Challenge of Love

Lillian Burke 

How does it feel to be the seven-year-old sister of a retarded child? What can sensitive parents do to ease the pain? And more importantly, what can those parents do to make this family situation a good, growing experience for everyone, The book, A Special Kind of Sister (by Lucia B. Smith, illustrated by Chuck Hall, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979, $5.95),* beautifully describes this condition through Sarah, whose younger brother Andy is retarded.

Sarah shares her thoughts and feelings with us, many of which are negative but nevertheless natural and honest. For instance, she feels jealous when Andy gets more attention than she does; she feels scared when she dreams she might become like him; she feels angry when he spoils her fun at the fair; and she feels sick inside when she has a fight with a friend who calls Andy a "weirdo." At the same time there are many healthy, positive thoughts and feelings. Sarah feels good when she helps Andy at school; she feels needed when she learns to assist him with his exercises. Each predicament seems like a mixed blessing. One day, when the family was in the park, Andy began tugging at a man's coat. "What's the matter with that kid?" the man asked Sarah. "I looked for my Dad, but he was too far away. So I puffed myself up and said, 'Well, he's retarded and he can't talk. But I think he's trying to tell you that he likes you.'"

The blessings repeat themselves, as Sarah's parents are sensitive to her needs, and are frank about their own. They can all talk about the times they are unhappy, cry together, and plan to be away from Andy at intervals. While Sarah needs her parents for comfort and support, they need her for the joy and reassurance she provides in fulfilling their own parental roles. Wisely, the parents are striving to make a difficult family situation into one that is realistically full of hope for everyone.

A family with a retarded child is presented with a distinct challenge. Making an effort to meet this challenge can be a rewarding experience where the expression of man's highest nature becomes a possibility. For Sarah this experience enabled her inner feelings of compassion to come through; she grew in self-confidence and tolerance, she learned coping ways in a social world which doesn't always understand. She learned also that despite her brother's handicap, which frustrated her often, he too was a human being who understood and could love.

This story, in essence a true one, may appear to be written for children, but its depth of sensitivity and understanding can provide a memorable experience for adults. It can be of especial help to families who now have or have lived with a retarded child.

(From Sunrise magazine, November 1979; copyright © 1979 Theosophical University Press)

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