Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘teenagers’

Upsetting the Status Quo

51AAuLof0GLNot Just A Girl: A Lesbian Romance
by Judy Folger.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

What happens in Royal’s life, in Not Just A Girl, has been experienced by many men and women. Living up to society’s expectations, not wanting to “overturn the cart”, let alone acknowledge there own feelings, they do what they’re “supposed to do”. In this case, it is Royal marrying a man not long after high school, while still being in love with her best friend, Mackenzie. Such circumstances were especially prevalent up to the beginning of this century, and still continues for some.

When Royal talks to her gay sister-in-law, Avery, she becomes acutely aware of herself, and how she’s been living to please others.

The words shot out of Royal’s mouth before she could stop them. ‘When a woman decides to make her own happiness, she upsets the status quo!’

‘Yes!’ Avery shot back, smiling, ‘Everyone else’s status quo…’

She reflected for a moment. ‘Oh. Oh, I see.'”

The youngest of four siblings, with three older brothers, Royal is told by them, and her parents, that she is “just a girl”. Which, in their eyes, means she should get married, have children, and take care of everyone else. Once her children are teenagers, and her husband (Jim) takes extended time away from the family, Royal begins to tentatively look at what she wants, and who she is. With the help of her friend at work (Claudia), a professor from her college days (Professor Belkin), and Avery, she slowly begins to acknowledge who she is and what she wants.

There are a number of family scenes with parents, and in-laws, which were all too familiar. For example, the Thanksgiving dinners found the men and women playing all the stereotyped roles of men watching football, and the women cooking and providing. It takes Royal half her life to start believing in herself, and break out of these roles. Ms. Folger has created an insightful, heart-felt story of one woman deciding to set herself free and find happiness. Not Just A Girl is not just a book, it’s an inner journey of discovery brought to the page for all to see.

My Son Ryan

Profile of Jeanne White and her son Ryan. From Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

jeannewhiteIn 1984, one week before Christmas, Jeanne White was told that her son Ryan had contracted AIDS from a blood product he’d used to control his hemophilia. The doctors gave him six months to live. Struggling to make life as normal as possible for her thirteen-year-old son, she attempted to have him return to school as soon as possible.

She did not realize the amount of fear and prejudice that would result when the school heard of his illness and refused to allow his return. After numerous court battles, which brought he and his mother to national and international attention, Ryan was allowed back in school, only to be inundated with hate, ignorance and abuse. As a result of their struggles Ryan was befriended by numerous celebrities such as Elton John, Michael Jackson and Phil Donahue and began to educate children and parents about AIDS by speaking at schools, appearing on numerous talk shows and news programs and having a movie about his life broadcast on national television. On April 11, 1990, five and a half years after his six-month prognosis, Ryan died. His funeral was one of the most publicized services of that decade.

Shortly after Ryan’s death his mother Jeanne, who had always been behind the scenes publicly, was asked by several senators to speak about Ryan to Congress in order to pass national legislation for AIDS education. She reluctantly agreed and was instantly thrown into the media spotlight. The bill, THE RYAN WHITE CARE ACT, was subsequently passed and Jeanne White became one of the most sought after speakers in the country. She founded the Ryan White Foundation and continues advocating for AIDS education and prevention with children, teenagers and their peers.

JEANNE WHITE:

A lot of times it takes a little push. Everybody likes feeling sorry for them selves over the death of a loved one. That’s kind of normal. With me it was Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch who got me going and I fought it every step of the way. Ryan was always the public speaker not me.I was just following Ryan around. Senator Kennedy and Hatch had just named a bill after Ryan called the Ryan White Care Act and they wanted me to come to Washington DC. It was too soon. We had just buried Ryan two days before and they asked me to come anyway. They knew it was going to be hard, but they said, “You know, this is the first chance that we have of getting something done for people with AIDS.” They said, “Ryan’s death is so fresh on everybody’s mind, his illness and funeral was carried by every network for the last week and a half. This is the first chance of someone being in the public eye that takes the focus off the disease and puts it on to the fact that ‘anybody can get it.’”

