When we were growing up I wished he was a sister. And I forcefully urged him into petticoats as skirts. He was smaller than I and younger but his resistance was astonishing. He would, he finally acquiesced, marry me but he would not wear a petticoat as a skirt anymore. So we are photographed, marrying, me with one petticoat as a skirt and another askew atop my head as a veil, he wearing a hat adorned with plastic fruit and the pair of us bearing a doll as our first born swaddled in alarmingly purple chiffon.
My brother could get a lot across with a few words. Less verbose than I, more articulate and a great deal cleverer – a scholarship at university, a masters later – he has always seemed to me the older just for his wisdom, the cautious, quiet, determined way he approaches the challenges that present in his life.
We have both, along with our little sister, learned to accommodate the black dog that’s nipped at Mum’s heels for so long (after a bleak spell she has shut it firmly out for now so that I can hear her smile in her voice, see her energy even though I am thousands of invisible miles away). I have – as ever, in my usual voluble way – spoken about Mum’s demons on paper and in the ether ceaselessly, as if I can write them away. There was a paradoxical shameful pride when a Telegraph editor dismissed my ideas, ‘is Depression all this woman writes about?’. My brother would have tempered his approach and it would have been all the more meaningful as a result. He says, ‘why do you use 200 words when two will do?’ and then, indubitably, wishes he hadn’t asked because I deliver a long winded excuse.
In my ranting, raving crusade to destigmatize mental illness I have probably lost quiet moments to reflect, I have doubtless wasted energy on anger where it could have more prudently spent, I have forgotten, I think, that actions speak louder than words. My brother, my little-big brother, never has: he has used his time, his experience, his knowledge more effectively and I could not be more proud as he – as regional Chairman of Ireland’s biggest mental health charity (a position he volunteers for quite separate to the day job) – delivered a speech on the opening of their new premises.
I didn’t always listen to my brother – I don’t suppose I ever did when we were little. But even at my thousands-of-miles remove, I listened to a speech I could not hear. And he couldn’t hear my silent applause, but perhaps he will read it here.
446 words where three would do: Bloody Well Done!