Sister connection: Reading between the words


My little sister, the youngest of seven siblings, has Down Syndrome.

She is 47 years old and lives in a supervised setting and is very happy with her life. She has a job, lots of friends and a full social calendar.

I received a letter from her one morning. When I pulled it out of our mailbox, I was amazed that it even made it to me.

Her handwriting is very difficult to read. Usually when she sends us things, the address is written by the staff that takes care of her. This letter arrived in a long business envelope with six Elvis stamps pasted across the top. The address was made out by her tiny, wrinkled, Down Syndrome hands.

I opened the envelope and two scraps of paper fell out. They were approximately 4″ by 4″ in size. She made sure she didn’t waste any of paper by not leaving any space between her words.

I could picture her, carefully ripping, (not cutting), the paper out of her notebook and thinking about what to write. She didn’t use excess ink on words such as “the,” “and” and “is.” The note was mainly nouns, verbs and a few pronouns thrown in for good measure. She trusted me to fill in the blanks.

The part of me that fills in the blanks wasn’t working very well that day, so I called her. As we talked, I tried very hard not to let her know that I didn’t understand what she had written. But, of course, she caught on and then thoroughly explained (by spelling the nouns after saying them to me) what she wanted.

This process took about 20 minutes and the message was that she wanted my husband and me to go with her to the Oak Ridge Boys concert the next night at the local casino.

I politely declined and tried not to feel guilty when I heard the disappointment in her voice. I told her I hoped she would have a good time at the concert. She replied with, “Okay sister, I love you.”

The next morning as I was having coffee, I glanced at the two scraps of paper she had sent us. I picked them up and re-read them. After her explanation, they actually made sense. I could make out the words Oak Ridge, even though she spelled it Olkrige. Knowing what I knew now, I was able to get the point of her letter.

I finished my coffee and stepped out onto my porch to greet the day. All of a sudden the song “Ya’all Come Back Saloon” by the Oak Ridge boys popped into my head. I couldn’t get rid of it! I had to play that whole song through, surprised that I even remembered the words.

I started thinking about all the thought and effort my little sister had gone through to send us that invitation.

She could have relied on her staff to help her. Instead, she did it all by herself. She had come up with a plan and followed through. She had somehow, on her own, gathered everything she needed and did what she needed to do.

You might think this effort was trivial. But, considering her reading and writing abilities and considering that everything is monitored in her home, right down to the postage, she accomplished a great deal.

She had an opportunity to experience something wonderful, and she wanted to share this occasion with me.

I went back into the house and woke up my husband.

“We’re going to the Oak Ridge Boys concert tonight,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. I have such a wonderful husband!

I almost started to cry when I saw how happy my sister was when we joined her at the concert. I started to think about the times we cared for her during a holiday. I felt that I was doing my duty because it was expected of me. But, I realized how much we meant to her and how much she appreciated our time together. I vowed then and there to never take her for granted or feel like spending time with her was my duty. It meant something to her. It was important. I was important to her.

“I knew I was right!” she said. “I trusted you to have a good time!” We did have a good time. We were truly blessed at that concert. She hugged me as we left the event.

“You’re my favorite sister,” she said. I hugged her back and told her she was my favorite, too. And then I prayed a prayer of gratitude for having such a wonderful sister.

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Andrea Thelin
Andrea Thelin lives in Akeley, MN.



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