Visiting a friend I found myself at the Diamond Jubilee party for a care home for residents that have physical and mental problems. The staff thought bringing my dogs would really add some joy and they did, which was something that was wonderful but also painful as it brought back memories of my brother, Henry.
Watching this celebration took me back to my childhood. Visiting my Brother, I remember the crushing fear, I understood only that he was different and he lived in what looked like an old hospital. I was not allowed to ask questions. I don't remember seeing any joy, although he rocked and purred like my guinea pig when my mother hand fed him pieces of cafeteria meat pies. As an eight year old, this horrified me. I now know that it was so traumatic for my Mum that whilst she could show him love, she did not have the strength to talk to me about it. It hurt.
Through the dogs I met the other patients. I met Billy and his niece Crystal who clamped her hand on my wrist. Whilst Crystal looks relatively ordinary, she isn't. Born 18 years ago at 23 weeks to "junky Parents", she was born
with no frontal lobe to her brain and "much, much more". Her father died in prison, and she was fostered from a baby. The doctors did not think she would survive, later thinking she would not be able to walk, talk or reason. She requires a lot of support, love and attention but she can now do all of those things. She champions her uncle admirably in a direct and slightly scary way.
Crystal asked me if I knew of anyone like Billy. I said I had had a brother but that he died years ago. She asked what had happened, unblinkingly waiting for an answer. I tried to answer as best I could in addition to the other questions that followed, but it was hard. I had never been asked these questions before. It felt like she was my eight year old self and I was my mother. It was overwhelming.
She saw my camera and said "take our picture" which I did, then turned around so they wouldn't see my tears.