My earliest memory of my little sister is the time my father snuck me to her hospital crib. Mom was very sick, she almost died giving birth to Toni, and Toni was born disabled. Dad spent a lot of time in the hospital worrying that he might lose his wife and child. So, one day, he took me to the hospital to see my little sister.
I wasn’t allowed inside the ward, so Dad took me to the window outside so I could look in. He lifted me up (I was only 4 years old) and I looked in. I remember she had a full head of dark hair and that she seemed to be so long from head to toe.
Once Toni and Mom pulled through, they came home and not long after we moved back to the U.S. (We were living in Nairobi, Kenya, because my father was teaching at Kenyatta College.)
The next few years were spent going back and forth to Shriner’s Hospital in San Francisco, where doctors poked and prodded, as well as operated on, my little sister. She experienced a lot of physical pain in the first five years of her life.
But she also had me. We were very close. I used to lay down on the floor and put her on my belly. I would put on puppet shows for her. We would listen to my The Monkees album and laugh and sing. We loved each other.
Then we grew up and life happened. I went away to college. She lived in foster homes. We drifted apart … but we still loved each other.
Then, last Thursday, a terrible thing happened. She went into a coma … and never woke up. She passed away early Friday morning. I’ve been somewhat derailed ever since.
I’ve been sad. I’ll never see my little sister again. We won’t talk about TV shows we like or how we’re going to get each other a Dr. Smith doll for Christmas (a family joke). We won’t see each other during the holidays and bitch about the things we don’t like. I’ll never hear her laugh or tell me she loves me. But, I’ll won’t have to worry about her any more, either.
And then there are the things I’ve learned. I am who I am, in part, because she was who she was. Having a disabled sister presented challenges in my life that helped shape me into the strong woman I’ve become. It has made me more compassionate, more driven and possibly even more tolerant.
I’m proud to call Toni my sister and feel blessed to have shared almost 42 years of my life with her (she would have been 42 tomorrow, May 7). Yes, those years weren’t always fun, but they were our years and that’s something.
I also learned something about love from Toni … something I didn’t even realize I learned until yesterday when I met with my life coaches. I had been feeling guilty because I thought, because I didn’t always like her and because I had issues with her, that I wasn’t a “good sister,” something that many people commented on as I spread the news of her passing.
But my coaches brought something to my attention. Yes, I didn’t always like her or how she chose to live her life. But I did always love her. But more than that, I never told her how to live her life or nag her to change and do things my way. I allowed her to be her and loved her anyway. That’s what a good sister does.
There are many things I admire about Toni, but foremost is her tenacity. She rarely let her disability stop her from achieving what she wanted in life. Sometimes reality stopped a dream, but then she would just find another to pursue. She lived her life as close to how she wanted it, given her challenges. And she remained a smart and sweet and stubborn and strong willed and spiritual person throughout her life. She was good person who lived a decent life.
Now Its Your Turn:
Who in your life has been inspiring and challenging? Who has helped you see your own strengths, possibly by challenging your weaknesses? Have there been areas in your life that you are experiencing unnecessary guilt or shame, simply because you were missing a different perspective? How did you finally discover that new way of seeing things? Share your stories, advice and tips below in a comment.