Wednesday, March 21, 2012

World Down Syndrome Day

I didn't even know there was one, but today is apparently the first. I read about it on Facebook. (Thank you, Alex Schadenberg, for posting about this great event.)

I had to include this beautiful video that Alex posted on FB. Get your kleenex ready.

And now, for my own small contribution, a column I wrote for Catholic Insight to mark the life and  death of our own dear little Aunt Tillie who had Down Syndrome. Oddy enough, I had a vivid dream about her last night, which I have not done for a long while.

(This column was first published in the December, 2008, issue of Catholic Insight. It was reprinted in the March, 2009, issue of the ACW Review, Association of Catholic Women, UK.)

Lead, Kindly Light 

I had a difficult time coming up with a topic for this month’s column, but in the end I followed my husband’s suggestion to write about my Aunt Matilda, who recently passed away. I was a bit reluctant to do so: after all, who am I to tell Tillie’s story? So I will make no such attempt; I will only write a few inadequate reflections on her life and death.

Tillie was my father’s youngest sister. She was born December 13, 1936, and she died October 27, 2008, several weeks short of her 72nd birthday. Tillie had Down Syndrome, and so some would say she lived a long life. I believe she lived a happy one, though to be sure there was some suffering in her final illness.  

She was born at a time in history when, in another part of the world, people with her disability were rounded up, taken away, experimented upon, and euthanized. In Canada, the option of putting Tillie into an institution was duly offered to her parents. They refused, and took Tillie home to a loving, normal family life. My grandparents did not hide Tillie away, as did some families with disabled children. She came to church regularly and enjoyed family outings. 

Tillie learned to read and write. She said her prayers, did her chores, and enjoyed her hobbies. She loved babies and doted on her many nieces and nephews, who in turn regarded Tillie as the little aunt who never grew old. For most of her life, she enjoyed good health. In the nursing home where she spent her final years, she was well loved and cared for, thanks to the close proximity of devoted relatives (one sister in particular, who spent hours daily with her).  

Post-modern Canada has come so very far: we no longer put children with Down Syndrome in asylums; now we test extensively for genetic ‘defects’ and kill the babies before they are born (when they are not yet  legally ‘persons’—it’s complicated and nuanced, so don’t try to understand it). Today, statistics from Britain, the U.S. and Canada state that somewhere between 80% - 90% of babies diagnosed prenatally with Down Syndrome are aborted. Infanticide is also practiced on disabled babies, but the media never reports it. I guess you can be a non-person even after you are born, which ought to frighten us all, especially as we age and/or become increasingly useless in a utilitarian world. 

Looking back on all I knew of Tillie, I cannot think of her as defective in any way. She simply was who she was. Her stature was tiny; even at her most robust, she wore teen-size clothing. (I know overweight women who would give their right arms for that.) Tillie had her limitations, but then again, so do we all. She had some speech difficulty (though the better you knew her, the easier it was to understand her), but she had no problem letting you know what she wanted, or how she felt. 

She had a stubborn streak (so says my dad), a sharp memory (with an incredible capacity for details like people’s second names and their birthdays), and a good sense of humour. I rarely saw her angry or annoyed; most of my memories of her are of a person who lit up the room with her smiles and laughter, especially when there was a baby or toddler in the room.

Only in the next life will we know exactly what Tillie comprehended intellectually, but this much is true: she knew she needed a saviour, and she loved Him dearly. It’s funny that many ‘great minds’ and distinguished personalities (insert your choice of prominent politician, philosopher, scientist, abortionist, or eco-nazi here) deny a personal need for a saviour, but they think the rest of us need one, and they want to be it. 

They are among the Enlightened, and they wish to rid the world of the Defective. Tillie was not enlightened, but she was a bearer of  Light: a joy to all who knew her and faithful to Christ to the end. How appropriate that she was born on the feast of St. Lucy, whose name means “graceful light.”  Tillie’s funeral Mass was on the eve of All Saints’ Day. As she stands rejoicing before the throne of Light and Grace, I hope that she remembers to pray for us, especially those who think that people like her have no place in this world.


  1. Awesome! I love it. I also posted a little about World Down Syndrom Day.!/2012/03/moment-of-beauty-and-grace.html

  2. Oh my goodness, Mariette I didn't realize this was your blog. I have read many of your articles in Catholic Insight and was always a big fan. :)

  3. It's such a small, small planet. I hope you'll still keep reading DOH. We haven't scandalized you or anything, have we? LOL.

  4. Haha, never! I love your wit - keep up the good work!

  5. That was great Mrs. Pinkerton. I didn't know about that article.

  6. Maybe you had let your Catholic Insight subscription lapse at that time. It was published a couple of months after Aunt Tillie died.