My Best Friend, My Brother

Down Syndrome News, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2009

My Best Friend, My Brother
By Jennifer Fry, Jacksonville, FL

I want to tell you about my best friend for more than 28 years. I couldn’t have picked a better one. He’s loyal, fun, caring…and he’s my brother, who is just like me. The only real difference is that he has Down syndrome, and I don’t.

As a friend and sibling of a brother with DS, my life has been far from boring. There are days when I wish that it could be boring just for a day. However, with Doug as a major part of my life, every day — sometimes every minute — is an experience like no other.

I’m getting married in a couple of weeks. Guess who has helped me plan every part of the wedding? Doug went with me when I tried on gowns, visited locations, ordered invitations, and even when I had my make-up done.

We’ve gone on fabulous vacations together: cruises, Orlando, Las Vegas, New York, home to Ohio and more. He’s a great travel partner. His only request is that meals are made a frequent and top priority — which suits me just fine. We both love to eat.

Doug goes shopping with me; and I go to wrestling events with him. He helps me mow the yard; and I help him clean his room.

Once a week, Doug meets me at work on his day off to have lunch together. He knows more people in the building than I do.

Doug works three days a week at Publix, where he’s been for 12 years. We shopped at “his” store the other day, and while we were there, several customers came up to say hello to him and ask if he was enjoying his off day! He also volunteers one day a week at a nursing home. The residents absolutely love him!

Were there times when Doug tested every last ounce of patience that I had? Absolutely! Here are just a few examples that may be funny now, but I didn’t find as funny when they were happening.

There was the time I introduced a new boyfriend to the family, and Doug promptly shared with all of us that he liked the old one better! And he didn’t stop there, the moment my mom was out of the room, Doug told the new one that the old one was coming back to date me again.

When I was in high school, I once left my rings in the bathroom that I shared with my sister, Jill, and Doug. Doug found them and took them to school to give to his girlfriend. His teacher called me to see if I was missing any of my rings.

The most “famous” Doug moment occurred when he decided to drive my dad’s car when our parents were out of town. Note: Doug does not have a driver’s license. When I found out that he drove and asked him why in the world he had to do this when Mom and Dad were out of town, his response was, “There’s not a car here to drive when they are in town!”

Life with Doug has never been dull.

I’m not just Doug’s sister and best friend. There are days when I’m also his mother, swim coach, job coach, taxi service and more. Doug has the busiest social calendar I’ve ever seen. It takes our whole family of five to keep up with him and get him where he needs to be.

Being one of his swim coaches gives Doug and me a chance to spend additional time together. Doug joined the team in 1992. He moved to Tampa with our parents and sister a few years later. When he moved back to Jacksonville in 1997, he rejoined the team. At that time, the team needed extra coaches, so I volunteered. I never swam competitively, but I love Doug and his friends…and that was enough to get me started coaching. Nine years later, I’m still a coach and have taken on the additional roles of team treasurer — and, a priority for the swimmers — the party and trip planner.

Most importantly to me, the swim team gives Doug an opportunity to have a broad social circle that he wouldn’t necessarily have post-high school. We do movie nights, parties, team trips and competitions. Doug’s only request is that when we do a team trip, he gets a chaperone other than me!

I want to stress that in no way is our friendship a one-way street. Two summers ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was devastated and needed round-the-clock help for a few months. Doug stayed with me at the hospital from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. for the several days I was there. He also stayed at my apartment for six weeks and helped me do the daily things that I had helped to teach him over the years: laundry, dog walking, cooking and cleaning.

Doug has taught me a great deal about how to enjoy life. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be a size six to feel good about yourself in a bathing suit…it’s fun to get up in the middle of the night and sneak the last Twinkie…and a trip to Baskin Robbins for ice cream really can make a difference when someone’s having a bad day.

I would offer this advice to others who have siblings with DS: become an integral and important part of your sibling’s life. You will get back everything you give and then some. I know I did. My brother is truly my best friend.

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared in At the Center, the newsletter of the DS Center at Hope Haven, and is reprinted with permission.