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“Niki Ragone? Is Thomas Ragone your brother?”
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Before everything happened, this was a compliment. Five years my senior, he was a popular student, and I was proud to be known as his sister. The summer before eighth grade, though, that phrase took on an entirely different meaning. Instead of an impressed look, it was now paired with sympathetic eyes and an earnest apology.
On July 6th, 2011, my brother suffered from a skateboarding accident that left him in a coma for a month. After he regained consciousness, he transferred to a rehabilitation center for another eight weeks in order to regain the essentials that I and many others take for granted. He learned to talk, walk, eat, and read for the second time in his life. My brother’s traumatic brain injury drastically altered his life, along with mine.
Once I saw him in his hospital bed with half of his skull removed, unable to help him, I knew nothing would be the same ever again. What I once knew to be my vivacious and comforting home was transformed into a space of eerily emptiness, just like my inner feelings. Every person I encountered made me feel pitied, even my friends. Each conversation contained “How’s your brother doing?” and I felt suffocated by the overwhelming “empathy”. Inadvertently, I directed this frustration towards my brother, but I knew nothing was his fault. All I wanted was my older brother back. Although I could never get the brother I always knew, there was hope. That hope manifests in the moment that replays in my mind; when he first spoke. I stood by his hospital bed crying, feeling such a myriad of emotions and telling him, “I love you so much, T.” Despite not having any idea where he was, he replied back, “I love you too.” I realized that was the real relationship I wanted with him.
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I recognized the need to express more cooperation and encouragement. I had to become an adult at the age of 12, and my role transformed from little to big sister in a matter of months. I helped him with everything I could. I tutored him in his math class, played brain-stimulating games, and became his caregiver before even entering high school. Through this newfound role, we became much closer than before and I realized how grateful I was that my brother was miraculously alive. We had become best friends.
Overall, I discovered a strength and independence that I was not aware I possessed. My parents were not always there for me during that time, but this gave me the opportunity to delve deep into my inner self. I learned that I love helping others, a passion that continues to thrive through my volunteer work. My brother’s accident taught me perseverance and now I truly understand that life does not always go as planned. Bad things happen to good people; bad things happen to everybody. The only thing one can do is have patience and remain determined. Helping my brother, I became the sister that he needed me to be. But more importantly, I have come to understand the person I would like to be.
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