When I was a little girl, I was fascinated with wheelchairs and crutches. I suppose that my first exposure to these items was through the TV show Mister Rogers. He hosted Chrissie Thompson who wore metal braces and used loft-strand crutches, and Jeff Eldridge, a little boy in a wheelchair. I’ll never forget as he sang with Jeff, an impromptu and unforgettable, “It’s you. I like. / Every part of you.” And, one of my favorite things to play was to use Mom’s shiny metal sweeper poles to replicate Chrissie as I tried to amble up and down the long hallway in my home. Thump…step my foot forward…thump…step my foot forward, imitating and feeling what it was like to move with added labor in traditional walking. I was intrigued.
I even have pictures that I drew of myself, with a big bright smile and wide circle eyes (You can imagine the pre-school artistry here.) surrounded by smiling children, all in wheelchairs. A radiant spiked sunshine at the top adorned the top with a broad grin. All of which was drawn in my favorite color, then and now, red. I clearly made a statement. When we were out, even as a little one, while perhaps shy or on occasion hesitant, I have recollections as Mom guided me to engage with everyone, noting a loving welcome to all. Around the same time, my favorite book was Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. Mom and Dad read it to me often. Again, it included more wheelchairs. Heidi’s gift, along with the fresh mountain air was to help her cousin Clara, in heart and mind and body, heal.
The children to me were simply just children. I often wonder if somehow these experiences led me to my career path as an occupational therapist. Accepting all whom I encounter was ingrained within me and what is I hold in my heart to this day as a clinician. I also I believe these experiences from very early on led to a friendship that was unconditional.
My true-blue huckleberry friend DeLana was visually and hearing impaired and diagnosed with Usher’s Syndrome at a young age. I knew her when she could drive a car, she marveled as an artisan of fantastic jewelry with precision to every detail, and traveled to see all the world while her vision was intact. As time moved on and her vision became more labored, she began to walk with a cane—which once, she delightedly shared, the entire length was “blinged” with pink and silver rhinestones by her nieces. We would now take more time as I was her eyes. She gently squeezed my elbow, sometimes depending on the conditions, I could feel her hand shake, but we moved into a stride walking across long halls in convention centers during American Occupational Therapy Association conferences, skillfully navigating fast moving escalators, and even traversing Bourbon Street! She trusted me. One time, as we hurried to make the Walk blinking on a pedestrian crossing, and then, turning to an orange hand– Don’t walk! We landed smack dab in the middle of an intersection with cars across 6 lanes. She reassured ME, “Oh they’ll stop.” We chuckled. Once during one of our escapades at an AOTA conference, after a dinner, I noticed, mobility was getting more difficult for her to navigate. We walked from the sidewalk to the black taxi which was enveloped into the shadowy dusk. While I could sense her trepidations walking to the car, with abounding confidence however, she climbed in, turning backward, trying to sit on the back of the driver’s seat. I gently told her with a grin, “Wrong way DeLana.” “Huh, OH!” she smiled, and then, we roared with laughter! On that evening, she said to me, “You see, Stacy, this is what I love about you most. You don’t see me as any different.” And that statement is so, so true. To me she was always my friend DeLana. Cane or no cane, hearing aids or no hearing aids, while visible, they were not defining of her as a person. All that I knew, was that she was a brilliant lady, a scholar, an author, a business woman, a clinician enfolded with kindness that was full and a genuine friend.
Why do I share all these stories? Most recently, my friend departed unexpectedly, entirely too soon. A month before her passing I had the privilege of being the “eagle eye” editor, as she called me, her vision deteriorating. In her very last document, she shared her personal story of experiences in a world that is not always open to others with differences of any kind. I have first-hand encounters of these moments with her and can only imagine how difficult many life trials must have been. I felt that it is important to share her beautiful statement as it is a tribute to her as a person and an extraordinary example of how we can begin to treat one another, wholly accepting. She gave the gift of her poignant words.
“[Our] advocacy can be dramatic in scope through laws and protests, but also, perhaps even more relevant, in words…just simple words, spoken and written. Through words we can begin to ensure diversity…Our words can convey equity in promoting justice, impartiality and fairness; and inclusion as an outcome to ensure everyone, and especially those that are diverse, actually feel invited and/or are welcomed.”
Let us all remember to teach acceptance to our children. We can begin to teach them with “just…words” and also, exemplify our words with our actions. They might just find their very best friend.
Author: Stacy Sue Rosello, MA, OTR/L
Founder, Embrace the Child, ® Ltd.
Editor: Grace Anne Rosello, BA
Copyright © 2021 Stacy Sue Rosello
In Memoriam: DeLana Honaker, PhD., OTR, CLT, FAOTA.
Your letter of intent was part of our final project in real time my true-blue friend, but you will live on in each work that I complete. Thank you for the valued words and path to live by that you shared with me as a friend and for your exemplary contributions to our OT profession, changing the lives of all children and families. Your legacy will continue for years to come.