Thursday, April 14, 2011

In Honor of "You're My Favorite" Day...

 Yesterday marked the 3rd anniversary of the passing of my sweet little sister Carissa.  Words cannot express how much I love her, or how much I still miss her every day.  Carissa was 22 years old and had Down's Syndrome, and I truly believe she was an angel walking on the earth.  She had a greater capacity to love than any person I have ever met, and she used that capacity to lift every person she met.  She told everyone she met: "You're my favorite!" And she truly meant it every time. She made us all feel like the best version of ourselves. She smiled and hugged us and wrote us letters and made silly faces and told ridiculous jokes and always, always told us she loved us. 

My brother Dan of Single Dad Laughing has written a beautiful tribute to her here that everyone should read, and the main focus of what he wrote was about how Carissa was able to love people because she never thought of herself as better than another person.  This could not be more true. And while I could write for days about the things I learned from her, today I want to just write about the flip-side from what Dan wrote.

Carissa also never thought of herself as less than any other person.

Just think about what that means for a second.

My beautiful girl
I truly believe that Carissa never looked at another person and only saw her own shortcomings. She never thought to herself, "Oh, that person thinks they're better than me" or "That person is better than me/smarter than me/richer than me/more beautiful than me/happier than me/more good than me/etc." Carissa saw each person only as a brother or a sister, someone to love and someone who would love her in return.  She never doubted that everyone would love her, and as a result, everyone did.

I have written a lot on this blog about how we let our perception of our own imperfection stand in the way. We don't reach out in love or in service because we're afraid that what we have to give will never be good enough. We don't explore and expand the gifts God has given us because we don't think we'll be able to do it as well as others.

Carissa never let her imperfections hinder her from being who she was meant to be. And I'm not just talking about the limitations inherent to her disability.  She also had normal imperfections -- she was stubborn as a mule, and she got sad and mad and scared just like the rest of us. But she accepted those parts of herself and allowed the beautiful gifts that she'd been given to shine through.  Let me just tell you one story to illustrate this point.

I was with Carissa when she was admitted to the hospital for the last time. She was in serious distress from terrible pneumonia, and she was scared and in pain. A short time after she was admitted, a nurse came to insert a pic line into her arm so they could better administer her meds (any medical people out there will have to excuse my lack of medical expertise here). Carissa's veins were notoriously hard to find and I think they hadn't been able to get an IV in, so they had to go with the pic line.  The nurse told me that inserting a pic line was almost always very, very easy, but that sometimes it because very, very difficult.  Carissa's experience proved to be the latter. The nurse tried for what seemed like forever to get it in, basically digging a needle around in Carissa's arm trying to find the right placement. Carissa was in intense pain, tears rolling down her cheeks.  But that was not her focus. Carissa could see that the nurse was distressed about the pain she was causing.  Carissa started saying, "It's okay! You're doing a good job. Keep trying. I love you. It's okay," all while patting the nurse with her free hand. By the time she was finished, we were all in tears.  I actually don't remember if she was even able to place the pic line in the end.  But the spirit of love in that room was so strong that I will never forget it.

Carissa with my mom and my boys, just a couple days before she died.

Carissa was not focused on her own fear or pain or unhappiness, all things that would have limited her ability to reach out. Her concern was for the person she saw suffering in front of her. That was the suffering she wanted to alleviate. Throughout that last hospital stay, which lasted about a week, she continued to lift everyone who came in contact with her, despite her deteriorating condition.  Her hospital room had large windows facing out into the hallway, and she waved cheerily at everyone who passed.  We were told later that hospital staff and patients were going out of their way to walk by her room and see her smile. And to this day, the memory of her unselfish love pushes everyone who knew her to be a little more loving to everyone they meet.

Love conquers fear.  Love conquers every negative emotion or action in this world.  Because love for others -- others she saw as no better or worse than herself, only brothers and sisters -- was the greatest emotion in Carissa's world, she was able to lift and serve and be the best possible version of herself. 

I miss you, my sweet Carissa.  I will keep trying to remember your example every day.  You're my favorite!

If this post has touched your heart today, please feel free to share it wherever you share things.

***I just realized I never explained -- we call the anniversary of Carissa's passing "You're My Favorite" Day in her honor.  We try to celebrate the life she lived even as we still mourn her loss. I know that we'll be together with her again in heaven, and that even now she's with us in spirit, and I thank God every day for that blessing.***


  1. Beautiful Tomi... just beautiful. Love you

  2. wow...that was beautiful. Thank you.

  3. I read your brothers post yesterday, and thought that it was a sad story but today reading your post, put tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing what I'm guessing is a painful topic.

  4. This is a beautiful part to the story that I neglected for sure. Thank you for writing it and sharing it.

  5. Wow. Just. Wow.

    I don't know how I managed to find my way here, but thank you, oh THANK YOU for this post and your incredible sister.

    I read your brother's blog and often cry (in a mostly good way) but this...oh it makes me weep. For all that you have lost...and all that you gained during Carissa's too-short life.

    My brother passed away two years ago and today, Mother's Day, was hard on us, but especially my mum. He and I used to joke that we were - only two of us - her favourite. And in a way, we both were, for different reasons and on different days.

    I fell a little bit in love with your sister when I read that she told everyone that they were HER favourite. On that kind of love, a person could live forever.


Thank you for your feedback!