A healing tune

By Alexandra Seltzer

Art by Hau Xian

At 13 years old, Ashley Marshall discovered her hidden healing abilities. Her sister Jessica, who was diagnosed with Alternating Hemiplegia Syndrome of Childhood and epilepsy, was having a seizure. She began to rub her arms and softly hum to her.

“It was the same way a mother does when she’s lulling her child to sleep,” Marshall said.

It worked. The seizure stopped. But she didn’t realize it was her soothing that helped until it happened time and time again.

“I was just extremely happy that I could finally be able to take away some of that pain,” Marshall said. (Read More)“It’s horrible to sit there and see someone you love suffer and know there’s more going on inside of them but you have no way to help them.”

Marshall is now a freshman vocal music education major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University. She wouldn’t be there without her sister’s inspiration, she said.

Her goal is to help integrate students with disabilities and students without disabilities in the same music classes.

“I’m tired of having things be separated in schools and making it so that those that ‘can’t sing’ but want to aren’t allowed in choir or band,” Marshall said. “Some of the best people in the arts have cerebral palsy or autism [or other disabilities]. Look at Stevie Wonder.”

Jessica died at the age of 20 in 2007. Marshall hummed and comforted her until her last days, she said.

Sometimes, Jessica’s seizures were so severe, Marshall was unable to help her.

“When I was younger, my sister was having a grand mal seizure and needed to go to the hospital,” Marshall recalled. She walked into the hospital room wearing a pink shirt. When Jessica saw the shirt, she grabbed it and yelled at Marshall to change.

When times get tough, Marshall recounts stories like that about her sister: her stubbornness, and her strength, even as she was battling a debilitating disease. Marshall still hates the color pink.

In addition to her sister, Marshall has also helped several others with disabilities. While working at a day-care center for handicapped children, she helped an autistic boy learn to speak more clearly. She also taught elementary school students how to play the flute.

“I love to teach,” Marshall said. “No matter what, I needed to go into music.”

Marshall chose to attend SU in part to stay close to her mother.

“My mom and I went through such a huge change as it is with losing my sister that I didn’t want her to feel like she had lost me too,” said Marshall, who is from nearby Tully.

“We were still becoming adjusted to our lives without her so things were difficult.”

Jessica, in a way, was also a teacher. She taught Marshall to be determined, and to “enjoy life and be optimistic about things, even when they get hard.”

“She was the strongest person I know.”

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