I said, “Yes”. I said, “No”. I said, “I can’t, I really can’t. Ryan used to do that, not me.” On the second day people from Senator Kennedy’s staff called me again. They said, “Terry’s going to be there.” Terry and others had helped me through a lot of bad times. During all the years that Ryan fought AIDS the more people I knew that died of AIDS. And I had seen so many families just like me. Even though I didn’t want to get involved, so many people helped me that I kind of felt like I owed it to them. Then Senator Hatch called me and said, “You know, we’re not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. I have twenty-three senators lined up for you. All we want you to do is tell what it’s like to watch your son live and die with this disease.”

So I went to Washington and I’m so glad I did. It made me feel good. I didn’t feel I did great, not like I wanted to. I could have done better but I knew I was sincere in what I felt and said. After that, people wouldn’t let me stop.

Phil Donahue, who was a pallbearer at Ryan’s funeral, has become a very good friend of the family. When he was in the hospital visiting Ryan he noticed all the mail and could not believe how much was pouring in. He took a bunch of the letters back to New York with him and called saying, “Do you realize these letters are all from kids?!” I said, “Well yeah, that’s who generally wrote Ryan.” He said, “Jeannie, you’ve got to continue this work. You’ve got to answer this mail.” Phil said, “I’ll hire you an assistant.” There were over sixty thousand letters! Phil kept his word and with the help of Marlo Thomas and the St. Jude volunteers, they were able to find a lady that lived close by.

I was so impressed with Ryan, so proud of him. Sometimes I’d think, “Golly, is he really my son?” To me he was just my little kid, but to the nation, he was this celebrity and hero. I hated to even think that I could follow him, his impact was so great and people listened. When I speak I’m always a nervous wreck, even though I’ve been doing it now for years. I’ve messed up a lot, but I’m me. When I introduce myself I say, “I’m just a mom. I’m a mom just like your mom and because of this misunderstood disease called AIDS, my life changed overnight.” I say a prayer every time I go out. I say, “Lord, please help me to get through this. Help me educate these young people. Help me make a difference in their lives with my story.” Then I say, “Ryan, please be there with me.” Then I have this kind of surge that goes through me and I feel like its Ryan saying, “OK, Mom, I’m with you.”

I think we’ve made a lot of progress. By “we” I mean everybody who has committed so hard to fighting this disease with education and through therapy and drugs and medical treatment. I think we’ve come a long way. The people who have to be commended the most are the people that are not here. Their lives had to be lost for us to get where we are today, to show compassion. Even though I’m tired I’m still doing it because of the Terry Burns, the Mike Callums and the family members that I’ve seen.

One day we were riding in the van and Ryan reached over and grabbed my hand and started swinging it. I looked over and said, “OK, what do you want?” He said, “I don’t want anything.” “Come on Ryan, what do you want?” I continued. He replied, “Can’t a son hold his mother’s hand? ” I said, “Come on, you really don’t want anything?” “Mom, I just want to say thank you for standing by me, for always being there for me.”

I remember that moment when I speak to teenagers. You know, we always think everybody’s going to be here tomorrow, but one day you’re going to wake up and somebody’s not going to be there. I say, “You might think this stupid old lady up here doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but I do. The next time you go home from school, even if you think it’s the corniest thing you’ve ever done, write a letter to your parents. If you think you’re real cool and you can’t go up and hug them around their neck and say, ‘Mom. Dad. Thank you. I love you.’ Then write a note and put it on their pillow. Do something so that you’ll never be sorry.”

It would have been easy to be mad all the time at the people who ridiculed us, who discriminated against us, but we had to put our lives in perspective and look at what was really important and what wasn’t. Everybody saw on the news that it was this fight for Ryan to go to school, but the number one priority in our life was keeping him healthy. Second, was keeping my job at General Motors, because we had great insurance and it paid for all his medical bills. And the third part was my daughter Andrea, keeping us together as a family.

