I was flying from Gatwick to Cyprus in July.
I was sat next to two boys, I think they were brothers. One of the boys looked
older and had a disability. He could speak but, like my Christo, I realised you had to live with him to know exactly what he needed. I knew right away how stressed this brother must have been – he had a big bag, he had to help his brother sit down, fasten his seatbelt and keep him occupied for the flight; 4hrs.
I cannot describe how amazing this boy was to his brother (or other relative); that kind of love and devotion is only found in family. It was small things – like he had to give him water during take off and landing. He had to get up and get his food from the bag and feed him, he made sure to feed him first and then eat himself, he made sure to give him water. When he needed to use the facilities the brother would shoot up in an instant. It’s this little surge of panic you get when the person you are responsible for asks for something; I felt it too every time they got up. He would walk him over and wait, help him dress himself and walk him back, sit him down, fasten his seatbelt and let out a tiny little sigh of relief; and I did too.
I wanted to offer to help, but he was so in control. If it was me, and someone offered their help I would just say ‘thank you but we are okay’. It is lovely for people to offer but when you’re in the zone, it’s difficult to let others in on it; you’re in control and it’s all okay. So, I sat there with my book and gave him space. He knew where everything was, he was organised, he was alert, he was being a brother. I didn’t speak to them, or ask any questions because in this kind of situation you just need to be able to focus without worrying about others. Every second of that flight I had to remind myself not to get involved, because if it was me I would appreciate someone being understanding. Every time he asked for something I would have to hold myself back, and when the brother had to use the facilities himself he sort of told his brother to sit still. It took everything I had to not get involved; while the brother was gone the other drank his tea, which I thought was hilarious because that’s exactly what Christos would do. He just sat there, like he was asked to do, drank his brothers tea and put everything back before the other brother appeared.
When he wanted to sleep his brother made sure he was comfortable enough and didn’t shut his eyes until he knew his brother was asleep. On landing, we smiled, exchanged pleasantries and went our separate ways. The entire flight I probably only read a couple of pages of my book. It was so hard to not be fascinated by this boy – who couldn’t have been more than 20 – who was so responsible, so in the zone, so in control. It was comforting to see another sibling in action. It was inspiring the way he handled himself; after all it isn’t something new to him, it’s embedded in his mannerisms and the way he acts.
Not participating can be just as comforting for a family, as you asking questions and offering help. Sometimes the biggest help is staying out of it and letting the family do what they do best – take care of their loved ones – without staring.
Sometimes understanding is the biggest comfort you can give to a stranger.