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  • Writer's pictureKaitlyn Di Illio

Friends Become Family

Today is National Friendship Day. Friends often support siblings of the terminally ill through grief and distract them from difficult situations.

I have been so blessed in my life to be supported by such amazing friends and family.

Although my friend group is not very big, I have always felt so much love and support in every aspect of my life. They say that your friends are the family you get to choose, and I am so lucky I chose the best sister in the world. My best friend, Danielle is someone I have known since I was in kindergarten! We went to elementary, high school and university together! We even were roommates and drove each other crazy!!!!

Danielle was there with me through all of the exciting and difficult times. She treated Matthew (my brother with Sanfilippo)  as a “normal” kid. She would give him hugs and talk to him just like any other kid. In my adulthood, I now realize the impact that this had on me. I had a very positive outlook on the entire situation with my brother. It was friends like Danielle, who accepted him with such open arms that really helped me to realize the impression he made on our entire community. She was so accepting and loving towards my brother in our younger years, and of course, her compassionate and patient demeanor carried on into her adulthood, and she is now a teacher!

I had another friend, Brittany who also made a big difference in my youth.  She helped me at the time that my brother was very sick at the end of his life. She knew exactly how to distract me, and helped me maintain a “normal” lifestyle at school and in my social life. I was 13 years old when Matthew passed away, which is a critical time for teenagers – going into high-school, having my first boyfriend and trying to balance everything while finding my way. I often think about how if I didn’t have her by my side during this time, (to laugh, joke around and hang out with) I may have gone down the wrong path.

As we are now adults, I am able to really reflect on the way that my friends helped me through the grieving process after my brother died. It isn’t easy, for anyone -especially young & happy people- to talk about death. It isn’t easy to talk about someone who has died, for fear of bringing up emotions that someone doesn’t want to feel. But personally, I think it is so crucial to a healthy grieving process. My friends did not act like Matthew never existed. They referenced him by name, they asked if I remembered specific situations with him, they would say how he was watching down on me and how he would be so proud. This allowed me to slowly feel more comfortable talking about him in front of a group of people, in my classes and even as I moved into my career. I continue to share his story. I share how he has inspired me. I share how much he meant to me, and how he shaped who I am as a person. My friends always supported these conversations, and sometimes (a lot of times) just sat there and listened. It was during those times where I just needed to talk about him; I just needed to hear his name out loud, that they were always willing to lend an ear. Again, this isn’t easy for anyone to deal with. It would have been “easy” for them to say “That’s so sad, let’s not talk about it, I don’t want you to cry”. Instead, Danielle and other friends of mine would say, “I can only imagine how difficult that must have been… you are so strong….” and this empowered me. This pushed me to move forward and live with gratitude and enthusiasm. I was never expected to bottle up my emotions; I was always encouraged to share them. I am so lucky to have a sister like Danielle, a friend who became family 23 years ago!


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