Floods of memories wash over me whenever I meet someone with special needs. Thirteen years ago, I lost my sister, Hannah, who had special needs, but her memory and influence on my life still remains profound. No one can ever be as unique as my sister was, but every individual diagnosed with special needs shares a common bond: Each is a living testimony of the value of human life. Even though Hannah could not communicate and express herself like most of us can, she was one of the most joyful, loving, and faith-filled individuals I have ever met —and she only lived to be nine years old.
Tears flowed freely from me one Sunday during church soon after Hannah died. In fact, my whole family was sobbing. Raw with grief, we watched with amazement as one of my brothers helped a man with a severe handicap find his seat after taking communion. The same feeling seemed to hit my whole family at once as we watched from our pew; we knew Hannah had changed all of our lives for the better. She made us more compassionate, more patient, and she taught us more about Christ, who cares for the “least of these” (Matt. 25:40).
Recently, my sister Rebekah and I were reflecting on Hannah’s life, and her words struck me: “The fact that we are still grieving her loss and cherishing her memory thirteen years later shows her life’s impact on all of us.” Grief can be a lifelong process, and I am honestly thankful for the way grieving her loss reminds me of how God has used her, and how that grief points me to heaven.
If you had met Hannah in passing, you might be surprised today by the influence of such a small and fragile, yet beautifully happy, young girl. Like many of the vulnerable people in our society, Hannah was easy to label as someone who “takes” versus “gives.” Yet, she gave so much. When she ran to see her favorite friend at church with great excitement, she showed us what it means to love deeply. When she found happiness in even the simplest aspects of life, like holding her favorite doll (which reminded her of her friend at church) or reading a well-loved book, she taught us more about joy. When daily tasks with her were hard and frustrating, she taught us self-sacrifice and patience. But above all, her precious singing and simple yet deep devotion to God showed us what child-like faith looks like: fully and completely dependent on Christ’s love and mercy.
Stories of selective abortions based on physical and mental handicaps are painful for me to read. When I was pregnant with my son, I experienced first-hand the pressure women may face if a family medical history indicates potential issues with an unborn child. After learning about my sister, one doctor pushed me to pursue genetic testing. “Why would I do that? Are there any precautionary measures we could take if we knew our baby had a mental handicap?” The answer was, of course, no. The pressure I felt to pursue this testing suggested a horrific underlying motive: to abort a child who may be undesirable.
While my son is healthy and “normal” as far as society is concerned, I would welcome a child with special needs one day, knowing full well the sacrifice a child with challenges would require, but also knowing deeply the great blessing and great value of each and every life.
Hannah is now united with Jesus, whole and free from earthly struggles. May we all live in light of eternity, honoring even the “least of these” and trusting God with a child-like faith until that glorious day that we too are taken up to be with Him.
Point of View (POV) articles provide personal insights on issues that impact the family. Accompanying photo is Rachel Lee Brady at 12 years old with her little sister, Hannah.