My Sister is My Hero

My sister Juanell is my hero; I called her Nell. Her name was never in the newspaper, and she was never on television. She didn’t finish school because she was a wife and mother by age 16. When she was 26, her husband walked out on her after giving birth to their seventh child. Frances was born with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome(LGS), a rare and severe type of epilepsy in childhood.

I was a child when Nell was an adult. I watched her go through many hard times. Some of those times, she was angry because life was hard on her, but the one thing I never saw her do was give up.

After her husband left her, she struggled. Even with government assistance, it wasn’t easy to raise her children. She made big pots of stew and bought lots of day-old bread. She was very strict with her children. She took care of them and helped them reach their goals in life as best as she could. They didn’t have a lot of extras in life, but they knew their mom loved them.

As Frances grew older, the seizures grew worse, and she was less able to walk, talk, and take care of herself. She had to wear a protective helmet to protect her head when she fell. Nell was encouraged to put her in a charitable home for children who were handicapped, but she chose to keep her at home and send her to a special education school every day.

She never remarried. She felt like it took all of her to raise her children alone. Her middle son died when he was in his twenties, and a few years later, her oldest son died of heart disease. It was almost unbearable for her, but she held her other children close and let her heart heal one day at a time.

My sister Juanell is my hero; I called her Nell. Her name was never in the newspaper, and she was never on television. She didn't finish school because she was a wife and mother by age 16. When she was 26, her husband walked out on her after giving birth to their seventh child. Frances was born with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome(LGS),...

I remember the amazing thing about my sister is how kind she was to others she thought were less fortunate than her. One day after she finished her grocery shopping, she met an older woman sitting on a bench outside the grocery store. The woman had bags of groceries at her feet. Nell asked her if she needed any help, and the woman told her she was waiting on the bus. My sister told me she didn't look like she could climb up the bus steps, much less carry her bags of groceries up those stairs with her. She asked her where she lived and discovered she lived in a neighborhood on the way to my sister's house, so she offered to take her home.

After that initial meeting, she became this woman's helper. When my sister went to the grocery store, she would put her children in the car, which was always breaking down, and stop by to pick her up. Nell was never invited inside. When the woman didn’t feel like going to the store, my sister would stand at the door and wait for her grocery list. She didn’t know if she had other family members to help her. She never asked.

When the woman died, she willed her small wood-framed house and old station wagon to my sister because she had no other family. Nell was overwhelmed. As a single mom, she had never owned anything.

Now she had a home. She cleaned it up, planted flowers, and made it beautiful. Her children lived in the same city and stayed close to their mother and handicapped sister, who still lived at home. Even though Frances could not talk, Nell always brought my niece into the room to sit and chat with us when I visited her.

My sister Juanell is my hero; I called her Nell. Her name was never in the newspaper, and she was never on television. She didn't finish school because she was a wife and mother by age 16. When she was 26, her husband walked out on her after giving birth to their seventh child. Frances was born with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome(LGS),...

Nell's medical terminology was as good as any nurse or doctor I had ever worked with because she had to study everything she could get her hands on to help her daughter get better. However, LGS is a progressive condition, and children born with this syndrome usually do not live to reach their teens. But, with my sister's persistent love and care, she kept her daughter at home and alive until she died at age 50. My sister died a year later.

There are many different types of heroes in this life: the ones who protect us, who lead us, resolve problems, the risk-takers who inspire courage, and those who push their minds and body to amazing feats, and who teach us not to give up. My sister was one of those everyday heroes who inspired me. She was a survivor. She taught me endurance, courage, survival, grace, gratitude, and her strength will always live in the hearts of those she left behind.


Author's Image
Deana Landers
Author for Morningcoffeebeans.com

I have had many roles in life
Pastor’s Wife , Mom/Nana , Nurse/Health Educator, Writer , Christian Speaker
I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing stories, either in my head or in my journal.

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Story Comments

  1. I don't think anything else could be said other than to Thank you for this story because this was and truly who my mother was and is as she walks along beside us in life. I can't thank her or my aunt's enough for making me the woman I am today. I had one of my grandson's who was having a bad day to tell me ,Grandma I thought you would be just like memaw but your not my reply was I could never be the woman she was. As I look at the children today and the struggles they face I'm thankful for the mother and the aunts and uncles who were there for us as well. I lot you. Now I must go dry up my tears.i love you

    • Deana Landers -

      I'm glad that I could write this story for my precious sister, sweetheart. Her life gave me strength. I'm not sure I could have been as strong as she was in all of her trials but I thank God that she set a wonderful example for me. I love you, Teresa, always.

  2. Lowell Hale -

    Deana, This story reminds me of my Aunt Frances Purkey Shanks of Knoxville, TN. She had 5 children. There were 3 daughters and 2 sons. Her youngest was Phillis also known as Tiny. Tiny had a debillitating illness that confined her to a wheel chair from adolescence through her adult life. Aunt Frances took care of Tiny until she passed away at age 52. Tiny's siblings and her nephews and nieces all helped her as much as they could. Aunt Frances helped her husband Burl Shanks on their farm on Lovell Road in Knoxville. They raised fryers and sold eggs. She drove the Allis Chalmers tractor did all of the farm work. She did wonders in her country kitchen and was always a joy to be around. We were blessed to drive down Kingston Pike to Lovell Road before I-40 was complete. I loved to explore the big red hay/tobacco barn, the terracotta silo, the chicken houses, the spring house where the eggs were cooled, and the old farm house. Aunt Frances sold the farm and moved to the south end of Lovell Road after Uncle Burl passed. She built a house next to her oldest son Neil, and lived there for many years until a fall forced her move to an assisted living facility. They are all gone on now. The farm site is now a light industry/commercial development. They house and all evidence of the barn are gone. Regardless of that, I remember the rope tire swing hanging from that strong branch of an oak tree, the terracotta tile silo, the farm house and all the love and hospitality we experienced there. Thanks for your personal reminder of your hero and one of my own.

    • Deana Landers -

      Lowell, thank you so much for writing to me. I loved your story, tool. Our memories can be our guide and our treasures. I hope you had a blessed Christmas. Please read and comment any time.God Bless You,Deana

    • Deana Landers -

      Thank you, Lowell, for sharing your story of your aunt Francis. What great heroes we have to guide us. God Bless you,Deana

  3. Connie Ranow -

    I listened to your story of my mother my hero also and it touched my heart so much that I could have filled up a bucket with every tear that fell from my eyes. In my mothers heart I know she knew just how much she and Frances, Joey, & Ricky was loved. I think that all of mom's life challenges that she faced throughout her childhood and as she became the wonderful mother to all of us and with God's help is what made her the strong wonderful woman she was. So many times we all prayed Why God do you put so much on one woman and never give a break but I guess it was to pass down to each of us to prove our strength as her daughter to continue to share with my family because her life still lives on. I love and miss her so much. Her sisters have the same strength and traits and I am so proud to have each one as my aunt and I love them to. Thank You Aunt Deana !

    • Deana Landers -

      Connie, this is my most published story. It has been read all over the world. When Jay asked me to read my stories online, he said he wanted this one first. I'm glad it blesses your heart. Please share on you FB.

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