Sibling Spotlight: Brandon the Wonder
A unique aspect of Friends of Karen is our ability to provide critical support through the trajectory of an illness. The Family Support Team of Social Workers and Sibling Support Specialists are constants in a time of chaos and unpredictability. Throughout treatments at different hospitals and clinics, through survivorship and unfortunately in cases of bereavement, Sibling Support Specialists continue to engage families and children as individuals but also part of the greater Friends of Karen community. We believe that grief shared can help lessen the unbearable heaviness and isolation of losing a child. Friends of Karen offers support groups, individual Sibling Support, a yearly memorial service and most recently family bereavement retreats made possible from a generous grant from New York Life.
The feeling of support and connection between the families and staff is deep rooted and families will often look to the Family Support team as a lifeline in challenging times. This month’s very special Sibling Spotlight, Brandon, was only two years old when his older sister Melanie died after a long battle with cancer. As he grew older and began to struggle with big feelings and even bigger questions about his sister, his mother, Edna, reached out to Friends of Karen social worker, Marla, for help. Marla had provided emotional support throughout Melanie’s illness and established an enduring and trusting relationship with the family. Though it was several years after his sister’s death, the challenges were clearly illness related as children tend to regrieve as they reach different developmental milestones. He was beginning to understand the gravity of that time along with experiencing the worry and intensity along with it. Marla collaborated with Sibling Support Specialist, Siobhan, to provide bereavement support for Brandon.
Today, nine year old Brandon is older and wiser yet his infectious enthusiasm, open heart and kindness is what shines above all. He is brave and silly. An animal lover and french fry connoisseur. He seems to understand the strength that lies in vulnerability and appreciates his loving family more than any tween boy would be expected to. To meet his wonderful family, this is all easy to understand. Entering their home is to be enveloped by warmth and to observe love that has endured unimaginable loss yet continues to find joy in living. Melanie’s presence can be felt through the beautiful photos, stories they share and of course, her service dog, Baza who has become a buddy to Brandon. Through his work with Sibling Support, Brandon has begun to weave Melanie’s story into his own with the knowledge that they shared a special bond and love, and always will. Please read below as Brandon shares his story. He is truly a wonder…
Siobhan – Can you tell me about your family?
Brandon – So my family is very caring and loving and sometimes overprotective. They sacrificed a lot for me. They cook for me. It’s my dad, mom, sister Andi and I’ll include her boyfriend Jesse. He sometimes cooks for us. We also have you dogs- Baza and Keva and of course my axolotl.
Siobhan – What are your favorite things that your mom cooks for you?
Brandon – I love my mom’s chicken soup and tacos. She also makes really good spaghetti and meatballs.
Siobhan – How has Friends of Karen helped your family?
Brandon – You helped me through a lot of tough questions about life and my other sister, Mel. Talking helped me understand what happened to her. I believe that she is now in a wonderful place- heaven.
Siobhan– Can you tell me about Mel?
Brandon – Mel was a wonderful sister even though I don’t remember her very well. I used to be afraid to ask my mom questions about Mel because I didn’t want to, you know, make her very sad. (Working with Sibling Support) made it easier to talk with her about Mel and ask questions. It was easier when you were there with me at first. Now I feel comfortable asking on my own. I used to feel guilty for not remembering her. After talking I realized it would be pretty impossible to remember things from when I was a baby! My mom told me that when I was a baby and cried in my bed, Mel would come over even though she couldn’t see anymore and would bounce and rock me and calm me down. She had the magic touch, my mom said.
Siobhan– What are some of your favorite activities that we’ve done together?
Brandon – I love when you read me books. I really liked the feelings/poetry journal that we made. I keep it in my room. I also like the emoji stickers feelings heart.
Siobhan – What are some things Sibling Support helped you with?
Brandon – You helped me ask questions and get answers. Helped with nightmares and expressing my feelings. I still want you to come over and do sessions!
Siobhan – You attended one of Friends of Karen’s bereavement retreats this year. How did it go?
Brandon – It was very wonderful. I loved all the activities. It was good to be with other kids, it made me feel like I wasn’t the only one with a sibling who died. The only thing I would suggest is more food options for lunch. The sandwiches were good but maybe next time have french fries and hot dogs and a salad too.
Siobhan – What advice would you give to other kids in a similar situation as you?
Brandon – Whoever is going through what I went through I hope that you can remember what happened, take deep breaths and think of happy memories.
Siobhan – How do you remember Mel?
Brandon – I think of her when I’m in my bed because she used to rock me to sleep when I was a baby. I make art to remember her. And Baza, Mel’s service dog. She had Baza because she lost her sight. Now Baza looks after me.
Siobhan – Anything else?
Brandon – I like how you guys do races and raise money in the community. This year I went with my mom to the LI marathon.