Laura and Devin had only been married for three years when Laura’s youngest sister, Annie, came to live with them. Annie has Down syndrome and was 13 years old when her mother passed away. Laura and Devin share the positive impact Annie has had on their family and their lives by living with them.
Sister Turned Guardian
Growing up with a sister with a disability
Laura was eight years old when her youngest sister Annie was born. It came as a surprise to the family when they learned that Annie had Down syndrome. Annie, a fraternal twin, was the only one with a diagnosis.
Annie had a great relationship with most of her siblings. For Laura, their relationship was slower growing. Laura said, “I remember one night laying on my bed crying, and my mom came in and asked what was wrong.” Laura was sad that she didn’t feel connected to any of her siblings. Her mom advised her to pick someone and spend time with them to help grow their relationship. Laura picked Annie. She said, “As I did that, Annie and I just got closer and closer.” Their relationship was something that ended up changing the course of both of their lives.
Losing two family members in one year
When Laura was in her early 20’s when her mom and her younger brother were both diagnosed with cancer. Daniel, her brother had leukemia and her mom had breast cancer. They both were in remission when Laura married Devin. Unfortunately three months after they got married, Daniel was re-diagnosed with leukemia and passed away three weeks after he was re-diagnosed.
The impact of losing Daniel was significant on the family. Especially for Annie, Laura said, “It was devastating for our whole family..Annie took it horribly; it was her twin brother, and people say that twins had a special bond and they do.”
The family then suffered another significant loss. Laura’s mother was re-diagnosed with breast cancer and diagnosed with lung cancer, bone cancer and brain cancer. She passed away nine months after Daniel leaving a massive hole in the family.
Taking over for your parent
Before their mom passed away, she was able to talk about her wants and wishes for Annie. Laura recalls, “ She had these goals for Annie, and she would make them happen. She had envisioned this life for Annie and talked about it so much. Almost everything has happened.”
After losing their mom, Laura and her other sister Emily became what they called it ‘a power team.’ They took over caring for the youngest two siblings who were still in school. Emily was paired up with Julia and Laura helped with Annie. Laura had recently started her education as a special ed teacher and knew some of the IEP process. This helped Laura navigate through Annie’s schooling.
Becoming your sister’s legal guardian
Early on in their relationship, Laura made sure that Devin was okay with Annie coming to live with them at some point. Laura recalled, “..as things got more serious and we were engaged, before we got married I said, ‘I just want you to know that if we get married, you have to be okay with eventually down the line being willing to have Annie in our home.’ He said, ‘Yeah, of course, I’d be happy to have her.’ Devin was always great with Annie.”
Three years after Laura married Devin, Annie came to live with them. When Annie turned 18, they obtained guardianship. Annie becoming part of their family became a gradual process that has benefited both Annie and Laura and Devin.
The impact of having an aunt with Down syndrome
When Annie first moved into Laura and Devin’s house, they didn’t have children of their own. Fast forward to today, they have three. Laura said, “Annie has always had an amazing relationship with our kids…we call Annie ‘the baby whisperer’ because she can put any kid to bed and helps them fall asleep so well and easily.”
Somedays Annie is the aunt and more of an authoritative figure to their children. Other days, she is a sibling. Devin said, “They’ll fight and bicker, and someone comes away crying..it has been interesting trying to navigate that as far as where they kids have to listen to Annie when she’s bossing them or not.”
Marrying someone who has a sibling with a disability
“I can only speak to my experience..It wasn’t a big deal to me that Annie would be living with us or the other sisters..Every person is unique; they have different characteristics. Just learn about each other’s characteristics and each other’s personalities.” Devin said
He added, “I think Annie and I have a mutual love and respect and trust..Time and patience and trying to do right by each other is the best way..sometimes you just take what life gives you and make the best out of it.”