At first, it’s like, “Why?” Everybody wants to know why. Why wasn’t he given a miracle? All my life I was taught if you pray hard enough, if you believed hard enough, that you would get a miracle and you could never doubt that or you wouldn’t get one. I never thought Ryan was going to die. I just couldn’t quite understand that. I thought nobody had more people praying over them than Ryan did. I prayed, “Lord, wouldn’t it be nice to show this kid a miracle in front of the whole nation.” Everybody knew he’s lived with AIDS for five and half years. He’d been in and out of hospitals. He’s been blind twice. I mean, this kid had a heck of a life, why couldn’t he be given a miracle? When he died, it was like, “Why? What more could we have done?”

When he died I was really taken aback. I started questioning my faith. I think that’s normal. I mean, I started wondering if there really is a god? How does God let things like this happen? I see people around me all the time asking that question. “Why do young kids have to die?” I mean, anybody really, lots of other good people have died too. So then I started trying to find reasons.

After awhile it started to get clearer. “Look at all the things he’s done in his short life. He’s educated so many people. Wouldn’t we all like to say we had accomplished as much as this kid did in only 18 years?!”

I tell the kids that when I get to heaven I’m going to be angry. I hope the Lord forgives me for being angry, but I’m going to say, “Why did you have to take Ryan?” Then I say, “You know what I think he’s going to say? He’s going to say, ‘You know what, he was only supposed to live three to six months. I gave you five and a half years and you’re still not happy.’” Maybe I got a miracle. We had quite a few Christmases that we never thought we were going to have.

I didn’t want to lose my faith. I was mad at my faith. I was mad at my church. I was mad at my religion. I was mad at God. But I wanted to find a reason. I eventually started seeing things around me like the Ryan White Care Act and Elton John go through rehabilitation and get off of drugs and alcohol and I thought, “My goodness, Ryan touched more lives than I ever knew. Perhaps those people got miracles and they don’t know it.”

Michael (Jackson) was a real good friend of Ryan’s. When Michael called Ryan in the hospital once, Elton said, “With all the money that’s in this room, we can’t bring this boy back to life.” That was a real big realization to Elton . . . that he had all the money in the world, he had everything he could ever buy, but he could not buy his health. That’s why he entered rehab. When Michael called me after Ryan died, just to see how I was doing, I said, “I’m doing OK but what made you and Ryan so close?” When Michael would call, they would have long phone conversations. He said, “You know, most people can’t get over the awe of who I am, so nobody can ever act normal around me. Ryan knew how I wanted to be treated, because that’s how he wanted to be treated. I can’t trust anyone because everybody always wants something from me.” He could tell Ryan anything and Ryan wasn’t going to go blab it or tell it, you know. “I promised Ryan he could be in my next video and now that he’s gone I want to do a video for him.” He made a video called Going Too Soon, which was about Ryan.

It’s hard to talk about death. I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t really think he was going to die. I can remember him saying what he wanted to be buried in. I told him I really didn’t want to talk about it but he went on anyway, “I know you like me in a tux but I don’t want to buried in one.” I said, “OK, Ryan, what do you want?” I mean, it’s like, I’d say anything to get this conversation over with. He says, “I want to be buried in my Guess jeans, my red T&C (Town and Country) shirt, my Air Jordan’s and my Jean jacket.” He pauses, as I’m fading out, then says, “You know how people are when they’re lying in a casket and everybody is watching their eyes to see if their eyes move? I want my sunglasses on and I want to be buried in my boxer shorts.” “Your boxer shorts?” I exclaimed. He’d just switched from wearing briefs to boxer shorts and really liked them. “Why your boxer shorts?” I deadpanned. “You know that hernia I got? I want to make sure I . . .” He had a hernia that they couldn’t operate on because he had no platelets. “I want to make sure I’m comfortable.” And I thought, ‘Well, if you’re dead, I mean . . .’ “OK, just talk,” Ryan said. “You know, as a mom.”

One of the best things after Ryan died was when people talked about him. I think it was also good for me to get involved in something I truly believed in, doing something, instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. That’s the easy way to go . . . feeling sorry for yourself. People didn’t let me, although that’s what I probably would have done if not pushed. But people were always talking about Ryan and people still do and that kind of keeps him alive within me.

More inspiring people at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

From Under Her Feet

An excerpt from the book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. An interview with Sybil Anderson-Adams.

