Tomorrow is the five-year anniversary of my little sister’s death. Her name was Carissa, and she was the most beautiful woman I’ve known. In honor of my sister, I think it’s appropriate to repost this Saturday’s Heroes post I wrote about her. I also wrote a brand new post today called “Hanging Naked from the Garage Door” which is a funny story about her so I hope you’ll go read that as well.
Carissa is and always will be my greatest inspiration and number one hero. I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at her funeral. Some of those words have been intermingled here.
Carissa had Down’s Syndrome, but she never once let that define her. In fact, the only word that could ever define her is love. Her funeral offered indisputable evidence of just how far her love for others had spread.The room in which we held her services seated 750 or so. Many had to stand along the walls or listen from the hallways because there simply weren’t enough seats for everyone.
I have been to many funerals. I have never seen one with that kind of turn-out.
I remember struggling to put her life into words that could accurately express who she was and what she was about. Truth be told, Carissa’s shining life and example really couldn’t be expressed over a podium. It had to be felt, experienced, and witnessed, as so many people there in attendance knew.
You see, Carissa understood love probably more than I or most of us will ever be able. She could feel inside a person’s soul and somehow, could even feel the pains of a person’s heart. If that person’s heart was hurting more than usual, she could sense it, and she would do what she did best, which was to help start the healing. It usually started with a question of concern, then a big smile, then one of her big Carissa Bear Hugs.
Then, the verbal praises would start and not let up until she sensed that your heart was at peace again, even if it took weeks or months. She would laugh, and tell you repeatedly over the course of days, “You’re my favorite.” “I love you this much.” “Hello my beautiful.” “Hello my handsome.” And other wonderful things. Then, when you would leave, she’d get out a notebook and her big bag of colorful pens, and write you a letter or two, telling you how much she loved you, how much she loved God, and how much He loved you.
You see, Carissa believed in God’s love for us, and she never hesitated to share it.
Carissa was not bound by pride, ego, time, or selfishness, a few of the struggles that many of us so naturally have. She was never too busy to visit or care for the sick. She never received an assignment in her church, school, or community that she didn’t complete with 100% vigor. She never thought herself better than another human being, ever.
Think about that for a moment…
She never thought herself better than another human being.
How many of us can say that?
She never hid her talents from the world.
She never withheld her praise from anyone. She never compromised her values. She never believed that there was a reason to not show her love to others, and certainly never believed there was a reason for others not to love her.
I had an autistic brother named Daryl... your description of Carissa matches perfectly with the words I'd use to describe my baby brother. Unfortunately, he too left this world early but he also spent his last moments comforting us.
I knew there was something wonderful and special about you, Dan. I have a son with Down Syndrome and he is my entire world. Thank you for sharing your story and memories of your sister :) .
You have a gift of words. I found your URL through my niece. She is a single Mom raising two girls. Your memories of Carissa are beautiful and timeless. I shall never forget how your love for your sister resonated throughout your blog. It's as if she's always there, sitting on your shoulder. Thank you for writing this and sharing with those who are desperately trying to make sense of the world now. Keep up the good work. I have yet to read your piece on the "Hanging Naked from the Garage Door". Take care. :-)
what a beautiful legacy Carissa left . . . thank you for sharing her with us . . . I want to be more like her too!
I am a single mom of 2. My daughter Miranda is 20 and has cerebral palsy, she is like my 100 lb infant. But that girl can share a smile and it shines straight to your heart. My son Liam is 7 and he has the biggest heart. It makes my heart swell when the two of them get going. My daughter loves noises. We have our own special language which consist of mostly whistles, kissing sounds and loud fart noises. Her brother is very good at the fart noises and she giggles so hard she almost rolls out of her bed. I think any child with special needs shows us in the simplest terms of what life is really about. Thank you so much for sharing Carissa's story! It touched my heart deeply.
