STORY TIME – What happened to your brother? Probably one of my most asked questions.
Disclaimer: This post is extremely intimate and personal & in no way, shape or form do I intend to offend anyone. I do touch on religion here but these are just a reflection of my own personal experiences. Please don’t take any offence. Nothing but love for you all. #KeepingUpWithTheRajalingams
There really is no point sitting there wishing for your life to have been a certain way. Honestly, if my family had it our way my little brother (yep that handsome young chap standing in the middle of the photo) would be walking, talking, driving & probably even annoying the crap out of his Akkas (sisters) because that’s what little brothers do best. However, not the case with our adorable brother. This cutie was born in 2000, here in Sydney, Australia at the Westmead Hospital. The whole pregnancy process went quite smoothly for my mum. Right before she gave birth, they scanned her stomach and gave us the thumbs up that the baby is fine. No complications whatsoever. After she gave birth, the doctors were still handing out the thumbs up and we were under the impression it all went well. Everything was great, mum was discharged from the hospital and my sister and I were jumping with joy to meet our new baby brother. Over the next couple of months as tradition follows, we had guests pouring in to meet the little King of the family. Many noticed that my brothers head was disproportionately larger than the rest of his body. My grandma who was living with us at the time was also convinced that something didn’t seem right. However, my parents nonchalantly brushed it off with the thoughts he’s just a newborn he will grow out of it. Over the months, as he started to develop we began to notice his head was always drooped when we propped him upright. He was now 8 months old and he hadn’t started crawling. That’s when our hearts started to pound… and we began to wonder… what’s going on?
Surely nothings wrong. So my parents spoke to a General Practitioner and then took my baby brother for an MRI scan. To think my baby brother was subjected to that whole process still brings me to tears. Anyways, we eventually received the results and the doctor had informed my parents that my brother had cerebral palsy. When mum was giving birth to my brother, the doctors had made a mistake cutting off his oxygen supply. This damaged his grey matter and white blood cells. As a result, he will face many physical and mental difficulties such as walking, talking and interacting like a normal child. This was all jibberish to my parents. All they wanted to know was what medication or operation will cure this “cerebral palsy.” The doctors sighed and explained there is no medication or operation to cure this disability that has now engulfed my brother and family’s life. During a time of celebrating the birth of a newborn our days evolved into my parents bawling their eyes out, my dad drinking his sorrows away..
and my sister and I still just 5 & 7 years old, trying to piece together what was going on. No one was really in the right mindset or had the time to sit us both down and explain what was going on. The house was just a havoc and my parents spent most of their days in hospital rooms, consulting with various doctors. Thank goodness for our grandmother, who was there by our side making sure my sister and I were fed, looked after and I guess not neglected. After hearing the same responses from doctors all around Sydney, my parents then resorted to seeking for medical assistance from outside of Australia. They were willing to do everything in their power to give my brother the normal life he deserved with no pain & suffering. We packed our bags and flew from Sydney to Canada to Germany to India to Sri Lanka to Denmark to Singapore to Malaysia and the list goes on.. we seeked for any cure RELIGIOUSLY and MEDICALLY. When the doctors shook their heads with no solution for us..
We spent months on end at temples. Everyone wanted to have a say and would guilt trip my family into visiting this Saami and that Amman. Money was flying out our pockets but that didn’t matter as we were willing to put our lives on the line to give my brother a chance at living life like a normal child not being plagued with a disability. Eventually, my parents started to lose hope. Weirdly though, my sister and I didn’t. That innocent love. Every day we would wake up in the morning and run over to our brother’s bed and assume he was going to wake up and miraculously start talking. After years and years that hope slowly started to fade away. Then family and friends stepped in, telling us about all the Swamys, Gurus and Amman’s that were trending at the time. They would guilt us by saying, “don’t you want what’s best for your son?” “This could be it. Why not give it a try?” Soon after, we would yet again be on another flight.
Australia is seriously in the middle of no where so getting from here to other countries is a long and heavy trek. On top of that, travelling with my brother on long flights wasn’t and til this day isn’t easy. He makes lots of noises and gets irritated when his routine is disrupted. So you can only imagine the discomfort he would be in on flights, transits, plane food and time differences. But he’s definitely a trooper and somehow gets through it all. Once we flew to Denmark and spent an ENTIRE MONTH at a temple owned by this woman they called, “Abirami Amman.” We were told that she was the answer to all our problems. We were apparently the FIRST Australian family to make the trek all the way to Denmark to seek her blessings and miracles. She was apparently really powerful and was the avatar of Amman. She told us that while we were in Denmark for her religious services we must not venture outside the temple. She provided us accomodation a few kms away from the temple. So everyday we would shower, have breakfast and make our way to the temple. We spent our ENTIRE day at the temple. My brother would have various limes (elimbichambalams) rubbed on his head while this lady chanted prayers. For every lime she used she charged us. I met so many other families who had flown from Canada, London and Europe. I met a lady suffering from Cancer who had given up her treatment to seek the help of this Abiramy Amman. She genuinely believed she would get her life back through the blessings of this woman. A short while after I met her, I heard she passed away. I met another lady suffering from anorexia who also gave up medical treatment to get the blessings and help of Abiramy Amman. She too eventually passed away…
After having exhausted all our medical and religious avenues this woman was our last hope. Can you guys imagine living at a temple for a WHOLE month? Back then there was no proper social media & my sister and I sure as hell had no phones. We had to find ways to keep ourselves entertained. So we would help the Amman during her poojas and abishekhams by getting her bottles of milk, we would do various chore such we sweep and clean the floors of the temple and so forth. Otherwise, we would play with the temple dog, run around the temple grounds and find ways to get our days to fly by. I remembered having a copy of the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince book with me at the time. I swear if I didn’t have my sister and that book I would have died of boredom. This Amman told my parents that if we left the temple grounds to go exploring into the city or visiting family/friends the cure would not work on my brother. So any family we had in Denmark had to make the trip to the temple to visit us as we were on lock down. 31 days just spent sitting there, watching her rub lime after lime on my brother’s head. 9 limes a day to be exact. Money was flying out my dad’s pocket, left right and centre. My brother having to endure so much discomfort and with no means to tell us what he was feeling..
But that’s okay because she was going to make my brother all better. She promised us the world. She said on the last day of our stay he would get up and start walking on his own. She convinced us and even got my dad to jump on the local tamil radio in Denmark to talk about our experience even though nothing significant had happened yet. The last day rolled around. My sister and I jumped out of bed and ran to my brother in the hopes to see him come walking towards us. But nothing. The Amman then reassured us that he will start walking as soon as we land at Sydney airport. 12 years later and that still hasn’t happened..
From that experience my dad made a vow that any overseas travel we do will no longer be for these religious purposes but instead to travel, explore and SHOW my brother the world. We as a family have now come to accept his disability for what it is. He goes to a special school where these teachers are specifically trained to look after, coach and nurture children with various disabilities. There, they teach him how to walk, communicate and express himself. Through all the speech, occupational and physiotherapist my brother has experienced various improvements. He will continue to be THE most strongest, most resilient, most charming, most cheeky, most adorable King of our family. He has kept our family so grounded and is a constant reminder for us to be grateful to all that we are blessed with. His name is Athavan which means the sun. Despite whatever happens in a day, we know for sure the sun will rise the next day. It will always be a constant. and just like that, my brother’s love for us will rise and continue to be a constant.