“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” ~ Truvy Jones, Steel Magnolias
When I was cast as Truvy Jones last fall in my first college theatre production, Steel Magnolias – a story about the sustaining power of friendship, sisterhood and love through life’s highs and lows – I didn’t have to look very far to find inspiration for the part.
I was about 4 years old when my sister Grace was born. I was beyond excited about having a little sister. Grace meant so much to me and she didn’t even know how to talk yet. Ever since then we’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together and we’ve been best friends.
Grace is a teenager now and when people first meet her they immediately notice two things – well, maybe three. One is her bright red hair. It matches her big, vibrant personality which is easily noticeable as well. Grace is an upbeat and outgoing girl who loves meeting new people. She has an incredible smile and an amazing sense of humor that helps her make new friends everywhere she goes.
The third thing I imagine people see when they look at Grace are her “disabilities.” She was born with developmental delays and medical challenges, but I always put quotes around that word, because I’ve never seen my sister as disabled. We haven’t found anything yet that she isn’t able to do.
Grace and I were immediately best friends. I will always be her biggest cheerleader. But when she met Anna in Kindergarten, I knew she’d found the kind of friendship that would not only get her through hard things, but help her grow in new ways.
They met at school and were in the same classroom from Kindergarten through 5th grade. They’ve been doing things together and pushing one another ever since. Anna’s mom, Bev, calls Grace a “kick in the pants” for her daughter. She means it in the most endearing way. Grace helps Anna break out of her shell and overcome her shyness. Likewise, Anna is Grace’s confidant and constant companion – she helps Grace relax. It’s a healthy relationship that’s helped the girls at home, at school and at our second home, Cincinnati Children’s, where Grace and Anna have both been patients in multiple clinics since they were little.
In a world where many people still have a hard time looking past a person’s differences to see their beauty and contributions to the world around them, we have been constantly comforted by the care and friendship we’ve found at the hospital that means so much to us.
In 2014, both Grace and Anna had spinal fusion surgery to treat scoliosis. Our families didn’t realize it when the surgeries were scheduled, but their cases were back-to-back, on the same day and with the same orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Viral Jain. It was a coincidence that helped them both prepare for the long and painful surgery. Their friendship got them through – and they even had a bit of fun along the way with t-shirts that said “My BFF Has Got My Back,” that Anna’s mom had made after their surgeries.
The moral of this story is about friendship and we’ve seen it time and time again from the team that has taken care of Grace during each of her 19 surgeries. Grace can’t put on a hospital gown because it makes surgery too scary for her so the nurses have always made sure every time, for 19 times, that she can keep wearing her princess pajamas.
Little things, like feeling included, unafraid and loved at the hospital, mean so much for the girls and our families. When Grace is comfortable, our family is comfortable, and that helps her recover so much faster. We have been incredibly fortunate to have found friends like the Lukens and a wonderful group of people at Cincinnati Children’s who have also become good friends. They treat Grace, Anna and our families with unconditional love and kindness.
My role as big sister has kind of extended to Anna as well. I look at these girls and their “disabilities” that will supposedly impair their way of life. But all I see are teenage girls who are tougher than they are likely to ever realize and who are wrapped in the love and friendship of dozens of people who will help them each achieve great things in their lives. The girls have helped each other and our families find laughter through tears, and those emotion-filled moments have been some of my favorite too.