Loving Savannah – by Talisa Pillay
What a surprise for Michael and I to read Talisa’s essay. Her teacher wrote”Look after Savannah – she is a blessing. Treasure what you guys have. I think with some polish you can be a great writer”.
Here it is.. Talisa’s perspective.
Who is Savannah? You may ask. Well she is my almost twenty year old sister. No biggie,right. You are probably thinking just a twenty year old girl in varsity who goes out to parties and gets her hair done every week at the salon. Just like any other twenty year old. But she is different. Savannah is uniquely different.
Savannah is autistic and has cerebral palsy. Autism affects how she experiences the world. Her brain is just wired differently. Cerebral Palsy affects her body. It doesn’t function the way ours does. She also had an operation to correct her scoliosis. She had rods put into her back to keep her up straight. The good news is that her back is straight. The bad news is that she lost her ability to walk and now uses a wheelchair.
That was honestly the hardest time for me. I couldn’t grasp the idea that one minute Savannah and I were playing Hide-and-Seek, and the next minute she couldn’t even get from the bedroom to the bathroom on her own.
During that time we lived in a tiny townhouse in a complex. Our unit was upstairs, so my parents carried Savannah up and down those stairs for four years. Eli , my brother was a baby then, so they also had to carry him up and down those stairs. Savannah and I shared a room since I was two years old. When she had the operation I was six years old and my parents tried to get me to sleep in another room. But I didn’t want to be away from her.
Even though the house was small, I have the best memories of that time. Savannah and I used to dance together all the time (before the operation), and we played “teacher-teacher” or “doctor-doctor”. It did not worry me in the slightest way that Savannah was different from other sisters. In my eyes she was and is as perfect as can be.
In 2013, we moved to a bigger house. This house was like a palace compared to our tiny house. It has a pool, a front and back garden, a lapa and even a cottage for my Gran. My Gran’s cottage is way bigger than our old house.
We all have our own rooms. It was weird for me at the beginning; not having Savannah with me. Eventually I got used to it. But there are still times when I miss having her in the same room as me.
I am an animal lover and the best thing that happened to us, is that we have a dog now. His name is Jaime and sometimes he sleeps in my room, sometimes in Savannah’s room and sometimes in my parent’s room. This was the start of a new chapter for my family.
Savannah no longer attends school as she cannot cope with it. She used to attend the Johannesburg Hospital School for autistic learners, but after the operation, she was unable to physically and mentally cope. My parents tried respite care for Savannah to have a break from us and for my parents to have a break from caring. It’s not easy being a parent, but being a parent to a person with special needs is much tougher. We thought we all needed the break but it was not so.
It was too weird not having Savannah there with her music blaring out when I got home from school. I felt sad that she was not there to ask me a million questions about my day. Although these things can sometimes be annoying, that is what makes this family. We all felt lost and empty. I missed her. We all did. When she came back we couldn’t let her go again because our home was not the same without her.
She spends her week days at home and my mother has designed a program so that she is still learning. Everyone in our home helps Savannah to do something everyday. It can be baking, tracing letters and numbers or helping her to type e-mails to her old friends. She can’t read or write but uses a special picture program to type. On week-ends she does whatever we are doing as a family. Sometimes she has her own plans with her friends.
All Savannah’s quirks and strange ways, have made our family weird and unique. I would not want to change that! I will always continue Loving Savannah.