Learning to be a good sister

I really used to think that I was a great sister. Probably not the most perfect nor the best one out there, but I thought I wasn’t too bad. I don’t put my brother down, I am there to help him, I let him hang out in my room, etc. Taking a gap year between graduating from my undergraduate degree and starting medical school has put a lot of things into perspective, particularly how awful of a sister I have become.

I am about 7.5 years older than my younger brother. I grew up helping my mother watch over him, feed him, play with him. I would hold him when my mother was exhausted from a full day of work. It was like it was the two of us against the world. As a result we are really close. My mother jokes that if she tells him to do something he would take forever to begin, but if I called him for something he would come running.

Being at college changed our dynamic. My brother didn’t have a cell phone, so a lot of our face-to-face interaction suddenly disappeared. He avoids Facebook, so that method of contact was out of the window. We were still close and we would be glad to see each other on breaks, but worrying about him had been put on the back-burner. I was more focused on school, making new friends, adapting to a new environment across the country, and trying to figure out how I was going to get from being an undergraduate to going to medical school.

As a pre-medical student, I was more worried about where I could make my mark. How would I shine? How do I show that I am interested in helping people? Where in my life can I utilize my passion for helping and actually put actions to my words? I joined a wonderful program that worked with inspiring an interest in science among elementary school students at an intercity school. Their budget made it difficult for them to provide very many after school programs. On top of that, their State test scores were showing that the kids were clearly suffering in the science section. This program was perfect for me. Having grown up with a younger brother had me invested in other young children and I found enjoyment showing other why science was a beautiful thing.

I joined cultural clubs and mentored freshmen, I enjoyed sharing my Hopkins experience with high school students, and I always had words to say for the younger pre-medical students looking advice. I gave a lot of myself away to others and somewhere along the way I forgot what it really meant to be there for my brother.

My brother, being an introvert, is unlikely to ask for help. He describes himself as socially awkward and tends to deal with problems himself. Getting him to tell you what he needs help with is like pulling teeth. Also, being a rising high-school student did not help. He was growing up and he was looking for space to discover himself.

I recently realized that even though my brother did not ask for help and did not ask for advice, it didn’t mean that he didn’t need it. Having this year off from school has really made me re-evaluate. It is important to help others, but I found that it is also important to take care of your own family and to foster those relationships.

In a recent conversation I had with him on the phone (out of the blue), he kept asking me if I needed to talk to mom and why I was calling. I joked with him: “Why? Do you not want me to call? If you don’t want me to call, I’ll never call again.” Jokes aside, it was a wake-up call. I never call my family just to merely speak with my brother. I always call to speak with mom or ask for help with something. I spent the evening talking with my brother, catching up, and asking him how he was doing. In the gist, I was really aiming to get to know him again. In the past four years he has grown a lot and he probably isn’t the same kid that I had known before I entered college. At the end of the conversation he told me, “Hey. Thanks for the advice.”

My work as a sister is not done. I still have a long way to go, but I think that all our relationships can continue to grow. Being there for family is important and it is a good investment. Helping others is a good investment too, but it shouldn’t be at the sacrifice of your family connections.

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