconds you’ll find it quite important to establish any sort of routine. You’ll never let go of that routine no matter what: get up, call mom, water the garden, find something in the fridge, empty voicemails, watch cartoons, sleep.

Any sort of break in the routine leads to panic. Any and all surprises lead to chaos. Accepting the uncertainty and ebb and flow of life is something I still am working on today.

When you’re a sibling of a sick kid no one tells you about the so-called independence being thrusted upon you. When you have a mother who doesn’t come home for over two weeks at a time, and a father that works from 6 am till 7 pm, you are somewhat forced to pick yourself up by the bootstraps. I found myself becoming my own parent, friend and supporter.

The unspoken understanding of siblings of sick kids is to be as little as a hassle and distraction as humanly possible. In life or death situations you learn that there are bigger things to worry about than a new bike or beach vacation. You learn to stop asking for things and become a lingering shadow in your own house.

When you’re a sibling of a sick kid no one tells you that the smell of hospitals will linger forever. You can still find the elevator to the children’s ward when you close your eyes. You can still hear the monitor’s beep and the nurse’s murmur.

When you’re a sibling of a sick kid sometimes it feels like they’ll never get better. But as soon as it changes from good to bad, the opposite will happen. You’ll discover a new routine, but this time in a full house. The garden will already be watered, the fridge will be stocked and you’ll find yourself fighting for the TV remote.

To siblings of sick kids whose siblings have not or will not get better: I see you. I promise you you are not defined by your sibling’s illness. You do not need to discard your needs and wants as a human being so you can sit in the shadows.

If you are thinking about reaching out to a sibling of a sick kid, please remember this: consistency. Being a sibling of a sick kid can be a very quiet and lonely place, so I urge you to take some time out of your day, month or year to make their home feel a little less empty.