By Barb Arland-Fye
“Inside Suzie,” written by Ginny Pettit and illustrated by Joey Pettit, 2019, Christian Faith Publishing Co., Meadville, Pennsylvania. $12.95.
Ginny Pettit wrote a love story about Suzie, her child with special needs, years ago but tucked it away until she could find the perfect person to illustrate this children’s book. She found that illustrator, Suzie’s younger sister, Joey Pettit.
Together, mother and daughter created a tender tribute to Suzie, whose developmental disabilities did not create obstacles to conveying joy and love toward others. The story takes place during Suzie’s early childhood, at her home in Geneseo, Illinois. Suzie died five years ago at the age of 40.
Ginny describes “Inside Suzie,” as a children’s book for adults. “I want it to open up dialogue between parents and children about people with disabilities,” says Ginny, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Geneseo, Illinois. “I’m hoping it’s also a teaching tool that even teachers could use to open the door for friendships between children with and without disabilities.”
In the story, Ginny imagines what Suzie is thinking as people make decisions for her — on the playground, during supper, at bedtime. One passage describes Ginny choosing a red shirt for Suzie when, inside her mind, Suzie is thinking that she wanted to wear a blue shirt.
Something extraordinary outweighed the miscommunications. “There was one thing that Suzie could do very well, better than almost anyone else. Suzie could give love. She always greeted those she knew and even strangers with a big smile. Inside, it was Suzie’s way of making people happy.”
Ginny and her husband, Bob, had four biological children and two foster children, who became their forever kids. All of them loved Suzie unconditionally, as did their extended family and faith community.
God’s grace and the acceptance of the parish community at St. Malachy’s helped the family tremendously, Ginny says. “Everyone was so good to her and to us. She liked music and she would make some noise in church; it was her way of trying to sing along. The welcoming of the Catholic community and all of our friends made us know she was welcomed and loved.”
Suzie lived at home until she was 10 years old. Then her parents entrusted her to the care of Misericordia, a Catholic home in Chicago for individuals with mild to profound developmental disabilities. Several years later, Ginny and Bob chose to move Suzie closer to home. She moved into Warren Achievement Center in Monmouth, Illinois, about an hour’s drive away.
“It was hard for the family when she went away for school. We had to have a family talk about it,” Ginny says. Suzie’s siblings “always enjoyed having her come home.”
As she grew into adulthood, Suzie was sweet and easy to be around. “I think there was just a sense of peace in caring for her,” Ginny says.
During the last years of her life, Suzie’s health steadily declined. Watching the deterioration caused Ginny pain. Sometimes when she visited Suzie, Ginny prayed the rosary out loud, which had a calming effect. It became a special way for them to bond.
Ginny took time after Suzie’s death before thinking about the book again. She still needed an illustrator. “I just wanted someone who knew and loved Suzie to capture her and to capture the love we all had for her.”
Suzie’s younger sister, Joey, with a college background in graphic arts, seemed perfect for this labor of love and agreed. The busy young mother said it took six years to complete the illustrations for “Inside Suzie.”
“I kept putting it off. I felt it was so special. I wanted it to be just right, and to really honor her memory,” Joey says. Snapshots helped Joey remember and capture Suzie’s mannerisms, which conveyed the love that Suzie gave.
“When she was younger, she was very spirited and we loved the way she ‘sang’ at church,” Joey says. In later years, “if you needed a minute to clear your mind and to clear your heart, you would sit with Suzie and hold her hand and it just felt right.”
Ginny says her younger daughter captured Suzie’s mannerisms wonderfully. “It was good having her sister do the drawing, someone who knew her.”
(The book is available online at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble — barnesandnoble.com.)