Last month, I wrote a blog about Finding Your People and this month I want to share with you a little bit about one of mine, my younger brother Danny.
Danny was born with a rare disease called Hypomelanosis of Ito (HI). It was apparent at an early age that something wasn’t quite “right,” but Danny was not officially diagnosed until he was 2 years old. As a result, Danny has severe neurological delays. For context, they estimate he is developmentally the age of an 8-year-old at this time, and he turns 30 this April. The side effects of Danny’s seizure medication, coupled with complications from the disease itself, have impacted Danny’s physical abilities as well. He requires 24/7 care and assistance with everything from eating, bathing, and using the restroom. I’ve had the privilege of being employed through a local healthcare agency to work with Danny and provide respite care for my parents over the years. I know that Danny had an impact on the career path I chose to work in the nonprofit sector in some capacity.
Growing up, my parents never viewed Danny or his limitations as a “burden.” While raising a special needs child has its unique challenges, my parents have always viewed themselves as blessed to have been given the opportunity to raise Danny. No, they will never be true “empty nesters,” but I know they would undoubtedly say that being Danny’s parents is a gift.
Because of my parents’ great example and perspective, I grew up seeing Danny through a similar lens. Today, I want to share a few lessons that Danny has taught me over the years.
1. Trust my gut. Danny has an uncanny ability to read people. He will either take to a person or not, and it is very clear how he feels. We call it “the Danny test.” A practical example is when it comes to selecting home health aides to work with Danny. If Danny doesn’t seem to care for a person during the interview process, my parents will shake their hand and send them on their merry way.
2. How to love people well. We joke that Danny is the most popular family member. He loves deeply and has a unique ability to make an impression. When we take Danny around town, people we don’t know will frequently come up and start talking to Danny while we sit there scratching our heads wondering how they know each other. Danny can walk into the local Chick-Fil-A, sit down, and without prompting an employee will bring him his favorite meal like he owns the place! On the flip side, Danny also has a gift of providing emotional comfort and support to those suffering. We will never forget the way Danny would sit by my uncle’s side for hours, day in and day out, during his battle with stage 4 brain cancer. He never had to say anything, but you could physically see how his presence brought my uncle such peace.
3. The healing power of Mr. Rogers. Danny LOVES Mr. Rogers. His room is filled with Mr. Rogers paraphernalia, and he can watch old Mr. Rogers segments on repeat without growing tired. I never understood how this soft-spoken man in front of a low-production set could captivate Danny and so many other kids’ attention. A documentary about Mr. Rogers’ life came out a few years ago, so naturally, we took Danny to see it. I walked out of that theater in tears after learning about Fred Rogers’ impact and legacy. What took me years to figure out, Danny knew all along.
I hope at least one of these learned life lessons resonates with you, too. It is only fitting to conclude with a quote from Mr. Rogers himself, “No one else can live the life you live. And even though no human being is perfect, we always have the chance to bring what's unique about us to live in a redeeming way." – Fred Rogers
See you around, neighbor.
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