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  • Julie Payne-Neward

Welcome to Natalie's Voice....

"Sibling relationships - and 80 percent of Americans have at least one - outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust." - Erica E. Goode

I have three siblings; two younger sisters and a younger brother sandwiched in the middle. We have had a typical upbringing, or so I thought. Looking back, I see where things were different. My father is from India and would not allow me to play soccer like most 12 year old girls; I literally had to beg. My mother was a home manager and we always came back to a "spic and span" house; fresh sheets, fridge full of food and an ironing board typically out on the weekend waiting for me to dive into the loads of white undershirts and handkerchiefs of my fathers. I even ironed his pajamas and hung them up.

I was the responsible one. I was the one who my mother leaned on to get her through the day. I did not know what role I was born in to, but I see it clearly now. I ran to the bank for her, executed the Safeway shopping list ( a place I can not longer stand going to), I did drop-offs and pick-ups of my siblings and I also made sure that I did all my weekend household chores.

I did a lot. I did a lot because I have a special sister, Natalie Rose, who needs my mother more than I need her, and still does.

My mother has a medical background. She was a head nurse at that age of 23 at Northwestern in Chicago. Her colleagues promoted her. When she met my father they moved to California and she was the head nurse at John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek.

Hindsight being 20/20, my sister could not have ended up in a more supported living situation.

Natalie Rose, or as I oftentimes call her, my "special sister", was born typical but fell into a coma that left her brain damaged. My mother quit her job to care for her. That is what I have been told my whole life. During most of my life, I have prayed for her to wake up and talk to me. You see, she has the cognitive level of a 10-month old. I have a 4-year old who has far surpassed Natalie's development, it is so strange to me.

Now this is where my life is really different than most. To simply put it, imagine a woman the age of 35 years old who does not talk but moans, wears diapers, has to be fed and loves to live in jogging outfits. She relies on us for her livelihood and her day-to-day care; medication, baths and hugs. I love this woman and want to give her the best quality of life while she is on this earth with me. I also love my mother and want her to enjoy her life.

On April 1, 2012, I learned someone hurt her. I learned she was raped and given a painful STD. My mother and I have been her endless advocates. My father, who has been out of the picture for some time, did nothing to support her, console her or make her feel safe again. That is a father's role. Despite being special needs, she is a human being with thoughts, feelings and emotions; just put some french fries or a chocolate bar in front of her or look into her sparkling eyes and feel the love pouring out of her soul. She wants to connect.

She is the reason why I am writing this blog. Please listen to NPR All Things Considered this Wednesday, January 10th. We are on.


This photo is of Natalie Rose, my maid of honor, and me on my wedding day on October 20, 2012 at Saint Mary's College of California. Her expression was captured beautifully by Stacey Pentland.