This piece was sent in by a BellaNaija reader in loving memory of her brother, Tuope Ruppee. Alero Ruppee recounts their life together as a family as she shares the story of living with a brother who has Down Syndrome. As she honours Tuope through her write up, we hope that you are inspired to appreciate your loved ones and to cherish the time you have together.
I had a brother. His name was Tuope. As a child, I knew there was something different about him. His speech was slurred (impaired). He picked his words. He stammered a great deal, throwing his legs about. His stomach was quite big. His feet were flat. He couldn’t run or walk as fast as I did. Each time we (our family) went out, for example to church, people stared at us; especially kids, even adults. I was always embarrassed. But he liked to be in the midst of people. He didn’t even notice the stares. He liked to go to church, school, etc.
Mom said he was born that way. He was the elder of a set of twins. As I grew, I began to see him like a baby and not my elder brother. I would kiss his chubby cheeks I would make him sit on my laps. I would even carry him on my back! Even though he didn’t seem to like it, I didn’t care.
When I gained admission into secondary school, my mom enrolled him in a school close to mine. A school meant for slow learners. The arrangement was that after school, I had to go and pick him from school. I hated the idea. The embarrassing stares were going to begin again. I was shy to be seen with him. Mom would say:” he didn’t create himself, let them stare”, each time I complained. He found it difficult to rush into commercial buses when we got to the bus stop. I remember the day I landed him a slap on our way from school because he was slow in walking and people were staring at us. I feel bad that I did that now.
Fast forward, I gained admission into University and the burden to taking him to and from school was finally over. Phew!I was relieved. Being a student in a higher institution had a way of making me lose my shyness and of course the embarrassment of moving around in the company of Tuope. I became less worried about people seeing us together. They could stare all they wanted, I wasn’t bothered anymore. We would walk together to a nearby salon to get a haircut, we sat together in church. I also took him for his routine checkups in the hospital. I was more confident.
While in school, I took time to do a research on my brother’s condition. I understood that he had Down Syndrome. I learned that he had a co genital heart condition too. His heart beat was faster than ours. He got tired easily from strenuous work hence his inability to walk or run fast. I also learnt that he got hungry easily because of his body metabolism. Down Syndrome adults had IQ similar to that of children. And lastly they had certain facial structures such as: small eyes, flaring nostrils, small ears, etc.
After I graduated from the University, I was posted to Port Harcourt for my NYSC. I visited home monthly, but we spoke on the phone each time I called home. Our conversations were mainly based on how he was faring. My mom got him another school.
During the last Christmas celebration, I decided to do a massive cleanup in my family house and I asked that he assisted me. He did, helping to carry trash outside to be burnt. After the Christmas I returned to Port Harcourt, where I am now working. In February, I got a call from my Mom. She said Tuope was ill but it wasn’t anything serious. His twin, my brother sent some money for his treatment and I was hoping he would be fine. He hardly fell ill. I even spoke to him and asked him kiss me through the phone which he did (we always ended out phone conversations like that). But I didn’t know that would be the last time we would speak on the phone or ever.
On 27th of February, my birthday, I called my mom for her usual birthday prayers. She said he (Tuope) had not slept in the last two days! I was worried. I made some inquiries on the phone about one of the doctors he had seen before. My mom took him to the hospital (Central Hospital, Benin City).
Unfortunately, he passed on that same day. He was 32. My folks hid the information from me so as not to ruin my day; but somehow the proprietor of his school who I was in constant touch with called to confirm the information and that was how I heard. I was in the office when he called. I lost control. Unknown to me, my mom had broken the news to my boss but told him not to tell me. She asked him to lure me to Benin.
My trip to Benin was the longest trip of my life. I wept uncontrollably throughout the journey. I got home to see my folks worn from weeping. My mom, my Dad! I said to myself: “maybe he is sleeping or in coma”. I went to see the corpse in the morgue: He was stiff and still!
I haven’t been able to bring myself to the reality. I loved and still love my brother. He was such a kind-hearted, caring chap. He was never tired of the errands, the little he could run.
I dedicate this piece to all Down Syndrome people all over the world, in loving memory of my brother Tuope Ruppee. Mom can’t stop the tears, neither can I or your brothers. We miss you so, so much. But God knows best.
I am happy that in your short stay on earth, you were in a family that showed you love.
Rest in peace Tuope Peter Ruppee.