Even though it is the most common chromosomal condition diagnosed yearly, parents are still shocked when they hear their child will be born with Down Syndrome. No wonder, as it can cause great fear and concern that their child won’t be exactly as they expected. What will their level of cognition be? What will they be able to accomplish? Will we have the endurance and strength to raise a child with Down Syndrome? Though everyone’s situation is different, just as each person is unique, I wanted to share our experience with my sister in hopes of encouraging you that God’s plan is more amazing than we can imagine.
My parents were not fortunate to have ultrasound and other testing to tell them my sister Patricia, my mom’s fourth child, would be born with the chromosomal condition. In fact, physicians didn’t realize that she had Down Syndrome until she was five years old and still hadn’t spoken a word. As the seventh child, I was dragged to many doctor appointments for her, but it didn’t strike me as odd–I just thought she had hearing problems.
When she was young, all of us siblings played together. We never thought she was different; just frustrating at times when she wouldn’t follow directions. We were all mischievous knuckleheads who hung around with the 40 or so kids who lived on our suburban block. No one ever criticized my sister growing up, though she went to a different school than the rest of us, and no one ever thought to hold her back from pursuing things she wanted to do.
She was able to attend our high school because we were fortunate to have a class that worked just with the developmentally disabled for four years. Patricia couldn’t wait to graduate from her special high school class after a visit from some local firefighters. They told her she could probably get a job at the local hospital (instead of Steak and Shake, where she was wiping tables), and she went for it! My parents doted on her at this point because doctors told them not to expect her to live past age 21. So off to the hospital she went to work in food service.
Over our adult years, we had good times and bad. Patricia was always so helpful around the house in addition to her work at the hospital. But my parents would often get a call from her boss that she was talking to people instead of getting her job done on time. Like everyone else I’ve met with Down Syndrome, she has always loved people and doing things for them. For Patricia, that meant designing and mailing greeting cards to hundreds of firefighters a year. My parents were a bit embarrassed that she was taking work time to ask them for their address to send them a card, but the firefighters were almost always incredibly kind to her.
There were other big and little frustrations/embarrassments, like her habit of immediately handing back a gift you gave her if it wasn’t quite right (why pretend she liked it?). She has always loved candy, and even as an adult, she would run into the street at the Fourth of July parade to collect treats being thrown (but then would share with some of the kids). She hasn’t missed dressing up for Trick or Treating since she was little, and we’ve never had anyone question it. She has never been shy about asking anyone for something she needed–like going to the neighbors to borrow their lawn mower when my Dad’s was broken (without his knowledge).
But then there were the hundreds of times she would do things for all of us that we didn’t expect. She would create huge collages to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. She has offered regularly to help with anything we are doing around our houses. She would look for ways to bless strangers wherever we went. When I got very sick years ago, she would call so I could drive her somewhere, and I would tell her I couldn’t. She’d say, “Yes, ya can!” I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve thought about that phrase. She believes in people more than they believe in themselves and is a fount of encouragement.
My parents worried about her their entire lives. They didn’t know if they should arrange for a group home for her and didn’t want to face saying goodbye–so they never did anything. They trusted in their Heavenly Father to provide for her since He sent her to them as a gift. The older and more frail they became, Patricia started doing even more for them without complaint. The other siblings in the area helped, but her daily assistance doing cleaning (which she loved to do) was such a blessing to my parents. An even bigger blessing was when they got to see her retire from her hospital job after 37 years of employment!
Now at age 62, she is more active than ever. Patricia, me, and three other sisters live within a mile of each other. She participates in a group for developmentally disabled adults that is more active than the rest of us put together. They go to plays, restaurants, athletic events, botanical gardens, concerts, do schoolwork to keep growing – and celebrate one another regularly. She volunteers with a dog and cat rescue and is in charge of growing her garden, choosing the kind of flowers that Mom loved.
I’m ashamed that I’ve worried more about her than prayed for her. I never gave God enough credit for His sovereignty— I just couldn’t imagine how He would get this woman through this evil world. But part of the blessing of Down Syndrome is watching what He does in the lives of His special people. They are a trophy of His grace; we get to be part of the overflow.
I want to leave you with a story that I hope will make you smile. It’s a great example of Patricia’s belief in herself.
Most people are familiar with the Wahlberg family because sons Mark and Donnie are movie and television stars, and Donnie led a 1990s boy band called New Kids on the Block. Patricia is a huge fan of Donnie, so when she heard that they were opening a Wahlburgers restaurant in our town, she was beyond excited, thinking she might see him someday. Though she was in her late 50s, her goal was to get a job once they opened.
She called me to take her to the groundbreaking ceremony, and I reluctantly took her. I didn’t want to get her hopes up that she could get a job there or think Donnie would be on-site. She was undeterred, so I took her.
The ceremony took place under a tent, and a few hundred fans were behind a police line on three sides of the enclosure. When the ceremony was over, we called out to Brother Paul Wahlberg, who was 20 feet away, and asked if Trish could get a photo with him. He was kind to oblige, and she proceeded to surprise him and me by asking for a job. She listed all of her qualifications to him. He was incredibly gracious. He called over his General Manager, and Patricia talked his ear off. The people in the crowd were starting to overhear all of this and were getting excited. The GM then announced to the crowd that Patricia was officially hired as their first employee at that location. The fans began cheering for her now.
We didn’t realize it, but Donnie also came around for photos with fans. I warned Patricia that she couldn’t get near him because he had a police escort. But as he walked by, I told him that Patricia had just been hired as their first employee. She asked a police officer to go around the barricade; Donnie congratulated her and gave her a big hug.
[I shared this story on Facebook; when asked to share it publicly, it got 7,000 shares and 25,000 hits in 24 hours. Of the hundreds of comments, most responded to Patricia’s “can-do” attitude.]
On the way home in the car, she looked up and said, “See Mom! I did it!”
I looked up and said, “Thank You, God!”
And I still thank God for bringing this beautiful, generous, tenacious, creative, and selfless person into the world. Our family would have been at a great loss without her.
Please be encouraged by what God can do through the life of your wonderful child!
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Jessie Casson
Mary Oelerich-Meyer is a Chicago-area freelance writer and copy editor who prayed for years for a way to write about and for the Lord. She spent 20 years writing for area healthcare organizations, interviewing doctors and clinical professionals and writing more than 1,500 articles in addition to marketing collateral materials. Important work, but not what she felt called to do. She is grateful for any opportunity to share the Lord in her writing and editing, believing that life is too short to write about anything else. Previously she served as Marketing Communications Director for a large healthcare system. She holds a B.A. in International Business and Marketing from Cornell College (the original Cornell!) When not researching or writing, she loves to spend time with her writer daughter, granddaughter, rescue doggie and husband (not always in that order).