She’s my Sister-in-Law and I Love Her Like the “in-law” Part was Silent


This is Nancy, and today is her birthday. Now the only test Nancy will ever need to pass is an eye exam, but don’t you waste a minute thinking there’s not some cognitive activity going on there. It just looks a little different from what we’ve been taught smart looks like, that’s all.

There was the time we visited her on Memorial Day weekend, for example. She prattled on and on (she has a tendency to repeat things) about how nobody had to go to work on Monday. “Nobody has to go to work on Monday,” she said over and over and over again. For the first thousand or so times, I made conversation by telling her that I had to go to work on Monday. We got to the restaurant and talked about other things over lunch, then as we were leaving the restaurant – before we even got out of the parking lot – Nancy said, “Nobody but Jeanne has to go to work on Monday.” The rest of us had already forgotten that it was even a holiday weekend.

The lenses on her glasses are perpetually covered with her fingerprints because when her glasses slide down her nose – a frequent occurrence – she places three fingers on each lens and shoves the glasses back into place. But thickly-coated or no, when it comes to jewelry, Nancy has 20/20 vision. You see, our Nancy loves jewelry as much as the next girl, so when we visited her a couple of months ago and found that we couldn’t take her shopping to pick out her own, I slipped a bracelet off my wrist and put it on hers. It was a slim cuff bracelet made of pewter, much different from the elastic-strung beaded bracelets I usually get for her because they slide on over her wrist, making it easy for her to adorn herself. Well, Nancy took one look at that bracelet and smiled . . . until she turned her wrist over to look at it from the other side. Seeing the opening in the back, Nancy promptly removed the bracelet from her wrist and tossed it on the floor saying, “It’s broke.”

She can’t read a book, our Nancy, but she can put a 500-piece puzzle together faster than you or I can dump the pieces out of the box.

Nancy has no interest in or need for time management apps, but she keeps a record of her days in a spiral-bound composition book. Using one page for every day, she notes what’s most important to her: what she had for breakfast, who had a birthday that day, the names of her family members, the word “love,” and her signature. Every single day contains “love.” Think about that for a minute: Love. In every single day.

When it comes to dance partner selection on Friday nights, it doesn’t matter to Nancy what kind of car the man drives or how much money he has in the bank, or even what color his eyes are. What matters to Nancy enough to dance with a man is that he doesn’t hit and he doesn’t bite. (I know I told you that before, but I think it bears repeating for a lot of women, don’t you?)

Oh sure, our Nancy will never graduate from high school and she’ll never hold a college degree, but she knows things that can’t be learned from reading a book or attending a class. She is one of the few people (maybe the only person) I know who is content with her life just as it is. She doesn’t live in the past, and she doesn’t live in the future, Nancy lives every day in the present. And she sure does know how to pick a man.

Nancy is not beautiful by cultural and advertising standards. Her teeth aren’t perfectly white and close together. She’s a mouth breather. Her fingers take a funny turn and point upward even when her hand is resting palm-side down on the table. She has an unsteady, uneven gait, sort of shuffling her feet while her body sways side to side from the shoulders. But know this: if you overlook Nancy, if you ignore her or dismiss her or disregard her, Nancy’s not the one missing out. You are.



  1. angelakelsey

    Happy Birthday, Nancy! I don’t know who’s luckiest–Jeanne who has Nancy or Nancy who has Jeanne or the rest of us who get to enjoy both of them. xoxo

    • whollyjeanne

      aww, what a lovely thing to say. thank you. when i called nancy today, i told her about you and that she will get to meet you in two weeks. told her we were having a private belated birthday party. i love that you want to spend some of our together time with nancy. xo

  2. whollyjeanne


  3. Liz

    “Love. In every single day.” that made me cry. Happy birthday, I have loved her since the first time I read your loving words about her. She is blessed to be your sister as you are blessed to be hers & I am grateful you share this love with us.

    • whollyjeanne

      I wish you could meet her sometime, Sugar. She would love you as much as I do.

  4. Janecunningham

    Happy birthday Nancy… love in every single day is the work of a spiritual master…i worked with people with disabilities for a few years and i know how many masters i got to know there… i love how you honour her Jeanne (and is that your lovely self there with Nancy at the bottom?)

  5. Margaret

    I need to meet Nancy-I feel that I have. Thank you for this wonderful story aboaut her-this very special woman.

  6. ☆little light☆

    grace, it’s what you carry with you, when you love.

    • whollyjeanne

      so right, my wise friend. and our nancy, well if she could spell, she’d write the book on grace.

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