My older brother Mark has special needs.
His “condition” has been called many things throughout the years; mildly retarded, learning disabled, cognitively challenged.
Mark lives in a 57-year-old body, but emotionally is a pre-teen who functions at a first-grade academic level.
His lot in life has been a big influence on both my life and my sister's’ life. She became a Special Needs Teacher and I became a Guidance Counselor.
We are both driven to help people.
Last year, my brother was in a car accident. Thank God he was okay, but he did get pretty banged up and broke his pubic bone; he had to use a walker, and then a cane, and had to go through physical therapy for months.
On the night of the accident, after Mark was released from the hospital, I was talking to him on the phone. Suddenly, my brother started sobbing uncontrollably.
I completely knew how to handle this. After all, I had spent much of my adult life being both a counselor and a coach. I deal with crying people all the time.
No problem, I thought.
I got this!
At first, I believed Mark just needed a loving presence that could hold a safe space for him while he experienced all of his emotions.
I told him he was doing a great job feeling his feelings.
I gave him periods of silence.
I told him to just keep crying and let it all out.
I made comforting sounds.
I named his feelings for him: shock, terrified, worried.
I told him that this was all normal.
After about twenty minutes, the crying did not subside. Not at all. It didn’t even slow down.
I moved on to slow deep breathing.
For 10 minutes I guided my brother through slow, calm, deep belly breathing.
It didn’t work.
The crying continued.
I tried grounding him.
I had him press his back and his legs into the bed so that he would feel supported. I had him wrap himself in a blanket in order to feel held.
The sobbing did not stop.
I tried bringing him into the present moment.
I had him look around the room and describe every single thing he saw; the furniture, the TV, what was in each of the dozens of pictures he had up on his wall.
Damn, I thought, maybe I can’t help him.
A few moments later, my 86 year old father with whom my brother lives, opened the door and asked what was wrong. I instructed my brother to hand the phone to our Dad. I said that Mark was just reliving the accident in his mind and not to worry.
I didn’t want my Dad to be upset too.
I acted like I had everything under control.
I didn’t have anything under control.
My Dad said, “Judy, we’ll call you back.”
I immediately ran to my husband, who happens to be a doctor, and started talking about a plan to get Mark to an emergency room for mental health intervention. I impatiently waited for 15 minutes and then I called my Dad back. I was prepared to tell him that he should take Mark to the hospital.
Surprisingly, Mark answered the phone.
He was totally calm.
Me: Mark, are you okay?
Me: Are you sure?
Mark: Yeah, I'm fine.
Me: “Put Dad on the phone!”
“What happened?”, I asked my father incredulously. “What on earth did you do to calm him down?” Nonchalantly my Dad replied, “I got him a bowl of cereal.”
I was flabbergasted.
All of my training as a Guidance Counselor, all of my training as a Life Coach, all of my degrees and certifications in various forms of communications, they didn’t do squat!
My Dad getting him a snack was all he really needed.
Huh, what do you know!
Looking back at this whole story now, I realized that I forgot to ask the one question I always ask my clients whenever they are distraught, “What do you need right now?”
They always seem to know this answer.
Moral of the story:
I continue to learn from the wisest, most loving soul I know.
Well done Dad, well done!