My sister Monica is unlike any other person I know. She has multiple disabilities—she’s deaf, mute, AND blind. She “talks” to us by using sign language, and she types and reads in Braille, while we talk back to her by signing directly to her hand so she can feel it.
Our mom had measles when she was pregnant with Monica and she was born as a deaf-mute blue baby—she had heart problems and couldn’t breathe properly so she was turning blue, thus the term. She had several other health complications, too. By the time she was seven years old, Monica had already undergone major operations for her heart, her eyes, and her brain, and half of her body even became paralyzed at one point.
What’s it like to have a special sister like her? When we were younger, it meant spending holidays and birthdays at Makati Med, because she was in and out of the hospital. It meant having to get used to the stares and whispers we would get in public. And it meant getting scratched by Monica during her tantrums.
Now, Monica is a healthy 21-year-old. My other sister and I have learned to smile warmly at the people who stare, and answer their questions about Monica if they have any. And Monica doesn’t throw tantrums anymore. In fact, she’s the most cheerful person I know.
Having a sister like Monica means realizing that having a disability is not the end of the world. Most people expect a disabled person like her to be quiet and shy, but Monica is very friendly, talkative, funny—and loves to be the center of attention. She enjoys meeting new people and would immediately start telling stories and anecdotes.
She endearingly remembers facts about everyone—she remembers people’s birthdays, the gifts she received from them (“Carla brought Oreo cookies when she visited at the hospital”), and even their physical characteristics like hair (“Lora has really long hair” or “James’ hair is so stiff from too much gel”). She’s so charming that she can get away with anything. She once jokingly called my friend a monkey and he still found her so cute. She does not let her disability get in the way of becoming “normal.” She loves girly stuff like shopping, having dessert, getting manicures and pedicures, and wearing makeup. (Yup, you read right. She even has her own kikay kit!) And like any normal sister, she gets into fights with us—bugging us with endless questions, playing pranks on us, and also getting into ticklefests!
Having a sister like her means that our family will always be taking care of her, and in the process, we’ll be taking care of ourselves too. For Monica, we’re all willing to reschedule activities, plan special trips, even live halfway across the globe. Because of Monica, my family and I became incredibly close. We formed a special bond that only a special child like her can bring. When Monica insists that we all have Sunday dinner together, we get to spend quality time with each other. When we see her get frustrated or we get frustrated for her, we just try to find the best possible solution and strive to become stronger. And when Monica and I sit together at night and I tell her children’s stories, it becomes therapy for my soul.
Having a special sister means learning more about life, and learning more about myself. I learned not to be so mababaw and instead think about the things that really matter—here I am worrying about the fact that my crush saw me in my “not-so-pretty” state when my sister can’t even see anything. Having a sister like her made me realize that I have the ability to be patient and compassionate. I became less judgmental and more accepting. I know that disabled or not, we’re all pretty much the same. Monica made me appreciate what I have, because not everyone is as lucky as I am. In fact, having a sister like her makes me even luckier.
This first appeared in the September 2005 issue of Candy.