The Most Important Lesson I Learned from My Down Syndrome Brother

I had always thought that my brother was the ultimate victim. Not only did he prove me wrong, he also showed me why he was instead the ultimate fighter.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

I recently decided to purchase a round-trip ticket to Iloilo for a three-day visit. After an hour-long flight and a 30-minute cab ride, there I was in front of the house I grew up in. I knocked, was let in shortly and there he was sitting beside the dining table, my brother! I immediately rushed to hug him as tight as I could.

My brother is just like any brother anyone could have. He’s sweet, caring, loves to eat and loves to play with his papers among many other things. You heard that right, he loves playing with random, worthless scratch papers as makeshift action figures.

He likes it when you hug him tight or give him a kiss on the cheek, especially if you’re an attractive young woman. He has always seemed to have a way with the ladies.

My brother is special, and not just because he has down syndrome and can’t speak. He’s one of those people who could just light up a room and turn a gloomy situation lively and joyful, almost instantly.

He’s beloved by everyone and rightfully so — he says hi to and high fives every soul he meets (and a bonus hug for the girls). He is and will always be the baby of the family, despite being 22 years of age.

I’m not gonna lie though, I was a bit fearful while on my flight home. So many things have happened since I left about a year ago. I was just praying that he was all right, that he hadn’t become too lonely.

My brother and I spent about a couple of days together, just bonding. We went to the movies, grabbed some ramen and visited my grandparents, which to no surprise made him very happy. After a couple of days with him, not only did I realize that he was fine — it’s true that he was sadder than usual, but he was fine — I also learned a valuable lesson on contentment and patience from him.

I came home to somehow save my brother, somehow alleviate his pain. I must admit that I had initially perceived him to be the ultimate victim. He later proved to me that he was instead the ultimate fighter.

For context, I left home for Manila to get married and start a new life mid last year. My sister followed suit about 6 months ago when she left for Hawaii to go to college. Because of this exodus, my stepmother and younger half-sisters came home to Iloilo, after living 3 years in Japan, to look after my brother.

This left my brother devoid of his two favorite people in the world; people whom he grew up with. His environment was suddenly replaced by a completely different one, populated by familiar yet seemingly emotionally distant personalities. My much younger sisters and mother— whom I also love — actually treat him well, don’t get me wrong. That said, it’s still relatively indifferent and a lot less warm in retrospect.

The number of hugs and kisses he receives on a daily basis has dropped to a whopping 0 from nearly one every minute! Not to mention the fact that my stepmom also treats him with strict supervision and puts a firm control over what he eats, all this can really get a little taxing for him psychologically.

Considering how my brother is down syndrome, couldn’t speak nor understand phrases let alone full sentences, and therefore cannot express himself as much as he’d want to, it worried me a great deal; that he might have been overwhelmed by the sudden emptiness that’s slowly creeping in, that it could potentially evolve into a deep loneliness, or worse. Depression? I sure hope not.

His comfort zone had left, along with me and my sister, on a plane and he has no way of knowing whether it’s coming back in a week, a year or never.

“Why, How?? Where did my brother and sister go? Why am I suddenly being treated like this? Are they ever coming back?”

I’m just trying to imagine what might possibly be going through his mind. The more I empathize with him, the more it’s starting to feel all too depressing. The idea that you can’t immediately get answers to the most urgent questions because of your physical limitations is just unfathomable to me.

In spite of all that, after spending time with my brother for two full days, I was convinced that he was going to be all right. I never would’ve guessed that I was going to pick up a refresher on patience and contentment from him, but I did and it made me glad that I got to know him, really know him, a lot more.

I was observing his daily routines and asked people around of how he’s been these past few months —according to them, it’s as if he had immediately come to grips with reality after his siblings’ departure and accepted it like a hardcore stoic. That deeply resonated with me and struck me to the core.

In this internet and smart phone age, I’ve observed that a good number of humans, even the best of us, have entered into a state of paranoia.

All this readily accessible information help us stay on the loop with frequent updates on the areas of our lives that matter the most, as well as those that don’t matter as much— the latest trends in our respective industries at work, updates on our favorite sports teams, what our best friend had for lunch — we have access to all of it.

And being the social animals that we are, our natures are to no surprise magnetically drawn to all this information, almost like a powerful drug.

Ever since homo-sapiens really started to think more deeply, Yuval Noah Arari mentioned in his book Sapiens that we’ve always been addicted to information and gossip. Now with smartphones, humans are high on information every single day!

And once we’re left in the dark for almost anything we find important, it absolutely “kills” us.

My brother doesn’t have access to any of this, not even the answers to the simplest “whys” in life, living constantly in the dark.

That doesn’t stop him though from trying to be happy. It doesn’t stop him from smiling to himself at times and finding amusement from the most unlikely of sources. He has accepted his situation while at the same time continuing to cling to the glimmer of hope that that feeling of warmth and affection that he used to receive from me and my sister will indeed come back.

He, to me, will always be a living manifestation of patience and contentment and we’d do well to learn from him.

Thanks for reading! In case you’re wondering, my wife and I are planning to have my brother come live with us in a few months. Oh, how I wish I could just simply call him up and tell him the good news! No matter, he’ll have to wait and continue to find ways to enjoy himself until that happens. Cheers!

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