Monday, June 08, 2009

Guilt without the Catholicism

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," looking back through the mists of time and seeing nothing but ugliness...

... Well, those mists of time would be my own life, which was extremely difficult from ages 2 to 19.

Today my sister sent me an email. She has had a number of problems with her health. Last time I visited, I watched her consume more than two dozen different pills in the course of a day, most of them expensive vitamin supplements. These were urged upon her by a physician in Alexandria, Virginia -- not a location associated with medical crackpots.

Sis's email today was about her visit to a new doctor in Shippensburg, PA. And that doctor more or less told her she's too sick for treatment. He pointed to several things I had forgotten about completely, all having to do with brain trauma.

Sis and I were young in the 1960s, when basement staircases went straight down, and kids were plopped into walkers before they were ready to walk. I was almost five when Sis was born. Of course I resented her intrusion into the household -- maybe a little more so than most older siblings would. (I've never taken a poll on older sibling jealousy, so give your opinion freely.)

The day Sis decided to explore the basement stairs in her walker, I was standing nearby when she plummeted. As memory serves, I might have been standing close enough to grab the walker before it jettisoned Sis down a flight of stairs. As it was, I watched Sis fly through the air and land on her head with more curiosity than sympathy.

Sis's new doctor thinks that this basement-stairs-and-walker event may have damaged Sis at a tender age. I'm sitting here remembering a seething six-year-old (me) who might have been able to intervene to stop an accident.

I know, I know, six is a young age to be placed in such a position. And later on, I did serve almost as a mom for my sister, since our mother was dangerously sick all the time. But maybe I could have stopped Sis from plunging down a flight of stairs in her walker, which would be one less trauma on her list of ailments today.

Anyone have any suggestions on how I can put myself right about this? I feel bad.

13 comments:

Pom said...

Would logic and physics help? Because the reality of the situation you described imply that the weight of your little sister combined with that of the walker tumbling down the stairs very likely would have pulled you down with her. This could have caused her further injury and added injuries to you as well. A baby gate should have been placed at the top of the stairs as a safety precaution for both of you.

Please remember that you're attaching motives and emotions as an adult to a situation that happened when you were but a wee one yourself. While I'm sure you were a very clever child, I strongly doubt that you were being as malicious or calculated as you might think you were looking back on it now. That is the guilt speaking.

I'm sure others will have better ideas, but this was my first reaction to your story. All I can think of is that despite feeling that you might have been unkind toward your sister at one point when you were very small, you now spend a great deal of time trying to bring bits of light to her life - by reintroducing her to the faeries for one thing. We should all have such siblings...

JaAnBe said...

It may seem like a comfort to attach or take on reasons/blame/responsibility for some of the events of life in order to explain why bad things happen to people. The president's secret service spend months (years?) training their brains and muscles to react without "thinking". How much experience could a 6-year old have in averting an accidental ride down the stairs.

Hecate said...

Excuse me. You were six years old. You were not responsible for your sister; hell, you weren't even responsible for yourself. Don't make me come up there and smack you.

Yvonne Rathbone said...

A 6 year old's brain is not developed enough to be moral. We develop the instinct to reach out and catch someone as we develop an understanding of interconnectedness, cause and effect, our own power to act. If we are lucky, we grow into adults who understand why we need to reach out and try to stop someone from falling even if we are jealous of them and resent them and wish they would otherwise go away. You were lucky. And your sister is lucky to have someone who wishes so much for her well-being.

yellowdog granny said...

there is a difference between being a 6 year old with normal reactions to a crisis...by the time you thought it through..it's done..and actually pushing her down the stairs..you did nothing wrong and if i hear you even think about it again..im coming to jersey and bipping you...i promise..

kim said...

At six your ability to evaluate the situation and react to it correctly before she was beyond your reach was most likely not developed at all. It may be that what made you feel guilty was that you figured out what to do a split second too late, not having the experience to assess the situation fast enough. Plus, the ability to see from another's point of view, in this case to know that it would hurt, develops (begins) at approximately six and three quarters to seven years of age.(from Piaget)
What you should do about it:
Well, what would you do if you had a six-year-old in front of you who had just watched her sister fall down the stairs in front of her? You would hug her and hold her and tell her it wasn't her fault, she couldn't have done anything. At least that's what I would do. Anyway, do whatever you would do if it were your daughter.

buddydon said...

ifn we ackcept that thay wudnt nuthin much a six year ole could do but yer feelin that guilt innywho, i reckcommend a lil japanese sayin miz bd larnt frum a hiroshima survivor. bein frum the town that housed the man hattan projeck, she felt a lil guilt over it (dont make no more sense than yer feelin guilty bout that moment on them stairs). sed the man when ast how he could recover frum such a eevent, 'shi kata ga nai.' he then eggsplaind how that means, 'unfortunate thing happened. we must move on.'

we use it a lot round the house ...

Lori f said...

Only in a movie could a 6-year old have stopped the baby from falling down the stairs.
Now, lets say you HAD grabbed the walker thingie and yanked it back, saving her from falling down the stairs, she could have flown acoss the room and hit the stove with the boiling water on it, and overturned the pot. Giving her burns which she may not have survived and would have been severly scarred.
Most 6 year olds can't remember to clean their room or brush their teeth without being told to. Any any parent who puts a 6 year old in charge of watching the baby is asking for trouble. "you told me to Watch her! I did!"
Talk to parents of kindergardners and 1st graders.
What you are feeling guilty about is something that many adults can't do - it's one thing to protect a loved one, but someone who is cutting in on your territory? Get real!!
Not Your Fault! 'Nuf said.

Lavanah said...

Mentally and/or physically a six year old could not have stopped a 2 year old from falling down the stairs, walker or no walker. Remember your own girls at age 6. No matter how advanced they might have been in any way, they were still 6 year olds, just as you were, when your sister fell.

Now, me? I was 3 when my sister was born, and as the story goes (I don't remember this), out walking with my mother and my new baby sister one day, we passed a very pregnant woman on the sidewalk. As we passed, I swung around and punched her in the stomach. I suppose I could have been blamed for acting, Anne, you cannot be blamed for not acting.

MountainLaurel said...

It may have damaged her. But then again, many more children are damaged by spiking fevers. Is that the fault of the person who infected them? Not really. It's just part of life that happens. And the logic behind the other posters is impeccable. I'd recommend re-reading the comments until you can repeat them verbatim.

Anne Johnson said...

Best set of comments I have ever received. I thank every one of you.

Sarita said...

You were a child at the time. Children do things that are wrong. You can't change what you did back then, but remember, you've grown and are no longer that person anymore. I think we can all remember things we did as children that we really REALLY regret, although perhaps not on the scale that you're talking about.

Speaking as someone who almost certainly had brain damage at about a year old, I would like to tell you this: getting brain damage (and I assume this applies to brain trauma -- or are they the same thing??) at that young age is better than getting it later on. The brain is always changing, but especially in the wee years it is really evolving and changing. Because of that, she probably recovered better than if she'd had it at a later age. Not to say that no brain trauma at all wouldn't have been better, but still.

The fact has even been proven by horrific experiments done on monkeys. They damaged the brains of old and young monkeys. Guess which ones adapted and made better recoveries? The youngsters.

Thalia Took said...

Would you judge any other six-year-old as harshly? Then don't blame yourself, either.