Guest post by Kelly Mirabella Jeans, Carla Mirabella’s younger sister.

My sister Carla was born with Down syndrome, and spent much of her time struggling to learn life skills that many of us take for granted. Yes, this was a big part of her life, but even at an early age, this struggle never really got in the way of our relationship. She was my playmate and my partner in crime when our parents dragged us to their adult events. We were kids who played Barbies for hours, and we shared a love for music. She had a Fisher-Price record player in her room where we would listen to Barbara Mandrel, Michael Jackson, and Neil Diamond for hours. She was definitely the performer and would put on a show at the drop of a hat, which brought joy to any spectator.

It’s true, our lives took very different paths. Our schools were different, and our friends were different, but our parents worked hard to find recreational activities we could participate in together, such as swimming, Girl Scouts, and the church youth group. From my point of view, life was normal.

My sister had her challenges, but she had a strong support system around her, giving her as many opportunities as possible. When she moved out of our parents’ house to live her life, it was one of the happiest moments for the whole family. She had made it! She had the confidence and skills she needed to be her own independent person. Being on her own, she knew how important it was to share both the major events and the small ones. When I moved away, she called frequently, keeping me up-to-date on her life. We could never be too far away if we stayed connected, as sisters do.

Since her passing, I find myself thinking, “Boy, Carla would have loved this!” and wish I could call to fill her in. She loved life, and she loved her family, and we loved her. She was, and always will be, my big sister.