I am one of four brothers. Reuben, the youngest, was born in Leeds in 1983 when I was 10. He soon became the centre of our world, with his gurgling smile and bright eyes. Mum and Dad explained to us that he had something called Down’s syndrome, that he had special needs and that his learning process might be slower than ours. With three older brothers to bring him up to speed, Reuben soon flourished into a talkative, happy young man who grabbed life with both hands and had lots of fun in the process.
He became much more than a brother to me. He became a friend, someone I could share my secrets with, someone who caught me when I took a life tumble, picked me up and hugged me while repeating one of his favourite catchphrases: “You’ve got me, brother.” And he was right. I knew we would always have each other, whatever happened.
Reuben eventually came to live with me in Spain and we enjoyed many happy adventures together, eating well and enjoying the Spanish sunshine. But one night when Reuben was in the house all by himself, something happened that frightened him. A huge storm shook our house for hours and he spent the entire night petrified, internalising the fear. And then something totally shocking happened; he lost his voice. He became locked in and suffered what is called a regression. We moved him back to the UK and with the help of my partner and my parents, sought professional help.
Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription
When Reubs was feeling a little stronger, we took the decision to move him into a care home, and then a few weeks later the pandemic hit. He remained cut off from us all for several months. Unable to visit him, we were concerned about his mental health. An army of friends sent him cards and gifts to keep him buoyant but I think, in his heart of hearts, he felt like we had abandoned him. He spent hours, days and weeks staring out of his bedroom window, wondering what had happened to his happy life. It is no wonder that he spiralled into a deep depression. Stuck in Spain, my frustrations were growing by the day, and I agonised over his predicament. Then one morning, out of the blue, a text message from Reuben pinged into my phone. It read, ‘brother. do. you. love. me.’
In the spaces between the words and the full-stops I found Reuben’s true meaning: SOS. Come and get me. Please. Help.
That text message changed my life. It changed all of our lives. Leaving behind my partner Jack, I boarded a plane and removed Reuben from care. We called it the ‘bronap’. In that message, he wasn’t really asking me if I love him. He knows I do. In the spaces between the words and the full-stops I found Reuben’s true meaning: SOS. Come and get me. Please. Help.