My name is Jane. I’m an art therapist and a member of the Sibling Support Specialists team. In this new year, I am grateful that we can continue to offer services to our families. Instead of in person sessions, we now meet virtually. Friends of Karen mails our siblings a box filled with art supplies. Then we meet to do art and talk about life and the struggles that having an ill brother or sister has on the sibling. I’m proud to introduce you to one of the siblings I work with, meet Chelsey.
Chelsey is 12 years old and in the 7th grade. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, watching Netflix and playing sports like soccer and basketball. I have been working with Chelsey for a couple months and she is thoughtful, considerate of others, brave and fun! She also loves art, and is good at it. She is willing to take chances, problem solve and change plans, all of which makes for a great artist. When I asked Chelsey to create a piece of art about her experience of being a sibling of an ill child she was flooded with ideas. It has been a tough couple months since her brother was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, even tougher with COVID-19 restrictions. In this interview Chelsey shares with us some struggles, some hopes and understandings of this time in her life.
What do you like about art?
I like the process of art. Art is something you can do many times, places, many ways. You do it to relax and get away from all the bad stuff in your life or make art to describe stuff that happened. Like this image of my journey and how I appreciate my family.
How has your life changed from before your brother was diagnosed with cancer to now?
Before Kyle had cancer I always was in my room. I wasn’t interested in spending time with my family. But then he started going to the hospital and was gone so much. I realized how much family time I didn’t have. Having two parents working and a sick brother always away, I got lonely.
So what happened?
Well in a global pandemic you need family, or other humans. I had my aunt. I cannot tell you what an impact she had on my life. And my cousin! My aunt was always the first one to reach out and take me into her home. I felt so comforted.
How were things between you and your brother?
I was petrified when I heard he was sick. But my brother is going to be my brother no matter what. So I’m still going to be annoying to him even if he is sick. I am being kinda extra annoying lately because of the extra special attention he is getting. He gets gifts all the time. Also we were never allowed to eat on the couch, now he can. And he’s eating in bed, there’s Sour Patch Kids wrappers on the nightstand! He’s allowed to do it because he is sick.
Sounds like you felt your brother was getting special treatment. What else was going on?
Well my grades dropped, things were a lot harder this year.
As a Sibling Support Specialist at Friends of Karen I have the opportunity to help siblings express their feelings of frustration and jealousy. These are all normal feelings during these high stressful times. It is also normal for siblings to struggle at school during these times because of all that is going on. It may be difficult for siblings to focus on school work as they are nervous about their ill brother or sister and the disruption it has caused in family norms.
As a Sibling Support Specialist I inform parents about the sibling experience. When I spoke to Chelsey’s mom she shared how difficult it was for the whole family when her son was in the hospital. She said she missed being at home with Chelsey so she found ways to connect with her. “We would go out to dinner or have a special takeout dinner when I got home from the hospital. My husband and I would split the week so I would have equal time with the kids.” Chelsey also told me about how she was so excited to spend her birthday with her mom, spending all day together.
Chelsey what advice do you have to offer?
Don’t take advantage of your family or friend time. Bad stuff happens in life and you must think positive and find your strengths. Also parents, I know you might not be able to pay attention to the other child, but you have to let them know you have a spot in your heart for them. For kids you have to try not to overthink everything. Your parents will always love you.