The Many Gifts
I not know. These three little words were the only vocabulary my then 7 year old foster sister could say when she came to live with my family. Ask her a simple question and most often the answer would be “I not know.” I was around ten years old at that time and wasn’t quite sure what to make of this sweet, delicate child that was soon to be my adopted sister. She was quiet and timid, understandably, considering the home life she had come from. She had never been to school and wasn’t even completely potty-trained. Testing had concluded that she was severely developmentally delayed and also labeled as learning disabled. At 7, she had the mental capabilities of an 18 month old.
What I would soon learn about her was that despite her troubled start in life, and the obstacles she faced, she was the happiest person I would ever meet. She had an innocence and zest for life like no other. She always saw the good in everything. Some could argue that it was because she didn’t completely understand how complicated and cruel life could be; that her comprehension of such matters was not possible due to her disability. I like to think she understood all to well, and that her purpose in life was to help us see life through her eyes.
For those of you who have siblings with developmental delays, learning and/or physical disabilities, you know that a person’s disabilities affect not only themselves, but also, the entire family. You also know that these affects are not always negative, but, are often a great source of joy in your life. I have an opinion that the compassion I feel today for others is a direct result of my sister. When I was in junior high and high school, I would find myself sticking up for what others would call the “slow” kids in school. I didn’t understand why they would treat them differently. After all, one of them was my sister. She was beautiful and full of love. What was there to make fun of? Years later, I realized their behavior was a result of their immaturity and needing, to bring others down in order to make themselves feel good. Or, if they could get a laugh from the crowd then maybe others wouldn’t look so closely at their own inadequacies. It’s sad, but true. When you grow up with someone who isn’t like everybody else, you begin to notice less the invisible wall that is often placed between the “normal” people and those with disabilities. My sister helped me to see that God made us ALL unique. She taught me that it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, how tall you are, or what your IQ is. Life is about the joy you bring to others.
My amazing sister went on to graduate high school. Though she didn’t graduate knowing how do geometry or “ace” chemistry labs, she was taught life skills and how to be a successful, productive member of society. She went on to marry and became a cashier at a local grocer. She was so proud and was a model employee. She had dreams of having children. And, I believe, that despite her own personal obstacles she would have made a wonderful mother. Sadly, 3 years ago, I lost my sister in a car accident. At her funeral, I don’t recall one person mentioning her disability. The one thing everyone said was that they had never met a happier person. I can’t think of a better legacy to leave behind. In a recent conversation with my mother about my sister, my mother told me that I was a great role model for my sister, and that I should be proud. I guess I find some comfort in that, but, I think I was the receiver in the relationship. I received many, many gifts that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
- Why Siblings Are Too Important To Ignore
- Let’s Recognize and Celebrate How Special Siblings Are
- A Letter to the Sibling of a Child with Special Needs
- Balancing the Care of Siblings with Different Needs
- I Am The Ghost of Your Future
- Siblings Are Special, Too
- Engaging Siblings to Build Social Skills: A Relative Solution to a Complex Problem
- Getting Real about Resentment and Finding Small Ways to Make a Big Difference for Siblings
- Family: Where Life Begins & Love Never Ends
- How to let Young Siblings Know you Care
- What Siblings would like Parents and Service Providers to Know