My little brother David. Born the week before my first birthday. Born with Down syndrome. We grew up together, he and I. Sharing our birthdays each year; our birthday cake with candles at both ends; taking turns opening our gifts. Playing together in our little pool; running and giggling in the sun; hitting a whiffle ball; sitting and drinking sodas; in our tiny backyard. Watching TV together in the evening; singing the theme songs of our favorite shows. David taught me the important things. To touch the water faucet to check the water temperature, instead of burning my fingers in too hot water. That fishing is good, and it is fun to catch a fish, but it’s also just as much fun to sit eat a sandwich from home. To go to bed and rest when you are sick, so you will get well sooner. To sing joyfully and with all of your heart. To pray when you are worried, and that everything would be all right.
Our Mom died on a nearly-spring day in March, and David plunged into a grief so heavy that there was no help for him. He was in the hospital on his 49th birthday. In May of that year, near Mother’s Day, David’s kidneys began to fail. Dad and I rushed to his side, and stayed with him. There was my sweet little brother, so ill. But he was glad we were there, saying “My sister” and “My Pop” and smiling. Then came a stream of people to say goodbye. My sister who hurried back home from a trip, 3 precious aunts, a beloved cousin who had rushed from work, all of the morning nurses as they finished their shift, all of the evening nurses as they came on duty, even the cook from his group home.
His funeral service was beautiful. The little church was filled with loved ones; all of his family, old and new friends, long-time neighbors, his childhood friend and roommate, his girlfriend from the Workshop. So many people. We sang his favorite songs, “Jesus Loves Me” and “Bringing in the Sheaves”. A much-needed tree was planted in his honor at his Workshop, to shade the people working outside. A gazebo was erected in his name at his Group Home, and was specially designed as a quiet place for the residents to relax.
The doctors and specialists had advised my parents to “put him away” (as it was called in the 50s). They told my parents that would be a burden to them, to me and to any future children they may have. How wrong they were. David touched so many hearts, changed so many lives in many ways. No. He was not a burden. He was a treasure.