Life with Anna

I am a mother of four wonderful children, the youngest of whom has Down’s Syndrome.  Anna was born on a mild October evening in 1984.  My pregnancy had been serene, and I was not prepared for the abrupt announcement of my obstetrician – “You’ve got a mongoloid kid there!”

My reaction to this news was a stunned silence.  Waves of dread and fear swept over me.  I imagined myself, some day in the future, walking down a street with a much older Anna, her mouth hanging open, eyes staring vacantly ahead, and passers-by staring at both of us.

Fears and imaginings aside, the one thing that was very clear to me was that Anna’s condition could not be “fixed,” by surgery, or by treatment, or by medication.  Anna was who she was, and she and I were in this together for the long haul.

Up to the time of Anna’s birth, I would describe myself as having been a woman of faith, but of only occasional prayer.  For a long time even, of no prayer at all.  There was quite a bit of the prodigal daughter in me.  But the news of Anna’s condition drove me to my knees.  My prayer was simple and uncluttered.  “My God, where are you now that I need you?  How am I going to get through this alone?”

In a matter of minutes the peace of the Spirit calmed me, and I knew with utmost certainty that the Father loved me passionately and that He was revealing His love to me through Anna  — who was to become not a cross, not a burden, but pure gift in my life.

When Anna was about eight years old, friends encouraged me to bring her to a healing service.  What I really hoped for was that Anna would finally be able to speak.  More than anything I was curious to know what she thought about, but which her handicap prevented her from sharing with me.  I wanted her to suddenly look up at me and say, “Mommy, I can talk now.”

The healing service began.  Prayers were said.  Hymns were sung.  Hands were laid on the sick.  And what happened to Anna?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  So when the service was closing, I grabbed Anna in my arms and rushed up to the priest who had led the service – hoping for a miracle, I guess.  But he didn’t say any prayer over her.  Instead, he simply cupped Anna’s face in his hands and said to the people around, “Look how beautiful she is!”  And to me he simply said, “She doesn’t need healing.”  What did he mean?  Here was my child, severely handicapped, and who would always need to be cared for, and he was telling me that she didn’t need healing!

Almost three decades have passed since Anna was born.  In some ways she has “grown.”  She is an artist and has sold many of her cards and paintings.  She serves Mass at her parish church.  She belongs to Special Olympics, and to a special dance class.  She loves her family and her “birthday cat.”  She has a great sense of humor.  She also has moments of sheer stubbornness, and wild explosions – for which she’s always quick to say, “Sowwy!”  And she’s even quicker to forgive me when I’ve been exasperated with her.  I receive no reproach, just a big hug!

So.  Has any healing taken place?  Indeed it has.  It has taken place in me.  I was the one who needed to be healed, not Anna.  Through the years Anna has opened my eyes to see the Father who accepts me, His daughter, even more than I can accept Anna with her limitations.  I am Anna’s 24/7 caregiver, yes.  I look after her.  But in a very beautiful and mysterious way, Anna looks after me.  And the Father looks after me through Anna.  Here we discover the mystery of a God who hides himself in those who are little and wounded and fragile – and in whom we can always find Him!  It is by their wounds that we are healed and learn to love, just as we are healed by the wounds of our humble and crucified Lord.  I love Anna because of her brokenness, and the Father loves me because of my brokenness.  The mystery of God!