On Saturday, September 26th Nancy Jo Sullivan will be the featured presenter at the Author’s Breakfast for the 2009 Convention of the National Council of Catholic Women. In January of 2008, Nancy Jo’s Down Syndrome daughter, Sarah, passed away at the age of 23. Nancy Jo’s book about Sarah, What I’Ve Learned from My Daughter: Blessings from a Special Child, was featured as a NCCW book club selection. Nancy will speak at the Author’s Breakfast about Sarah, the book, and the unexpected moments of hope she experienced as she grieved Sarah’s death. Nancy Jo will also explore the question: Why does God allow suffering? Her talk will speak to the bereaved and to those who are facing other life-altering losses such as sickness, financial uncertainty, the empty nest and even aging. For additional information on this event, visit NCCW.org.
We had some pretty nasty thunderstorms move through Saint Paul last Wednesday afternoon. Looking out my kitchen window, the trees in our backyard swayed in the swirling wind as flashes of lightning lit the darkened sky. While torrents of rain pattered on my roof, a memory from my past wrapped itself around me like a warm hug, a lovely remembrance of Sarah, my now deceased daughter.
Today, I offer you this memory in the form of a story I wrote about 7 years ago. I hope this little reflection reminds you to cherish all those understated and beautifully insignificant moments of motherhood.
(First published in Stories for the Heart: The second collection)
I had a bad cold that evening and I crawled into bed much earlier than usual. While the kids watched a movie downstairs, I huddled under blankets, my body achy and chilled. A soft rain shower fell outside my bedroom window. I started to relax. The sound of the dropping rain had a soothing rhythm, a soft, pattering cadence that calmed me like a lullaby.
Just as I began drifting off to sleep, I noticed Sarah, my Down syndrome daughter, standing in the doorway. With her curly hair pulled into pigtails, she was wearing a long robe and fluffy pink slippers. Her petite silhouette was shadowed by a light in the hallway.
"Mom…you…you…forgot to tuck me in," she stuttered in a respectful whisper.
For Sarah, daily patterns and routines were very important. Even though she was sixteen years old, she still functioned at the level of a second grader. I knew this "tucking in" ritual brought closure to her day and predictability to her life. "Let’s wait awhile." I suggested as I motioned Sarah near. Without making a sound, Sarah sat down on the edge of the bed. For a moment, the two of us just listened to the rain drumming on the roof above us.
"The rrain is nice…" Sarah said.
I took her hand in mine. "It is," I said as I began remembering her early childhood and the many mother-daughter moments I had spent at her bedside. Night after night, I had tucked her in, snuggling a quilt over her shoulders and tracing a small cross on her forehead.
I remembered one night when Sarah was about nine years old. I decided it was time to teach her a bedtime prayer. While Sarah nestled beneath her blankets, surrounded by pink-checked pillows, I slowly repeated a rhyming passage about God and guardian angels, a simple four-line prayer.
"It’s…It’s…too hard for me," Sarah admitted with a sigh of dismay.
Stroking her hair, I saw her brow wrinkle with frustration.
"Sarah, what do want to tell God?" I asked as I gently folded her small hands into a clasp of prayer.
Sarah closed her eyes as if formulating her thoughts. "Dear God…I…I…love…my mom," she said.
Throughout the years, though Sarah never learned to recite familiar childhood prayers, she developed her own unique way of communicating with God. Her "end of the day" conversations with God always rose from a place deep within her, a sacred place of gratitude and grace.
Now, as the rain fell outside my room, I felt Sarah tug my bedspread over my shoulders, gently smoothing out each crease of the quilt.
"Mom, what…what… ddo you want to tell God?" She asked as she traced a small cross on my forehead.
I closed my eyes. I felt like a child again, safe and secure. "Dear God…I love Sarah…" I said.
Sarah smiled. The prayer lingered. The rain continued to fall in song-like beats, covering our home and shimmering down my window in small streams. So too, a shower of Gods love was raining down on us from heaven, blessing us.
I began to doze as Sarah quietly tiptoed to her room across the hall. I heard the squeak of her box spring and the rumpling of covers as she crawled into bed. I wondered if I should help her settle in for the night. "She’s growing up…let her go," an inner voice whispered.
Curling up in the comfort and warmth of my bed, I called out to her: "Sarah, are you an angel?" I heard her giggling. She thought I was joking.
From across the hall she called back. " I…I…am." And the rain kept falling.
All Rights reserved, Copyright 2009, Nancy Jo Sullivan
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