Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ashley Dunnevant 1980 - 2012

For the second time in 60 days a member of my family has passed away. Ashley Dunnevant, my niece, my brother Donnie's middle child died early this morning at MCV hospital. She was 32. She had developed pneumonia and died from complications. Ashley was born with Down's Syndrome and had survived leukemia as a child. While many with Down's live physically unhindered lives, Ashley's case was more debilitating. She required full time care and had to overcome many hurdles in her short life. Now she is with my Mother in heaven, experiencing a physical freedom that she never knew on earth. Try as I might, I can't comprehend what their reunion was like. It falls into the category of " eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him".

Ashley was the first person born into my extended family with a disability. I loved her, but I didn't know her like I know my other nieces and nephews. She didn't have the ability to communicate very well. She could talk, but I had trouble understanding her, and although she didn't say much, when she did speak, it was generally hilarious. My most vivid memories of her were at Christmas, when she would sit for hours with either a balloon or a comb in her hand watching us all unwrap presents.Although her vision wasn't very good, she knew us all by name. When she would open our gifts to her, she never failed to thank us.

When Ashley was born, I remember the fear and disappointment we felt. It was all so new and unknowable. We had no idea what her life would be like. We had no idea how heavy the burden of her care would be for Donnie and Janet. For days after her birth I questioned God in my heart. Why would he allow a child to be born into the world with the deck stacked so high against her? I still have no definitive answer to that question. But I do know this. Ashley added something to our lives. Because she was so vulnerable, we became more protective. Because she required so much care, we became more caring. Ashley made her sisters better people than they would otherwise be. Lauren and Becky both are more attentive, more sensitive, more generous human beings because of Ashley's life.

So, sometime this weekend, we will say goodbye to her. I will take comfort in the image of Mom and Ashley walking hand in hand somewhere in heaven, Mom trying to explain to Ashley why it took 6 hours to open all the presents every Christmas.... "Because we loved Christmas and we loved each other, and I guess we just didn't want it to end," Mom says.  Ashley looks up at Mom and with a clear, beautiful voice answers..." That makes sense Nanny."