I find out more and more every day how important it is for people to share their memories.—Fred Rogers (2003)
The February day dawned cold and dreary—a harbinger of sorrow. The early morning news brought word that Fred Rogers had just died. Like most mothers, I paused for a moment that blended sadness with gratitude for Mister Roger's positive influence on my children. My pause was brief as I hurried back to a stark room in intensive care where my first born child, my sweet brave Doug, fought for his life, a fight he would soon lose.
I wrote in the preface of a book I co-authored that “family members are the most important people in the lives of individuals with disabilities, and their only constant” (Berry & Hardman, 1998, p. xi). And so it was. His Dad and I were there on that sunny afternoon in March when he was born and by his bedside on that gloomy February morning when he died, his only constant.
My students and those who have followed my career felt Doug's influence often in my work (i.e., Berry, 1987, 1995, 2003; Berry & Meyer, 1995), and readers of this journal learned of his impact on advocacy and change in Oklahoma and beyond (Berry, 2002). Others had the privilege of caring for and teaching Doug while sharing friendship. Although his Dad and I were his only constant, many loved him. Their memories join mine, his Dad's, and his brother's in blending sadness with gratitude for his life. They tell of love given and received, express appreciation for lessons learned, and embrace the legacy of a life well lived.
Doug was a wonderful, charming young man whom I cared for very much. Teacher
We always have and always shall speak of Doug with a smile on our lips and in our hearts. Thank you for sharing Doug with us. Respite Care Providers
Doug was lucky to have you and we were fortunate to have him. Consultant
His death leaves a hole in your precious family and in the other precious relationships he enjoyed. Psychologist
I will always picture Doug in the basement of your house, sawing and hammering away on some project he and John had dreamed up. He was an amazing young man—and he clearly reflected your absolute and unconditional love for him in the way he loved everyone around him. Friend
I will always remember the stories you told of your son. Graduate Student
I will always remember how he was able to outsmart a group of graduate students. Special Education Professor
I treasure my time with Doug. He impacted who I am both personally and professionally. Speech Pathologist
Doug was a special individual and I feel that without him, I wouldn't be where I am today. He will truly, truly be missed. Direct Care Worker who went on to become a Special Education Teacher
Doug will always have a place in my heart. There are so many stories I use about Doug to help others learn, as I learned from him. Consultant
There are many people with disabilities and their families who are better off because Doug lived and because of your advocacy. I feel privileged to have known Doug. Teacher
You have helped many families in the past and your good work will continue. It is a marvelous legacy that you share with your son. Friend
Doug was such a pioneer in showing others the example of independence. He touched the lives of all who knew him and even people who will never have the privilege of knowing him because he blazed the trail for them to have a new quality of life. Psychologist
Sadly, Doug's time on earth was short, but because Doug was who he was, his time here auspiciously altered the lives of so many. These changes positively impacted not only persons with disabilities, but their families and all who come in contact with them—educators, caregivers, employers, friends, and strangers—and will continue to make a difference for countless others who will follow. Attorney
Few people's lives really have much lasting impact on society, but through you, Doug leaves quite a wonderful legacy for many to follow. Friend
These memories are meant to comfort, and they do; but singer Joan Baez reminds us that memories bring diamonds and rust. The memories I have shared are the diamonds: sparkling, shiny, and strong. But there was also rust in Doug's life and in ours: lack of needed services, segregated services, inadequately trained personnel. You know this list, only too well.
Join me in honoring Doug's life by striving for rust prevention and rust removal. While families are the constant, friends and professionals are the brace that keeps them in place through the sometimes shiny, sometimes rusty journey.
Author: Judy O. Berry, EdD, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Tulsa, 600 S. College, Tulsa, OK 74104. firstname.lastname@example.org