Adams-AndersonHer life was the picture of success. Her husband was an attorney, they were drawing up plans for their dream home, and she recently quit her teaching job, to spend more time with their three children. Suddenly, the rug was pulled out from under her feet. What started out as a headache in court, turned out to be a leaking aneurysm. In spite of the doctors’ assurances to the contrary, within three weeks Sybil Anderson-Adams husband was dead. Without comprehension or time to have said good-bye, she struggled to survive and make sense of the incomprehensible.

As a result of her desperation and need to find answers, Sybil reached out to her friends, neighbors, doctor and church, and formed a support group for young adults who’s partners had died. The first meeting brought together twenty-five people who’d previously thought they were alone. With her need, and ability to communicate her process and grief to others, she continues to open the door of life for those who thought it had been slammed in their face and locked shut forever.

SYBIL ANDERSON-ADAMS: “When I arrived at the hospital the doctor said, ‘I have some bad news. Your husband stopped breathing.’ I’ll never forget those words. ‘He stopped breathing.’ He finally said, ‘I’m sorry . . . he’s passed away.’ It was then that it hit me . . . like a wosh.  I doubled over . . . just like you see in the movies.

After the shock had subsided, I realized I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was the loss of identity. I was the type of person who always had my entire life planned out. Before Neal died, I’d never really had a traumatic event. I had things all figured and scheduled . . . which, as you know, gives you a sense of control. But I had no control over this one and that was my undoing. I had to decide where I was going; who I was. There was an urgency. I remember going to a counselor and saying, ‘When will I not feel this way? When, when, when?!’ The reality was so strong that I wanted it to be over. I didn’t want to cry anymore.

Then one day, I remember making a decision. it was something one of my kids said. You know, ‘Out of the mouths of babes!’ One of my sons says, ‘If you hadn’t stopped and talked to Dad that one day long ago, you might never had known him or gotten married.’ I said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ And I had this vision where I decided that whatever came up I’d say, ‘Yes!’ That I would do things no matter how hard it was. When my kids had stuff they needed to do . . . cub scouts, swimming . . . I made a decision that no matter what, I wasn’t going to hide at home anymore, I was going to go. And what I found was that doing that made me stronger, even though a lot of the events I attended were absolute disasters! Taking some kind of action made me feel brave. it gave me confidence.

I remember sitting with another friend who was at that same juncture. She said, ‘I hate this. I want to be out of here.’ I felt the same at the time and replied, ‘Yeah, just get me out.’ And that’s one of the reasons I started a support group, and keep it going to this day. I needed those people so bad. They were my reality. If somebody else could make it, so could I.

For awhile I could only live for the day. The future was nonexistent. I’ve met many people throughout the years that say the same thing. They said, ‘Good-bye” in the morning and their spouse was dead by the afternoon. It changed my whole concept of how I look at things. I laugh more often now. We’ve got three teenagers and one in early adolescence. They can make you laugh or cry. If I wasn’t able to laugh once in a while our life would be one miserable hell.

I think all survivors make that decision at some point. You have to decide to live. My kids forced me into it. I’d be in bed with the covers pulled over my head, not wanting to get out, and one of them would come in and say, ‘What’s for breakfast?’ What are you going to do; I couldn’t stay in bed? I had to get up. I was the only one they had left.

We had a saying in our house, ‘Life sucks.’ It was kind of our motto for awhile. The kids would say, ‘Life sucks!’ and I’d look at them and say, ‘Yeah, then what?’ They’d answer, ‘Then you die.’ I’d continue, ‘So, then what are you going to do about it?’ They’d look at me, roll their eyes and say, ‘Come on Mom.’ It’s made them real. They see a different reality then most kids.

Life has become a really interesting place. Neal’s death and where my life has gone since, has added another dimension. God knows I wish it hadn’t happened, but without it I could have lived until I was eighty-five and never discovered this! Life is such a gift, though I’m not thrilled with the way I had to really find this out. I love being in this state of mind. I’m doing things that I never knew I could or would do. There was a point two years after he died when I realized, ‘My God, I can do anything!’ I survived something that at first glance seemed like an endless hole of despair. I didn’t think I’d ever climb out . . . but I did.

More inspiring stories at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

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