My Sister Lived with Down Syndrome, and She Taught Me These Life Lessons

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Grieving Loved OnesMy sister, Janine recently passed away. Naturally, our hearts are broken. Yet, I am in gratitude for every precious moment I had the privilege of sharing with this incredibly amazing soul.

As a tribute to Janine at this weekends memorial I will read this revised article that was published on a few years ago. I hope you find value in the things I learned from my beautiful sister.

As you know, our sister Janine lived with Down syndrome. Every opportunity to spend in the shadow of her joyful spirit was an occasion to learn a valuable life lesson. I want to share some of them with you today…

1. Be considerate of others–no matter what is going on in your own life.

Janine was consistent in her caring attitude and consideration for others, even during the most trying of times. This quality stood out when she was in the hospital in critical condition. Every visitor received a smile, and when Janine was strong enough, she would ask how they were doing. In some cases, she even consoled her friends.

There's always time and energy to be kind, no matter what's going on in our personal world.

2. You don't need to meet social norms to be happy in life.

Marriage, having children, and total independence were out of the question for Janine. While she may have occasionally fanaticized about having a “normal” life, she found contentment and happiness in her reality. A loving boyfriend, good friends, and the people at Five Star were like family. Janine didn't need to lead the life she witnessed others living to feel happy and fulfilled.

Janine taught me to see my life through the lens of gratitude instead of lack.

3. Be bold.

During one of our phone conversations, Janine came right out and said, “I miss your zucchini bread. Can I have some?” Janine asked for what she wanted. My sister has taught me to step up and speak up boldly. Never feel self-conscious about being honest about your needs and desires. She got that loaf of zucchini bread within a couple of days.

4. Determination and grit pay off.

A few summers ago, doctors gave Janine only the slightest odds of survival as she battled a life-threatening infection. Our family helplessly stood by as she spent a week in an unconscious state, but we all knew she was a survivor and kept reminding her of that fact. Janine opened her eyes on a Sunday and announced that she was ready to go home. She worked hard in physical therapy to regain the use of her limbs and was home within two weeks.

She taught me that if we remain determined, we can conquer the toughest odds.

5. Hugs are priceless.

We grew up in a household of non-huggers. It took me years to overcome the awkwardness of hugging others as an adult, but Janine knew the value of a hug from day one. Witnessing her ability to connect and express caring through hugging taught me to do the same.

If you ever met my sister, you knew to always expect a hug–one that comes from the heart.

6. Forgiveness trumps anger and resentment.

Janine and her friend had been inseparable throughout their entire adulthood until difficult times tore them apart. It was devastating. What some may find unforgivable, Janine and her friend were able to set aside within weeks. Janine didn't not like feeling angry, so she chose not to.

I believe that her ability to release the burden of anger is one of the reasons that she had a happy life, so I follow in those footsteps.

7. Don't let life's struggles keep you down.

There is no time limit on grief, but I wasn't sure about Janine's future happiness when she encountered three devastating losses within two months. Silly me. Sure, there was an adjustment period and while she continued to grieve, as any of us would, she found joy again in no time.

Through Janine, I learned to look for joy to lift me out of the pain of loss.

8. Grieving is healthy.

Like most anyone, Janine mourned the loss of our parents. If I mentioned our mother in a conversation, Janine would sometimes cry and say she wanted mom back. While it was gut-wrenching in one moment, laughter filled the next.

Like Janine, we can all find the strength to face grief head-on without shame or embarrassment. Like Janine, we can find happiness again. Somehow, keeping that knowledge in my heart makes difficult times just a little more bearable.

9. We all make mistakes; it's what happens afterward that's important.

When Janine acted out or her stubborn resistance sets in, she would be the first to say, “I blew it.” She apologized when appropriate and worked on changing her behavior. Then, she would let go and gracefully slip right back into her happy state.

Janine showed me how to embrace my mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

Remember, when life challenges you, it doesn't serve us to focus on the pain and struggle. It's how you find your way through it and what you take away from the experience that matters most

I'll never need to say goodbye to Janine because through these life lessons and so much more, I'll carry her love and spirit in my heart forever. And I hope you will too…

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