I am a single day of three wonderful children, my youngest is 7 and has Down Syndrome......I can so relate to this message...unconditional love is what his life is truly all about....to make us smile, to make us forget about the little things in life that really don't matter. So many times I get so stressed because of work, because of life in general, the joys of being a single dad and working two full time jobs to make sure that my children have every thing they need in life, but a simple "hi daddy" a big hug and the words " I love you" make everything else seem so irrelevant. I pray for you and for your sister. I pray that many who read this message will be as uplifted as I am over the joy your sister brought in to your life. Thank you so sharing this incredible journey.....God bless...
thank you for sharing about your beautiful sister! my daughter, mira rose, is four months old and has down syndrome. this may be the most beautiful, hopeful, resonant thing i've ever read or heard about a person with ds. i love your sister as i love my daughter and i'm filled with so much joy, awe, love and gratitude. thank you for seeing your sister so clearly and sharing her with us through your writing. it's a serious gift to this new mom!
www.reecesrainbow.com kids waiting for adoption with down syndrome, check out the families that love them and other SN kids too
If everyone had a fraction of the love and good will every person I've met with Downs had, this world would be a much better place.
I have a daughter who has Down Syndrome and consider myself so BLESSED. So sorry you lost your sister.
I was lucky enough to be the mother of a beautiful special needs boy who passed away March 15th. Thanks for recognizing the special contributions made by these beautiful individuals.
Thank you for sharing. My adult son has Prader-Willi Syndrome. Not the same, but special as well. ;)
Awesome stories. How sweet and amazing and cool to have a sister so full of life and spirit! She will continue to be a teacher and an inspiration!
Wonderful story, made me laugh and cry at the same time. We can learn so much from people who don't overthink everything they do, but just act from their hearts.
I am a pediatric PT, and your story about Carissa made the tears roll down my cheeks. It's hard to pick a favorite; I have so many wonderful, beautiful, amazing kids that I work with who live similarly to your sister. They see the positives, the beauty and the love in people and the world. They give hugs and smiles freely, are wise beyond their years, are intuitive and empathetic in ways their developing brains can't yet quite comprehend, and THEY make my days. I have Multiple Sclerosis, so my kids know and understand when I am having a "bad day". Their light and love keep me going. It never fails that their smile, hug, or silly joke will brighten my day, and playing always makes things better. We should all live like Carissa and the kiddos I work with. It reminds me of Robert Fuhlgram's book, "Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". All of the kiddos I work with are my FAVORITE!
So sorry for your lose. My beautiful sister has downs syndrome and she is perfect, amazing and I love her so much.
Beautifully written. Carissa sounds like a wonderful soul. I have two precious younger brothers with Down's Syndrome. When it is time for the youngest to leave this life, we may have to designate his day of passing as "You my HERO" day... :-) Thanks for sharing.
I was one of the aids in her class all through high school. I absolutely love her & her service was beautiful! I think of her often!! TRUELY AN ANGEL!!
Kids with Downs are always happy, and very stubborn. I have worked with people with disabilities for 23 years. And the Downs people are my favorite. They have a sence of freedom and a love for life, they love everyone uncnoditionally and they make friends with all those who they cross paths with. it is no wonder why so many attended her funeral.
You should create a "Everything I need to know, I learned form Carrissa" post. She taught you some beautiful things!
I read that before.. And cried. I read that again.. And cried. On rough days it helps so much to know that life is beautiful. Thanks dan.
Hope you and your family can find love and strength in one another to get you through the days where the loss of such a wonderful young woman hurts the most. Hugs to you, Dan. X
She was a beautiful girl, and that smile tells me with a heart of gold.....how lucky u were to have her in your life!
Oh, Dan. I'm sorry for your loss. Today is my daughter's birthday, so April 12 is a happy day for me. I hope you can find ways to make happy memories on this day to counterbalance some of the sadness.
Carissa seems to have shared many similar characteristics of my son, Jackson. Loving openly, freely, and without judgement. Being exactly who you feel like being in the moment because being you is the only you you know how to be. This is a beautiful tribute, I'm sure you miss her dearly. The garage door story...I had absolutely no problem forming the visual, so easily my guy.