Her Sister’s Keeper

Anyone who’s felt pestered by a younger brother or sister might want to consider Shannon’s situation.

Her Sister’s Keeper

It’s Saturday morning, Shannon McNally is wide awake, and she’s still snoring. Listening to her and egging her on is Shannon’s younger sister, Landis. It looks strange, really. But it’s not. It’s what Landis likes. So Shannon indulges her mentally retarded sister.

“She likes for me to snore for her,” Shannon says with a shrug. Shannon doesn’t know why Landis likes that, or why she likes her big sis to play “The Wedding March” on the piano. “That’s just one of Landis’s things too.”

Shannon, 15, and Landis, 12, share a bedroom in their Union Bridge, Maryland, home. And despite Landis’s disability, the two sisters are just that. “We’re like regular sisters who have special things between them,” Shannon continues. That would explain the snoring and “The Wedding March.”

It would also explain why Shannon is such a big help to her mother when it comes to dealing with Landis. “Right now, Landis throws a lot of tantrums, she pulls hair, she spits, and she scratches. She’s also speech-disabled,” says the girls’ mom, Anjela McNally. “Shannon probably understands [Landis] a tad better than I do. I’ll say, ‘Shannon, what’s Landis trying to say?’ Shannon knows her sister very well and can usually tell me.”

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy for Shannon, a Mia Maid in the Westminster Ward of the Frederick Maryland Stake. When Landis gets upset, she’ll begin, as Shannon describes it, “trashing the house.” Once Shannon was heating up some leftover pizza, when Landis decided she wanted pudding instead. When Shannon told her she’d have to eat the pizza, Landis began throwing her food around the kitchen and knocking things off the counter.

“I get frustrated a lot over the things she does. I don’t mean to get mad but sometimes I do. Then I feel bad because I know she doesn’t quite understand why I’m yelling at her,” says Shannon. It’s at moments like these that Shannon will give Landis a hug, or sit with her in a chair, look at a magazine, and just rock back and forth. “It helps my anger to go away.”

“What is so incredible about Shannon is she’s able to not let what Landis does get her down too much. She has a great sense of humor about it,” says Sister McNally, a single parent who also has two sons, K. C. and Lucas, still at home. “Shannon is always willing to help, and she’s very kind to Landis. And Landis turns to Shannon for help as much as me or maybe even sometimes a little bit more than me.

“Shannon is a good role model for Landis,” Sister McNally continues. “But I think she’s more of a hero for Landis. Shannon has always been really pleasant and easygoing. I call her ‘my cheerful giver.’”

Even with all the help she provides her mother, Shannon still finds time for seminary, and school activities, which include her participation in color guard, a precision performing group that twirls flags. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, days Sister McNally is at school, Shannon is there to help Landis get off the bus. She also helps Landis get dressed, and will occasionally help with her bath.

There are moments when Shannon stops and considers her sister’s plight. She’ll think about times when Landis cries and doesn’t stop, and how hard it is to see her sister sad and not be able to find out what’s wrong. There are other times when Shannon will think about the gospel, and specifically about the Resurrection. “Landis has been this way for as long as I can remember. It’s hard for me to imagine her being perfect, her being able to speak,” Shannon explains. “I can’t really imagine her that way, but I know she will be someday.”

Sister McNally says, “I try to teach Shannon that she won’t always be recognized here for the help she’s given Landis, or for the way she’s been kind to Landis and helped make Landis’s life easier. But I also teach her that someday Landis will be able to come up to her and talk, and that this is not a permanent condition. As a family, we have had to do a lot of soul searching and a lot of studying of the purpose of life.”

For now, Shannon will continue caring for Landis. Like the nights when Shannon wakes up and makes sure her sister has blankets on her, or when she takes Landis outside to ride her bike. Those are the times when Landis will smile and so will Shannon. And one thing will be readily apparent. They’re sisters, and they love each other very much.

[photos] Photography by Laury Livsey

[photo] For now, it’s Shannon who does the talking. But someday, Landis will be perfect, will be able to speak. And Shannon will hear the thanks that her sister can’t express in this life.