Yolanda and her law

If Yolanda were alive today she would be wowing us all.  She was articulate, engaging, moving, smart and courageous.  And she, like many other young people, battled an illness that can bring formidable challenges. There are many other young people who are coping, just as she was, with a terrible struggle within them.  And alongside each one of them are the people who know and love them.

Yolanda died 2 years ago today.  In an impulse no one still quite understands, she committed suicide one January night.  Her battle with bipolar illness was over.  If she were still here, she would now be 18, once an age of increased privileges.  Today, many of those privileges come earlier or later, but it is still a milestone year.

Yolanda left a legacy.  In May 2007, she went before the Massachusetts legislature and spoke about her struggles with bipolar disorder, the system that often didn’t meet her needs and her own desire to make a difference.  She knew that the system that provided mental health services to children and teens needed some changes and she made sure she was part of seeing those changes begin.

Now, it’s pretty scary to go before legislative committees and talk to them. And this was a large hearing in a huge auditorium.  Yolanda had to sit and speak to a committee sitting raised above her with 300 people listening behind her.  It took courage, poise and determination.  It’s unusual for legislative committees to hear from teens.  They hear from heads of companies and advocates like me and they certainly hear from lobbyists.  So they paid attention to every word she spoke that day.  I later talked to members of that committee and they remembered her verve and poise.

On that day, and probably many other days, Yolanda was an advocate.  I looked up the definition of advocate and the dictionary definition is, “to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; or to recommend publicly.”  Because of her amazing qualities, the bill she testified for became known as Yolanda’s Law and was passed by the legislature in one session, a remarkable feat.

Even though Yolanda’s influence lives on through “her” law,  her presence is felt strongly in other ways.  Her mother, Maryann Tufts, says that Yolanda “speaks to me often in amazing ways. Through every kid I see who is struggling to get through their day, to make friends, to feel better, to fit in.  We miss her so much, but know that she is still so present in every way.”

Yolanda touched many lives. She was a remarkable young woman.  She was loved by her family, her friends and touched so many lives.   If love alone could have kept Yolanda here,  she would have lived to be a hundred years old.

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2 thoughts on “Yolanda and her law

  1. Lisa,
    Nice job… real nice…

    Your post about Yolanda was touching moving and inspirational. So thank you for that.
    It was also a beautiful tribute to this forever young… young lady.
    It made me cry. Not only for the travesty of her story but also for the triumph of her story. For me It also was a surreal reminder that, “But for the grace of God , there go I”

    My daughter (now 24 years old) had a few hospitalizations due to suicide attempts… back in the day. Some providers called them cutting events. Either way when they happened I realized in that moment… I knew absolutely nothing about this life. In fact all that I thought I knew about loving and caring for my child, the depth of her illness, and our capacity to manage her special health care needs via the fragmented silo-ed
    out patient options and systems of care… were evidently not enough to keep her from deaths door. OMG!

    Her transition to adulthood has been wrought with lack of supports. Geesh… I thought Children mental health was hard! I continue to worry about her, get frustrated with her, and know she functions without any safety nets for the most part. But after reading Yolanda’s post … I am humbly awakened to… “But for the grace of God there go I …”

    I reminded that she and our whole family did survive her tremulous adolescence.
    (“But for the grace of God there go I …”) That she has endless strengths, many accomplishments and a future to work out a whole plethora of possibilities for a healthy and promising life.

    Thank you Lisa for what Yolanda’s post meant to me.
    And thank you Yolanda, for reminding me of the impact of one brave, courageous and inspiring young women who had a say and made a huge difference.
    My deepest, supportive and loving regards to your family.
    Lauri Medeiros

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