One of the things that brings me the greatest joy is to hear my children talking to my sister. When they talk with her, they sweetly ask questions and patiently listen to her stories. They treat her with compassion. They make her feel loved. It’s like a balm to my soul.
Why? Because my sister is mentally impaired. Growing up with an older sister who is impaired, I had an acute radar for how other people responded to her. I vetted every friend who came over, watching to see if they would treat her normally. I eyed strangers in public, ready to give them the stink eye if they so much as smirked at her. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of my stink eye.
While my parents have encouraged her as much as possible to live an independent life, she will always needs others’ help and support. She is a perpetual child in an adult body; trusting, simple, open. She needs others to stand with her, to listen to her, to guide her, to do for her what she cannot do for herself.
As adults, I’m not as worried about her as I was as a child, but I still find myself wanting to shelter her. Last October, we needed to vote early, so I picked her up on Halloween. She came out of her house wearing a pink princess costume with a silver crown. I paused for a minute and then thought, “Ok, let’s go with it.” Of course we got stares and questioning looks at the voting booths. Part of me felt the need to justify why a 42 year old woman was wearing a princess costume, but another part of me wanted everyone to just act like it was the most normal thing in the world. Actually, I wanted more than that. I wanted people to feel the way I felt about her – that they would think that it was awesome that she was wearing exactly what made her happy on a holiday.
I wanted them to see her as the gift she is; a precious, God-given gift. My sister loves purely and wholeheartedly. She delights in little things. She loves to be part of everything. She trusts. She accepts. She gives me opportunities to grow in being compassionate, patient, gentle, loving, protective of the weak, accepting of the different.
And that’s why it’s such a blessing when others step in and love her alongside me. It says, “I see that she is precious too. I will stand with you in loving her.” It says we are not alone, that others will be the protectors, the helpers, the givers. They will recognize the value in her.
So if you know someone who is impaired in some way, know that taking the time to love them isn’t just a gift to them. It’s a gift to those who love them as well. Thank you.