After hearing the news of your death yesterday, many friends and I have been saying the same thing over and over: “I know it’s wrong to be so heartbroken about this—I didn’t know her— but I can’t help it.” No one wants to take the mourning away from those who knew you and make it our own, but you are our kin too and we mourn this loss as a community.
Over the last two months, I had been in communication w/ you to see if you could speak at our youth conference here in NC. You talked about how your family lived so close to where we were having our conference and how maybe you could come stay with family and visit the Tobacco Museum afterwards. It made me laugh that you were so friendly and open about your life but I guess I should know *something* about Southern culture by now!
Through emails, I gushed on and on (to the point of embarrassing myself) about how we had all read your book and would love the opportunity to meet you. You didn’t know this, but when I found out you couldn’t come, I started to see if my friends and I could go to Charleston (post-conference vacation) in hopes of randomly calling you up and having a meal together. I’m sad that the chance is gone.
You were the first person I really saw put an experience so similar to my own into words. I have a form of Muscular Dystrophy too, although the form is unknown. The fear of early death and a life of pity made my family stay away from the word MD. To this day, I still have a hard time describing my medical diagnosis to people.
Needless to say, your fierceness rocked my world! You understood what organizing in the South looked like (something I am still learning) and it was a natural part of your activism. Your childhood experience sounded so much like my own (worrying about death, not knowing privacy, etc.) And your writing is full of humor, one of the cornerstones of disability culture. Even the way I found out about you speaks for who you are—I received Too Late to Die Young from a friend (whose favorite part was the “sea of butts” chapter), loved it as well, and then gave it to others as gifts. We all really connected with your writing so much.
We love you, Harriet, and are so thankful for all the spirit, energy, and dedication you’ve brought to the movement. You will not be forgotten.