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The Secret Garden of Dana Erickson
By Judith Bronte

The story of a young woman coming to terms
with her retarded, older sister.


Chapter One: Understanding Dana

Chapter Two: "Good" and "Bad"

Chapter Three: Surprises

Chapter Four: Revelations

Chapter One: Understanding Dana

I have an older sister named Dana. She's seven years older than I, and has the mental capacity of a three year old. When she was 2 months old, she stopped breathing for six minutes. The doctors were able to bring her back to life. They called it a miracle. However, when she grew older it was apparent there was brain damage. That small period of time when there was no oxygen to her brain, would change Dana's life forever. And mine.

When I was small, Dana was a wonderful playmate for me. But when I started to grow up, she began to lose me. I played with her every day, but she could sense the changes in me. I sometimes think Dana knows more than she lets on. I liken it to a secret garden locked inside her mind. She lives there every day, and when I see her, she's looking through a keyhole. I struggle to see the whole Dana, but all I can see is her eyes. I know she wants to come out and meet me, but the gate is locked.

O, God, show me the key to Dana's garden!

"The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us." ~ Deuteronomy 29:29 ~

Let me relate an incident that makes my family shudder, even to this very day.

Two years ago, when Danny, (my nickname for her), was twenty-six, we took her shopping at a large mall. It was just Mom, Danny, and myself . Danny was strapped into a wheel chair, for she had the child-like tendency to wander. Five-foot-four inches of curiosity. Mom went into one store without us because it did not accommodate a wheelchair. She left me with, "Terri, watch your sister. Dana, your sister is in charge." Ten minutes had passed before Danny said, "I wanna get up. Tired of sit. Wanna stand."

"No, Danny. You must sit. At least you can. I have to stand, and my feet are killing me."

"Wanna stand!"

"No. Must sit," I said firmly.

"Danny want stand!" She was growing impatient and people started staring.

I tried to look as if everything was okay. Under a hushed voice, I whispered "Danny want to be bad?"

"Danny not bad!" she shouted.

More people started staring, but I could not let Danny stand. She was bigger than I, and I couldn't control her physically.

"If Danny stands up, then she will be bad. Wait for Mom. Be a good girl." I tried to say this in the most soothing voice I had.

"Danny good! Danny good!" she yelled.

"Hush. Yes, Danny is a good girl." However, the threat of "bad girl" still rang in her ears no matter how much I told her she was good. Her arms started waving wildly. I struggled to secure them under her harness, but the palm of her hand struck me on the back of my head, causing me to go unconscious. The rest I relate to you as my mother told me. Dana had gotten free of her harness and was running through the mall yelling, "Dana good! Dana good!" Mom came out of the store five minutes later to find me unconscious, lying on the floor.

A security guard found Dana okay, but it became obvious to my parents and to myself that a bigger issue was at stake here. The fact I could not control Danny, bothered my parents. It had been decided when I was small, that when my parents died, I would care for her myself. An agreement I always went along with. But now it became painfully apparent I could not do it alone. Danny was too big and too strong for me. (It had taken her a long time before she learned to walk, so most of her life she was underdeveloped. But when she got the hang of walking, her muscles grew rapidly.) A trust fund was put aside for Dana, so a full-time helper would always be around to help me help Danny. It was a decision that put our minds at rest. We thanked God for giving us wisdom.

"My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding." ~ Psalm 49:3 ~

Chapter Two: "Good" and "Bad"

anny, eat."


"Open your mouth, honey."


Mom made a frowning face.

"Danny, go stand in the corner."

"I eat. I eat."

"Good girl. Danny's a good girl."

You always had to use small words with Dana. Normal things you and I do everyday without thought, took Dana twice as long to do. She has the basic concepts of good and bad down, although I don't think she understands why. Not to eat was "bad." Why? She has no idea. We have tried to teach her the basic concepts of God, also. She understands there is a God, that He loves her, and cares for her. But the extent of her knowledge is very vague. However, sometimes she surprises us with a glimpse of the whole Dana.

Take, for instance, the manger scene on her dresser.

After Christmas, Mom and I went around the house taking down all the Christmas decorations. When we came to Dana's room though, she started screaming.

"What's wrong, honey?"

"Don't take Jesus!" Her eyes grew wide.

Mom was the first to understand. Dana had grown attached to the manger scene sitting on her dresser. She had correctly identified the baby as Jesus, without anyone telling her.

"Shall not God search this out? for He knoweth the secrets of the heart." ~ Psalm 44:21 ~

Chapter Three: Surprises

he morning sun shone brightly through my bedroom window, waking me up. I turned over, bumping into something. Dana had crawled into my bed while I was asleep.

"Terri! Where's Dana? I can't find her anywhere!" Mom's voice made Dana turn over and put her fists in her ears.

"Don't wanna get up," she mumbled.

"She's with me, Mom," I said.

Mom stood in the doorway smiling.

"I forgot, Pumpkin. It rained last night."

Dana hated rain. I guess because she could not understand it.

Whatever she could not understand, bothered her. Maybe that was the key to her secret garden. Explain things to her in detail. If necessary, use big words. It was worth a try.

"Danny, wake up. It's time to get up now."

She rolled over onto her back.

"Danny, why did you want to keep the manger scene on your dresser?" I said this as distinctly as I knew how.

"Baby Jesus."

"How did you know it was baby Jesus?"

A big smile came over her face.


I was surprised. She understood the concept of 'secret'.

"Danny, what is your secret?"

"Secret," was all she would say. I tried again the next day, but with the same results. She would not tell me her secret.

Chapter Four: Revelations

wanted very much to know my sister's secret, hoping it would give me the key to her garden. That garden locked inside Dana's head. I spent the whole day reading my Bible, researching the word 'secret,' and a variety of others.

"Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret." ~ Daniel 2:47 ~

"The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant." ~ Psalm 25:14 ~

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." ~ Psalm 91:1 ~

"Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD." ~ Jeremiah 23:24 ~

After much prayer and research, I came to a God-given revelation.

Dana's garden was no secret. Not to God. He was there in her mind. No wall could separate her from God.

"Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." ~ Romans 8:39 ~

I might not be able to see the whole Danny, but someday in Heaven I would. God sees her. He will tend her garden. I started to gather promises. Promises that bound God, (in faith), to keep her in peace and safety.

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee." ~ Isaiah 26:3 ~

That day, I came to peace with my sister's world. In the following days, we grew to understand each other more and more.

The End


You may republish this without permission, provided it remains free, accredited and unaltered. Copyright © 2008 Sarah Fall (aka Judith Bronte).