Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” While we usually think of something dramatic when we hear this saying, like dying in battle to save a comrade, the willingness to quietly subordinate our own life to benefit another may count for just as much.
I was reminded of this when I received a call from the sister of one of our adult campers. Karri, who has Down syndrome, and is in her early 30s, came to camp for the first time last summer. She arrived accompanied by sisters, brothers, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and various unidentified folk, all anxious to inspect the premises and meet the people who would care for her in the coming week. The family asked about visits and phone calls during camp, and I assured them they were welcome any time, (the only caveat being that if they stayed too long they’d probably be given a job to do.)
True to form, they called and visited throughout the week. Karri, shy and hesitant at first, got into camp and had a good time, even performing in the Thursday Night Talent Show. She declared herself ready to come back the next time we opened the doors.
A few months after camp, Karri’s sister called. Their mother was in the last stages of Cancer, and the family was at a loss as to how to prepare Karrie for her mom’s death. The sister indicated that theirs was not a church-going family. Even so, I suggested it would not be dishonest to tell Karri that Mom was going to live with God in heaven soon.
Recently the sister called again. Mom had died the week before. When the family went to the funeral home for the viewing, everyone was concerned as to how Karri would react. Before going into the parlor where the casket was, they spoke with Karri and told her that if she didn’t want to go in, that was fine. But Karrie insisted, “No! I want to say goodbye to Mom.”
Entering the room, Karri broke away and hurried to the side of the coffin, leaning over and covering her mother’s face with kisses. “Goodbye, Mom,” she said. “You rest now.” And then she began to pray.
As the family watched, Karri prayed over her mother’s body for several minutes. At the end, she repeated, “You rest now, Mom.” Then she took the small cross from around her neck and traced the sign of the cross over her mother’s face. Following that, she crossed herself and said something the family couldn’t hear.
On the way home, her amazed father said, “Thank you, Karri, for your prayers for Mother.” “Where did she learn that?” wondered her sister. Thinking further, she thought maybe from TV programs and videos.
“God’s word never returns void,” says the prophet Isaiah. It appears that the Word found a home in a tender heart, and although Karri will never do theology, she can pray for those she loves and entrust them to God’s care.
Like many siblings of people with mental disabilities, Karri’s brothers and sisters have embarked on a journey to make a good life for their sister after their parents are gone. They have a special inheritance, one requiring much patience and dedication, as they strive to challenge as well as protect Karri.
And in doing so, they will continue to learn that caring for a person with mental disabilities is not a one-way street. Karri has her own wonderful gifts to bring to the banquet of life. She has a contribution to make, her own special song to sing, including words to help pray her mom into the next life.
It is a special joy for us to encounter a large family acting on behalf of their weakest member. It is something we are privileged to see a lot of here at the Ranch. It inspires us. And it renews our determination to build a place where the Karri’s of the world can find the place that’s just right for them.
By Judy Horton
Judy lives with her husband Jerry and their daughter Kelly, who has Down Syndrome, at Down Home Ranch, a working Texas farm and ranch for people with special needs and those who live and work with them.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.