Down’s syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder diagnosed each year, yet parents are still shocked to hear their child will be born with Down’s syndrome. It is natural to have great fear and concern that the child will not live up to expectations. What will their cognitive level be? What will they achieve? Will we have the patience and strength to raise a child with Down syndrome? Just as each person is unique, each situation is different, but I wanted to encourage you all to know that God’s plan is greater than we can imagine. We wanted to share our experience.
Luckily, my parents didn’t get an ultrasound or other tests and were told that my mother’s fourth child, my sister Patricia, would be born with a chromosomal abnormality. In fact, her doctors didn’t realize she had Down’s syndrome until she was five years old and still speechless. Being her seventh child, I was taken to the doctor many times because of her, and I didn’t find it strange. I just thought she had a problem with her hearing.
We all played together when she was little. We never thought she was different. She only gets annoyed sometimes when she doesn’t follow her instructions. We were all mischievous knuckle heads who used to play with 40 or so kids living on a suburban block. Her sister went to a different school than the others, but since her childhood, no one has criticized her sister and prevented her from pursuing what she wanted to do. No one thought so.
She was able to attend our high school because we were fortunate enough to have a four-year class exclusively for people with developmental disabilities. Patricia couldn’t wait to finish her special high school class after being visited by some local firefighters. They told her they could probably get her a job at the local hospital (instead of the Steak and Shake she was wiping the table over), so she went for it! Her parents doted on her at this point. Her doctor said she could not be expected to live beyond the age of 21. So she went to the hospital and started working at a restaurant.
Growing up, there were good times and bad times. Patricia has always been very kind about her home as well as her work at the hospital. But my parents would often get calls from her boss saying she didn’t finish her work on time and was talking to people. Like all people with Down syndrome I’ve met, she always loves people and does something for them. For Patricia, that means designing and mailing her greeting cards to hundreds of firefighters each year. Her parents were a little shy about her asking for her address to take time out of her work to send cards, but firefighters were, for the most part, incredibly kind to her. Treated me.
There were other frustrations and embarrassments, both big and small. For example, her habit of immediately returning a gift you gave her if she didn’t like it (why would she pretend to like it?). She’s always loved candy, and even as an adult, at her Fourth of July parade, she would run out into the street to collect candy thrown at her (Sometimes I shared it with my children.) Ever since she was little, she’s always dressed up for trick-or-treating, and no one questioned her. She was never shy about asking anyone for anything she needed. For example, when her father broke down she (without her father’s knowledge) went to borrow a lawnmower from a neighbor.
But then she did hundreds of things we didn’t expect for all of us. She created huge collages to celebrate her birthdays and anniversaries. She regularly offered to help us with things around the house. Everywhere we went, she was looking for ways to bless strangers. Years ago when I was very sick she called me to take her somewhere in her car but I told her she couldn’t do it. She will say, “Yes, you can!” I don’t know how many times in her life she’s thought about that word. She believes in people more than herself and is also her source of encouragement.
My parents worried about her all their lives. They didn’t know if they should arrange a group home for her and didn’t want to say goodbye to her, so they didn’t do anything. They trusted her Heavenly Father to feed her because she had sent her as a gift to her. As they got older and frail, Patricia did more for them without complaint. She had other brothers in the area help out, but having her help with cleaning every day (which she loved) was a great blessing to her parents. Additionally, her great blessing was to see her retire from her job at the hospital where she served for 37 years.
At 62, she’s more active than ever. Patricia, I, and her three other sisters live within a mile of her of each other. She participates in a group for adults with developmental disabilities, which is more active than all of us. They go to theater, restaurants, athletic meets, botanical gardens, concerts, work on their schoolwork to keep growing, and celebrate with each other regularly. She volunteers in dog and cat conservation efforts and is responsible for growing a garden, choosing the kinds of flowers her mother loved.
I’m embarrassed that I worried about her more than I prayed for her. I have never fully trusted God’s sovereignty. I could never imagine how God could deliver this woman from this evil world. But part of the blessing of Down syndrome is observing what the Lord is doing in the lives of special people. They are trophies of God’s grace. We can be part of that overflow.
I would like to leave a story that will make you smile. This is a great example of Patricia’s belief in herself.
Most people are familiar with the Wahlberg family, as their sons Mark and Donnie were movie and TV stars, and Donnie led a boy band called New Kids on the Block in the 1990s. Patricia is a huge fan of Donnie’s, so when she heard they were opening a Wahlburger’s restaurant in our town, she was very excited because she thought she might meet him one day. I’m in my late 50s, but my goal was to get a job when I opened my business.
I received a call from her asking me to take her to the groundbreaking ceremony, so I took her reluctantly. I didn’t want her to expect that she could get her job there or that Donnie would be on her site. She didn’t flinch, so I took her with me.
The ceremony was held under a tent, with hundreds of fans behind police lines on three sides of the enclosure. After the ceremony was over, we reached out to Brother Paul Wahlberg, who was six feet away, and asked if Trish could take a picture with us. He was so kind that she surprised him and me with a job offer. She listed all her qualifications to him. He was incredibly kind. He called for the general manager, but Patricia covered her ears. People in the crowd began to hear all this and were excited. GM then announced to the crowd that Patricia was officially hired as the location’s first employee. Her fans are now rooting for her.
We didn’t realize it, but Donnie was there to take pictures with the fans too. I warned Patricia that she had a police escort to keep her away. But as he walked by, I mentioned that Patricia had just been hired as the 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.]
As she drove home, she looked up and said, i did it! “
I looked up and said, “Thank you, God!”
And I am still grateful to God for bringing this beautiful, generous, tenacious, creative and selfless person into the world. Without her, our family would have suffered a great loss.
Be encouraged by what God can do in your wonderful child’s life!
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Jessie Casson
Mary Orerich-Meyer is a freelance writer and copyeditor in the Chicago area who has spent years praying for ways to write about and for the Lord. In her 20 years, she has written for local healthcare organizations, interviewed physicians and clinical experts, and in addition to marketing materials, she has authored over 1,500 articles. It’s an important job for her, but it wasn’t what she felt she was tasked with. She believes her life is too short to write about anything else, and appreciates every opportunity to share her Lordship in her writing and editing. Previously, she was Director of Marketing for a large healthcare system where she was Communications. She earned her BA in International Business and Marketing from Cornell University (the original Cornell University!). Outside of her research and writing, she loves spending time with her writer’s daughter, granddaughter, rescue dog, and her husband (not always in that order).