Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Other Side of Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford's star shone in his wife Betty's light. She radiated modern American energy that helped bring an entire nation out of the pale back in the 70s, when suppression and secrecy were replaced by straight talk about recovery. What was muted turned bright as she shook hands, held hands, and, most recently, laid her own hands on her husband's casket.

Betty Ford is powerful in a way that's easy for us to take for granted today. It's the power of free thought that combines with free speech to forge an honest depiction of what it means to be a woman. As First Lady, she talked about issues that affect more of us than those in the spotlight during the first 3/4 of a century would have liked us to believe: equal rights, abortion, addiction and cancer.

My grandmother died of cancer at a time when the word was only beginning to take hold in vernacular. Betty Ford's candid fight against breast cancer had come to light several years before, but the message was slow in making its way to New Britain, Connecticut. My grandmother's doctors never uttered the word. It was the kind of denial that affected not only her diagnosis and treatment, but also her family's ability to say goodbye.

Now it is my father suffering from cancer, and the change in perception is dramatic. Betty Ford's message has taken root. My mother goes with him to his appointments and marvels at entire facilities devoted to a condition that took her own mother's life with little fanfare 25 years before. She shakes her head and repeats the same thing every time I see her: "Before, they never even said the word."

Betty Ford says the words. She understands the importance of healing. She makes me believe in time and place and how, sometimes, the right person has a way of showing up when we need her. She is as fiery and resilient as the country that faltered before her. Her voice is strong. She has made it easier for us all to speak.

President Ford's legacy lives on.


Linda said...

Thank you for this post. So many of the "younger generation" see Betty Ford only as an older woman who lost a husband who was once upon a time President not knowing that she affected more change in this country than he ever did despite her "only being" the First Lady.

She is to be admired for her strength, for her honesty, and for her devotion to not only her family but to the whole country.

Though I saw a grieving widow at President Ford's funeral who had the difficult task of burying her husband of 58 years, I also saw a quietly strong and resilient woman. May God continue to bless her.

Veronica Mitchell said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you.

toyfoto said...

I had a feeling you'd address his death with a beautiful post about the strength and grace of his wife. Bravo.

jen said...

i so agree. she was a true pioneer for women, for open discussion, for furthering the rights of women and girls.

a true pioneer. she was the true better man.

Mrs. Chicky said...

This is me gushing...

That was incredible! You've outdone yourself this time. You managed to capture the best parts of a woman who should be admired by today's generation more than she is, and all the wonderful things that she's done without going into every mundane specific. Well done.

(and, yes, I agree with you. When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer many years ago we never talked about it but today we celebrate the fight. Thanks to her.)

(Oh, also... I wanted you to know that the damn word verification was not showing up so I kept refreshing and then coming back because I had to send you this comment. So if your stat counter is doing goofy things, that was me.)