Monday, June 27, 2011

Novelist Tananarive Due on caring for her mother

Novelist Tananarive Due, (My Soul to Keep; The Between), offered a personal narrative on about this challenging season in her life which she faces with her sisters and father, taking care of her ailing mother, Patricia Stephens Due.  A pioneering civil rights activists, Patricia Due led what became the first "jail-in" of the student protest movement at FAMU.  Her battle against the institutionalized racism on campus prefigures her current battle with another formidable opponent, cancer. 
My sister and I are experiencing a similar season, caring for our mother who suffered a massive stroke in January of this year. In fact, many friends and colleagues these days tell us stories about the onset of their parents' sudden sickness. We talk about the terrible ailments that sadly have debilitated the strong men and women they were once. We only hint at how the sicknesses wreak havoc on us, though. How these ailments upset the memory of our parents' physical prowess, which is one way I have known my mother, as an imposing kinetic force from my childhood that looms large in my adult imagination. We only tiptoe to the edge of a discussion that would admit the upheaval of our  emotional geography, the instinctive mapping of the parent-child relationship that inverts when the child must care for the parents' at the most basic level of human need. The inversion of the parent-child relationship for me is an emotional shock. I don't know if that is because the inverted child-as-parent is a reversal of habitual order or a progression of the universal and natural order of our human experience. 
Wonder if anyone is currently writing about or reading about these experiences?

Behind Mom's dark glasses: A civil rights leader's biggest fight
By Tananarive Due, Special to CNN
June 25, 2011 2:51 a.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Days ago, I sat at my mother's bedside and helped her hold a copy of our 2003 memoir, "Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights."

The cover pictures her leading a protest march when she was 20 years old.

"That's you," I said, pointing out her face, determined and stoic behind dark sunglasses.
Tananarive Due, left, her father, mother and sisters-[Due Family]    

"I remember this," Mom said, and smiled.

These days, I do not take my mother's memory for granted.

My mother, Patricia Stephens Due, now 71, has thyroid cancer. Although thyroid cancer is considered highly treatable, by the time Mom's disease was diagnosed in the fall of 2009, the cancer had spread throughout her body, including her spine, which was fractured by the tumors. She was in bed for months.

In sickness, Mom possesses the same fighting spirit she's had since she defied Jim Crow to spend 49 days in a Florida jail in 1960 for a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter.

"I've been to jail; I can do this," she told me from her hospital bed last year.

She did rise like a phoenix to reclaim her life a piece at a time. A year later, this past February, she was able to drive from Tallahassee to Gainesville, about 150 miles, to be a featured speaker at the University of Florida with my father, civil rights attorney John Due, where she spoke passionately about civil rights for two hours.

. . .

Her voice -- a rich, textured contralto often compared to Maya Angelou's -- has inspired people far beyond her family.

At 15, she convinced high school classmates in Belle Glade, Florida, to sign a petition to try to fire their principal. When she was 19, she and her sister, Priscilla Stephens Kruize, organized a chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Mom, Aunt Priscilla and three other students spent 49 days in jail rather than pay a fine -- the nation's first jail-in in the student sit-in movement.

She and the other jailed FAMU students received a telegram from the Rev. Martin Luther King applauding their stand. Baseball great Jackie Robinson published her letter from jail in his column in the New York Post and sent the students diaries to record their experiences.

The one thing Mom always wanted to do was tell the story, forever her generation's griot, so young people would understand that ordinary people could do extraordinary things.

This year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott sent Mom a letter on June 9 saying that her jail-in "was a significant moment in our country's history and your actions serve as an incredible inspiration still today."

Tallahassee Mayor John R. Marks III declared May 11 "Patricia Stephens Due Day" and visited her hospital bedside to personally read the proclamation, holding her hand. She listened silently with tears in her eyes.

"If we were treated like second-class citizens, it was like we were already dead," Mom often said, explaining her activism despite the dangers.

Read Tananarive Due's full article, "Behind Mom's dark glasses: A civil rights leader's biggest fight," @  

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