My beloved daughter, Vanessa Link, passed away on December 20th at the age of 26. She was home while on break from work and school. She died peacefully with me, her dad, comforting her. Herloving support animal, Auggie, was with us as well.
Vanessa’s mother, Kathy Link, preceded Vanessa in death three years earlier. Vanessa often shared with me how much she missed her mom. I’m comforted by the thought she left this earthly realm, in part, to be with her dedicated mother. Vanessa had been experiencing increasing levels of pain over the past months and her passing, as sorrowful as it is, was also a blessing.
Vanessa attended public schools on Whidbey Island and was a top-notch student. During high school she was introduced to the wonders of technology through the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities,Internetworking, and Technology) Center at the University of Washinton. She was selected as a DO-IT Scholar and attended summer study sessions for three consecutive summers on campus. She later became a DO-IT Instructor and trained high schoolers with disabilities entering college how to advocate through storytelling using various types of technology.
While attending the University of Washington (UW) Vanessa lived on campus and her academic work centered around the Disabilities Studies Program. The classes were designed to bring attention to the historical, cultural, and political/legal dimensions of disability. Vanessa was curious about many things and told me she chose the program partially because it offered lots of interesting electives. I learned a lot from her, including: the History of Eugenics, Transgender Issues, the Geology of Washington.
Many activities on and off campus were not easy for Vanessa to navigate, but they were important to her and she was determined to participate in them fully. She loved to sing and she wasn’t shy about it. For much of hertime at UW she participated in both the University Singers and the Glee Club choirs. Our family attended many recitals. Amongst other activities on campus Vanessa was president of the Harry Potter Club. She told me her role came with plenty of demands but also rewards such leading a Potions Class where mocktails were made, and the annual Yule Ball which resulted in wild additions to her wardrobe.
Off campus Vanessa worked part-time for Disability Rights Washington (DRW), a non-profit organization that protects the rights and provides free services to people with disabilities statewide. Through her role as Creative Production Assistant, Vanessa produced accessible media and shared the stories of disabled people primarily through video. She was known by her nickname “Eagle” for her sharp eye with captioning errors.
After her work at DRW Vanessa began part-time work in the Disability Resources for Students (DRS) office on the UW campus. She often mentioned to me how much she enjoyed her job and colleagues. I was told by her supervisor that she went above and beyond in herrole, not just greeting students and answering questions, but also working alongside DRS staff to advocate for more inclusive policies. She was determined to ensure every disabled student’s needs were met to the greatest of her ability. She never shied away from making the campus and world betterfor anyone she talked to, even if meant confronting the Director and her Supervisor!
Vanessa’s mom was supportive of her attending UW and sharing an apartment with a friend. I wasn’t thrilled about seeing her go but was later amazed by the stories (I’m sure I didn’t hear all of them) she told of her adventures in the big city. They included ‘free-form’ ice-skating in her powerchair at the Kraken Community Iceplex during public skate times, attending concerts, art openings and comedy clubs via bus lines and light rail, rolling to far-off places and then sharing pictures before her long journey home.
For many years Vanessa held season tickets for two to the Paramount Theater. I often joined her when a friend couldn’t make it. She was a true #1 Swiftie and attended 3 Taylor Swift concerts, including the world-famous Eras Tour.
Finding and keeping caregivers is not easy. However, Vanessa was able to have three (Emily, Sasha and Nicole) dedicated young woman with her for many years. I recently sat with these women, and they told me Vanessa was a wonderful human being, full of spunk and spirit. It’s obvious to me that the dedication of her caregivers was the result of Vanessa’s kind and giving heart.
Vanessa knew first-hand how false assumptions about disabilities can lead to exclusion and separation, yet she touched many people in deep ways. With a long list of things to complain about she moved forward with a spirit that constantly amazed me. I’m grateful to have had her as my daughter. Thank you for including her in your heart.
A celebration of Vanessa’s life will be held around her birthday in mid-March. Donations in her memory may be made to any charity of your choice.