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Susan McGeown

Author, Speaker, & Teacher



They Called Her Faith

Posted by Susan McGeown on 14 May, 2010 at 12:55

This was written in response to the writing prompt "Tell about a memorable event from your life."  I wrote it while I was teaching a 5th grade literacy class

to demonstrate a high-scoring essay example.


“Faith” was a funny name, but I didn’t realize that at first.  When my sister Faith was born, I wasn’t even four yet so I don’t remember much about her in those early years.  There were two things that early on made her as unique as her name, though.  I know these things because I heard stories.


The first thing was that she was very, very smart.  She would sit in her playpen, as a baby, propped up with pillows because she was too little to sit up yet, doing those baby puzzles matching shapes and patterns.  When she began to speak, she immediately spoke in full sentences, not just single words.  Sometimes she got the words mixed up, which could be funny.  “Lazy bones out of that bed get!,” she told my dad one morning.  “Daddy can’t tell my talking,” she cried to my mother when he refused to budge out of bed.  She could read before she went to school.


The second thing was that she was very, very sick.  Her first trip to the hospital was before she was three.  I remember hushed whispers, aunts coming to take care of me, Mom and Dad away during times that they were usually home, and a general feeling of worry and fear in the house.  I’m not exactly sure when I first learned that Faith had “CF”.  It was even longer to learn that “CF” was Cystic Fibrosis.


Cystic Fibrosis is considered a genetic disease.  That means that is has to be in your genes when you are born.  Genes are what make you you.  You get genes from your mom and dad.  To get Cystic Fibrosis, you need one sick gene from your mother and one sick gene from your father.  Some kids get no sick genes from their parents.  Some kids just get just one and forever they are called carriers.  (If one carrier marries and has a baby with another carrier, they are the ones that can make a Cystic Fibrosis child.)  Some kids get both sick genes and they are the ones that end up sick.  Faith got both sick genes from my mom and dad, who were both carriers.  (They had no idea about being carriers until after Faith was born and became sick.)  I found out many, many years later that I didn’t get any sick genes.  My other sister, Amy, who is eleven years younger than me, turned out to be a carrier.


In high school health class I did a report on Cystic Fibrosis.  I chose the topic because I figured it would be easy to research.  My Mom and Dad had all kinds of information about it.  I wouldn’t even have to go to the library! I knew about the sicknesses like pneumonia and stomach ailments that Faith dealt with all the time.  I knew about all the medications that Faith had to take – sometimes up to fifty different pills and drops a day.  I knew about the special treatments she had to have like postural drainage where she laid on a board with her head down and had to have her back “clapped” to loosen the thick mucus she had in her lungs all the time.  I knew about the special equipment that she needed like the mist tent that she slept in each night to help her breathe better.  How many times had I watched her do the inhalator that she breathed with three times a day to put special medicine right into her lungs? How easy was this report going to be or what?  As I waded through the different pieces of literature my Mom had given me, making sure I had all the right terms and spellings, one sentence was absolutely new to me though: Cystic Fibrosis children rarely live to their teens.  That was when I learned that Faith was going to die.


She died on January 30th, just five months before she would have turned eleven and I was just fifteen.  Hers was the first wake (when you go to see the person who has died) and the first funeral (when the person is buried) that I attended.  My memories around the days she died and was buried are foggy, almost like a dream. For a full week before she died I had a reoccurring nightmare that Iwould be in high school English class and the speaker would click on from the office and before anyone even spoke I would know that Faith had died.  In my dream I started crying and couldn’t get out of the classroom and everyone laughed at me.  Guess where I was when my father came to school to get me and bring me home because Faith had died?  You guessed it; in English class.  I was so flustered when the speaker clicked on and someone from the office asked the teacher to send me down, I couldn’tget the doorknob to turn and all the kids laughed at me as I struggled to leave the classroom.


I don’t like to tell a lot of people about my childhood and Faith because they always look at me with sorry eyes and sometimes nothing to say but, “Oh…”  I hate the question, “How many sisters do you have?”  What am I supposed to tell them?  If I say, “One,” meaning mysister, Amy, then I leave out Faith.  If I say, “Two,” then I always must say, “but one sister died when I was fifteen and she was almost eleven.”  I’ve had a wonderful childhood, full of love and laughter and pretending and adventure and, yes, some sorrow.  Faith and I fought like sisters do and we played like sisters do, too.  Her being sick didn’t seem to be a big part of the picture with most of the memories I have of her.


As I grow older, the way I miss her changes. When she first died, I missed her presence in the house because things were so very different.  At night, lying in bed I would imagine that I would hear her coughing and I even missed the sound of the compressor running her mist tent. In my twenties, before I got married, I missed her friendship.  It would have been nice to have a sister old enough to travel to Europe and Africa with me when I did those things.  Now, I’m a mom and I miss how she would have been as an aunt to my children and as a sister-in-law to my husband.  I wonder what would it have been like to have been to her wedding and laughed with her over the babies she might have had.  When I’m old and gray, I suspect I’ll miss her in even another way.


Even though Faith’s life was very short, she taught me a lot.  She taught me to never judge a person just by what you see.  She may have looked tiny but she was stubborn and opinionated. She was not afraid to question doctors or nurses about her treatment if she thought they were doing something wrong. She taught me that you need to make the most of what you have and don’t grumble over the stuff you’re missing. She was too sick to run and play and even go to school towards the end of her life but that didn’t slow her down. She loved to read, play board games, do puzzles, and play with her dolls.  She had some close friends that she greatly enjoyed playing with and were very special to her.  She taught me that being determined about something sometimes was stronger than what people said was the way of things.  She taught herself to jump rope despite the fact that it made her cough terribly and made those who cared about her concerned, because she simply wanted to be able to do it.  She taught me that life, no matter how bleak, could still have a bit of humor in it. When she was too sick to attend school, they arranged for her to have a radio hook up with her class so she could listen and participate at times.  Faith discovered that if the lesson didn’t interest her, she could just shut the radio off and read a good book!  And she taught me that God was real and personal.  She wanted to be a missionarywhen she grew up so that she could go and tell others about how wonderful God truly was.


The definition of faith in the dictionary is “confidence or trust in a person or thing”, “belief in God”, “loyalty to aperson or thing” and “a set of principles of beliefs”.  My parents didn’t know that Faith was going to be sick when they named her.  But they did already have a strong faith in God and a trust that He knew what was best in all things.  There is a Bible verse that I love in the book of Hebrews, chapter eleven, verse one. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.”  That means seeing is not always believing.  That means God’s promises always come true.


Being Faith’s sister certainly qualifies as a “memorable event” in my life.  Being her sister has greatly influenced the personI am today.  I am stronger, more opinionated, more understanding of people who have “special needs” and, best of all, closer to God than I may have been.  Faith has been in heaven now for almost thirty years.  I have faith that I will see her again, when it is my turn to go to heaven, too.


Categories: Spiritual Tidbits

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