A sick child affects the whole family, writes Helen O’Callaghan
WHEN Susan and Colin Daly’s daughter, Olivia, now 7, was having surgery in a London hospital two years ago, Susan didn’t see her son, Christian, for nine weeks.
“I spoke to him on the phone, but I couldn’t video call him, I’d have been crying. I couldn’t let him see me like that,” says Susan. Her family was “carved down the middle”: She was in London with Olivia and Colin and the then nine-year-old Christian was at home in Carrigaline.
Brendan and Terry Ring, who set up Cliona’s Foundation after losing their daughter, say a child’s serious illness engulfs families and changes siblings.
“Caring for a seriously ill child takes a tremendous toll on the whole family and healthy siblings are no exception.”
The Rings describe healthy siblings of a seriously ill child as “shadow children”.
“Somehow, we’ve got to look after them. What seems to be normal to children growing up — those with an ill sibling — isn’t normal. It affects what they think life is about.”
When Olivia was diagnosed with a liver tumour, aged four, it was a double whammy for the Dalys, as Christian has hydrocephalus. Before he was aged three, he’d had nine neurosurgeries.
“Separation anxiety’s huge for him. His routine is extremely important, it’s like his safety net. He doesn’t deal well with change, so when Olivia and I had to go to London, he was completely thrown,” recalls Susan.
After Olivia’s first stay in the London hospital, Susan brought her back to Carrigaline after seven weeks for Christian’s First Communion.
“That whole time, I couldn’t tell Christian that Olivia and I would be going back to London after the weekend. I didn’t want to ruin his First Communion. I was trying to protect him, but Christian’s very literal, so later, when I’d only be going to London for two days with Olivia, he found it difficult to believe me.”
Susan describes “horrendous” times trying to get Olivia on the plane, with Christian terrified she’d be gone for weeks. When she returned home, the two children were “glued” to each other and Christian, though attached to his mum, was cross with her too.
Olivia does not have to travel to London so frequently, as her consultants come to Ireland.
“Now, the children squabble all the time, but it’s becoming a normal sibling relationship, because we’ve had 12 months of Olivia being really well.”
Children with seriously ill siblings need information about:
Cause: What caused my sibling’s illness? This often masks the unasked question: Was it something I did/didn’t do?
Catch: Can I catch whatever it is from my sibling?
Care: Who’s going to look after me (and my sibling), especially if my parents are in hospital
Cope: How will we, as a family, cope with this?
(From the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity — rainbowtrust.org.uk).
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