Sunday, August 7, 2011

Storytelling Sunday - Sister

Sister was only 44 years old when she died.  The state school called early that Sunday morning to say she was gone.  I remember hearing Mama’s heart wrenching sobs coming from her and Daddy’s bedroom.  After years of taking care of her three daughters and Sister, Mama had decided to place Sister in the state school just 2 years earlier.


Evelyn Mae was born in 1942 in Mississippi. She was the sixth child of Tinie and Clora; however she was the first girl (who lived), and so everyone called her Sister. She was my aunt, my Mama’s older sister. In 1942, most women would have put Sister away in a nursing home or state school, but not my Grandma – she loved and cared for Sister until 1971 when the Lord took Grandma home.

Sister was born with mental retardation and physical disfigurements which included lobster claw hand deformities and a cleft lip & palate (my parents were able to have the cleft lip & palate fixed sometime in the late 70s). While Sister’s body grew to adult size over the years, her mental state remained that of an 18-month-old baby throughout her life.  She wore diapers from the day she was born until the day she died and never developed the capacity to walk.  She did, however, learn to crawl and pull herself up in a chair, she learned to show emotions by laughing, smiling, crying, and screaming, and she learned to say “Mama.”

I remember that sometime after Grandma died, Grandpa came to live with us – Mama, Daddy, me & my two sisters.  Mama had us three girls, ages 5, 3, and 1, plus Grandpa (who would often pass out expectantly) to care for, so Sister was placed in a nursing home nearby.  Mama went to visit her often, making sure she was cared for, but after Grandpa died in 1973, Sister came to live with us. (Over the years, we did have help from my aunt & uncle who took turns keeping Sister, too.)

The day Mama brought her home, she had a sore on her foot that was rotting her skin and muscle away. The nursing home had tied Sister to her rocking chair, which was tied to the doorknob in her room – these measures designed to keep Sister from crawling around and “bothering” other people in the home.  Sister didn’t know she was bothering other people any more than a baby would; she loved people.

My freshman year of high school, Sister went to the state home. I wish I could tell you that it was difficult for me without her there, but honestly as a teenager I was relieved that we would no longer have to endure the stares of strangers when we went shopping or to Astroworld or when my parents brought her to see me act in my high school’s theatre production of Guys & Dolls and she yelled out when she saw me. I no longer had to worry that I would need to change a diaper if Mama was sick (even though this was a very rare occurrence anyway). I wouldn’t have to give her a wide birth when she was angry and slapping everything within reach.

I didn’t realize at the time that I would also no longer hear her laughter, loud & uninhibited as only a young child can laugh. I didn’t realize I would no longer be able to sit in her lap and let her pat my head as if I was her baby doll. I didn’t realize the guilt Mama would feel for making the decision to place her in the state school. I didn’t realize how much resilience I had learned from all those years of people staring at us. I didn’t realize how I would regret not having appreciated the sacrifice Mama made, first taking care of Sister with three young daughters, then placing Sister in the state school so she could be there for her teenage daughters.

I hold a teaching certificate, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree. I’ve traveled around the world. Yet I don’t believe I’ve ever done anything that rivals what Grandma and Mama did, taking care of Sister for 44 years.

This post is part of Sian's Storytelling Sunday series. To read more stories, click here.

(Don't forget, I'll be passing on the Good Mail Day book in a few days. Leave a comment on this post if you'd like to be in the drawing.)

25 comments:

Jane said...

they must have been wonderful, caring people, thanks for sharing this story x

Mary B said...

That must have taken a lot of courage to care for her for such a long time. Thank you for sharing this sacrificial story.

Amy said...

Melissa, this is such a personal story you share with us today, I really appreciate being able to read it.

Sian said...

It's a privilege to be able to read your moving story today Melissa - your honesty and insight here is going to touch us all this Storytelling Sunday.

Thank you. I love that you wanted to share your family story with us today.

Ladkyis said...

Thank you Melissa, a beautiful story told with such love

Becky said...

What a beautiful story and so carefully shared.

Wanda said...

There was certainly a lot of love, sacrifice, and courage among your family members. Thanks for sharing this heartwarming story.

scrappyjacky said...

Such a beautiful.poignant story,Melissa.

Sandra said...

I can only say I feel honoured to have been able to read your story. You and your family have so much love, thank you for sharing. You have shown what true family means

Ifa said...

What a touchy story. Thank you for sharing.

JO SOWERBY said...

this stroy must have been really tough to write and get the balance right. i can't imagine how hard it must have been as a family to care for Sister but it sounds like you did an amazing job. I am sure she must have felt that l0ve deep down, just as a baby does.
My grandfather wanted to put my mother into an institution but my grandmother would never allow it. My mum only had epilepsy. Thank you for sharing such a touching story,
jo xxxx

MonicaB said...

What a strong, heartfelt story. You are truly blessed to have been loved by such people.

Gail said...

What a beautiful story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

Jimjams said...

What strong women you have in your family - a very moving and touching story. Thank you.

Ginger said...

Thank you for such a touching story Melissa... Not an easy one to tell I'm sure, but you have managed to tell it with great depth and true feeling.

Sandi said...

Melissa, your story touched me, especially since it reminded me of my niece, Natalie. She died 10 years ago, just four days after she turned 24. Natalie had multiple challenges, too, but was a tremendous presence of love in our lives. I can see all the feelings you described - from the love to the "not quite so loving" in my family members and myself as well. This is a superb example of how journaling makes it possible to tell a more complete story - and to honor your Mom's devotion to Sister.

S said...

Your amazing story about Sister shows how strong the family bonds of love are - thanks for sharing it with us.

Alison said...

A lovely, family story...beautifully told!
Alison xx

Maria Ontiveros said...

Your story really touched my heart. Thanks for sharibg it.
Rinda

Sue Althouse said...

Such a touching story. We have a similar tale to tell in our family, and your post brought back many feelings and memories, and reminded me of what is truly important. Thanks for sharing such a personal memory.

Becky said...

I had never heard you mention Sister. My hat is off to you for sharing a part of your life. I am again reminded how blessed I am to know you! Love, Becky

Cheri said...

I can only imagine what life would be like caring for someone with such profound disabilities. Your family showed so much love and courage - what a great thing for you to have learned and seen growing up.

Missus Wookie said...

Strong women making difficult choices - glad you remember the good bits too. Thanks for sharing.

Winnie said...

Just catching up on all the stories. Yours is so touching, I am crying!! Thank you for sharing.

Robin S said...

What a wonderful touching story to pass on to future generations. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!