Helen Sharon Johnston – pictured centre with her sisters – writes for Stand Up For Siblings about her experiences…

As a child growing up I didn’t like my brothers and sisters, we fought all the time, and very rarely got along. If you’d asked my parents they’d tell you that whenever my brothers, sisters and I were together we were an absolute nightmare.

We were full of the ‘he said this, she said that’ ‘I’ll tell mum‘ mantra that often exists between brothers and sisters. But as much as we hated one another, we loved each other with a love so fierce that you’ll only ever truly understand it if you have brothers and/or sisters yourself. If one of us were the target of a bully suddenly there was four other very angry little people ready to fight for that one of us and God help if that bully had made one of us cry. It didn’t matter what we faced in our young lives, we faced it together.

Growing up in the home environment that I did was in many ways torture, enough to reduce me many times to tears. But no matter what, I always knew that whatever happened I’d face it with those four other little people whom I hated and loved all in the same breath. Through the most difficult moments of our lives at home I took great comfort in the knowledge that no matter how much I fought with my little sisters and big brothers, if I put my hand out into the darkness there would be four other little hands waiting to clasp mine, and remind me that no matter what we had each other.

They were my greatest strength and the only thing in my life that ever felt safe and familiar.

When I came into care, the most difficult thing I faced was losing them. I didn’t care very much that I’d left my home, or the community that I had grown up in. I didn’t even care very much that I had been placed with strangers miles away from the only environment I had ever known. What did break me though was the absence I felt not having my brothers and sisters with me. Suddenly I was alone, I had nobody and nothing in this world that was safe anymore and that is a feeling that has followed me every single day over the last nine years since we were forced apart. I’ve spent half my life in care now, that’s half my life away from the only people I’ve ever truly needed in my life.

Through everything I’ve faced the last nine years it’s been so much harder to fight because I’ve fought it alone. Through my darkest moments I’ve had to reach out into the dark and instead of finding the hands of those I love most I’ve found the harsh cold air of an empty room and closed doors. I’d honestly give my last breath just to spend even one day with my brothers and sisters all together, I’d do anything to hear that ‘he said, she said ”I’ll tell mum’ mantra that I heard too often at home, and I’d even do anything to get the chance to fight over the silly things that brothers and sisters get to fight over.

I got told so many times that it’d get easier to be away from them and that time would heal the hole I felt inside at their absence but nothing has ever eased the pain of not being with them and it’s never more painful than it is around the festive season – a season all about family and love and belonging.

It’s times like this, more than ever that their absence is so prominent that it consumes me and it breaks my heart more than it is even possible to describe.

The love I have for my brothers and sisters is the one thing in my life that no one, no thing and no amount of time has ever been able to take away from me. Even if I cannot see them, even if I cannot spend my Christmas with them this year or next like the last nine, one thing that will always be true is that they are forever in my heart and on my mind. I love my little sisters and big brothers more than life and I’d genuinely give anything to have the chance to tell them that.

Christmas has become one of the most difficult times of year for me. As a child growing up with my brothers and sisters, Christmas was the best time of year for me, it didn’t matter that there was rarely ever any presents under the tree or that mum and dad would be arguing more than ever, or even that we became more likely to be a target of our fathers anger, because we always had one another. Christmas for my brothers, sisters and I meant wrapping old clothes in blankets as a makeshift present for one another and cuddling up in one of our bedrooms watching old Disney video tapes, 1001 Dalmatians being our favourite. It was sneaking down stairs once mum and dad were asleep and taking there leftover fizzy juice and junk food (there was always plenty) upstairs to share between the five of us, because for some reason that day all arguments, all hate, and all wars we were having simply ceased to exist and we were all just content to sit in each others’ presence.

Christmas for me now is being all too aware of their absence, being aware that no matter how happy the world presents itself to me, I can’t ever really feel that same sense of happiness. It’s become about faking smiles and thanks for presents that are always there, when the only thing I have ever wished for is the one thing that I cannot have. It’s become about managing the gaping hole I feel inside and simply getting through the festive period without breaking down in tears at their absence because no matter how grateful I am to have so many presents or smiling people around me, nothing can shake the heart breaking feeling of not knowing where your brothers and sisters are spending their Christmas and nothing will ever take away the ache that is the longing I feel to be with them.

I hope one day we can all be apart of each others’ lives again, that one year, one Christmas I’ll be able to hold them each in my arms and tell them of all the things we’ve missed growing up apart. I hope that one day I’ll reach into that darkness and find all four of their hands waiting, ready to hold my hand again and I hope that when that day comes they’ll be able to be proud of the person I have become.

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