Switching Roles

Switching Roles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Switching Roles

With honesty and a little digging, we have the opportunity to identify our gifts and harness them in the service of our best self — our own unique noble purpose.

~Tom Hayes

I have a beautiful older sister, Sarina, who just so happens to have Down syndrome. From my earliest years, I was made to believe that I was to take care of her, as she would never be able to care for herself. I remember promising my mother that I would.

When I went off to college at seventeen, Sarina stayed home with my parents. I lived in Nevada, and she lived in Massachusetts. When I turned twenty-one, Sarina wanted to move to Nevada with me, as my parents were not giving her as much independence as she wished, and she was steadily regressing. I thought about this, wondering if I could take care of my sister and finish off college. Wouldn’t she be a lot of work? Could I actually get her all the things she would need and still maintain a life of my own? We decided to try. In all honesty, I was not prepared for all the challenges that faced us. I worked nights, went to school during the day, and slept when I could. In between, I was teaching Sarina the ins and outs of taking care of herself. I took her along to everything — parties, clubs, casinos, vacations — all over the West Coast.

On Halloween 1992, we were going to a nightclub in our costumes. She was Catwoman and I was a gypsy. A car ran a red light, hitting us head-on. Sarina went through the windshield, and I was a mess — broken knees and hands, and a fractured skull. Sarina sustained no injuries but a scratch on the nose and neck.

When we were discharged from the hospital, I could barely walk and was in constant pain. Sarina had to cook, assist me in the shower, help me get dressed, and do my hair — basically everything I had done for her previously. She was amazing! She had retained all that I had taught her and was able to apply it to real-life situations, not only for herself, but also for another. We had switched roles — I was now being taken care of by my sister.

After five years, I decided to move back to the New England area. Sarina and I climbed Calico Basin in Las Vegas on Christmas day, and when we got to the top I told her that I wanted to go back. She very clearly said to me with a smile, “You go, my sister. I stay here.”

I asked her who would take care of her, and she said, “I take care of myself.” I had little doubt she could, but I just couldn’t leave her alone in Las Vegas, so she gave in and moved back to New England with me. After we got settled, she got her own apartment with twenty hours of assistance and took college classes.

I will never forget how I wondered if I could take care of Sarina. Now I wonder if I could have accomplished all I did if I didn’t have her in my life. She has shaped my career, my personality, my parenting skills, and my life. I love you, my sister.

~Gina Favazza-Rowland

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