John Franklin Stephen & His Beautiful Words

I don’t normally talk politics, but this is important.

Although this is a response to a political comment, this goes much deeper. But first let me tell you a story about my cousin, Jeffey.

Jeffey was born different. It became apparent early on that he wasn’t like the rest of us and his mental development stopped permanently at 18 months old.

He was physically strong, but never progressed past toddlerhood in his mind. Although I lived in a different state, Jeffey always remembered me. I was the only person who’s hair he pulled. It was a ritual between us. It always made me smile, to know that he recognized me from year to year.

We never thought he’d live to adulthood. His teen years were difficult for my aunt, as his strength grew. I clearly remember one year he managed to ingest some silk flowers. The wire lining tore through his intestines and he was hospitalized for weeks. When his kidneys shut down, they had to give him drugs to keep him awake but paralyzed so they could perform dialysis to keep him alive.

Terrified, with no understanding of what was happening to him he laid there. Awake and unable to move. His teenage brother Chad climbed into bed with him, soothing him. I don’t know of too many teenage boys that would do something like that, but Chad did.

Chad did, because Jeffey taught our entire family so much about unconditional love. He was never institutionalized and always lived at home with his mother, father, brother and sister. Our entire family knew a selfless, giving love that he taught us.

When Jeffey’s brother grew up, he joined the army. Chad struggled with the use of “retard” during boot camp. It was a trigger point for him and he had to work very hard to maintain control when his drill sergeants used “retard” to insult the new recruits.

And then the unthinkable happened. Shortly before Chad’s boot camp graduation, Jeffey died. He’d gotten into the family dog’s food dish, eaten some dog food, choked and died. He was 25 years old. Chad left boot camp early (meaning he needed to repeat it) for his “retarded” brother’s funeral.

Jeffey’s favorite song was “Your Are My Sunshine” and we all sobbed as we sang it during his funeral. It’s a bittersweet mix as Sunshine has always been my nickname. Even more bittersweet was the knowledge that Jeffey died on the very day I discovered that I was pregnant with my Little Bit.

Folks, words have power. Mr. Stephen’s letter is beautiful and amazing. Please give it a read. Then, watch yourself when you decide to sling insults.

John Franklin Stephen’s Letter:

  1. Christopher edirin

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