In 1974, Rebecca (Becki) Miller Lawton completed her English degree from Valparaiso University. After graduation she and her husband, Denny, moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she began working as a claims processor for a mortgage insurance company.
On February 1, 1976, three months after the birth of her first daughter, Becki suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke due to a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM). With professional and family help, she learned to live with her aphasia. Her second daughter was born in November, 1980. Eight years later, Becki was able to work as a special education paraprofessional, helping students whose challenges she understood firsthand.
In 1998, Becki suffered another, less severe, hemorrhagic stroke which again required surgery. She was able to return to work but had to stop working in 2002 due to difficulties with her aphasia. Today, Becki and Denny are enjoying retirement and their eight grandkids. Becki continues to navigate her challenges with aphasia.
Dawn Rosewitz has been a special education teacher for almost 30 years. Her students inspired her to create “The Land of Ican,” a series of three books to help them understand that they can accomplish many things, just in their own unique way. It was published by Roger Hammer; A Place in the Woods. The fourth book in the series will be out next. She has also contributed articles to educational magazines.
When she began working with Becki Lawton, they struck up a friendship and then a two-year partnership that eventually culminated in their book, Hernzebekana, Her Language of Love. Now, when she’s not teaching or enjoying time with her family, she’s working on her next story!
The Writing Process
Because of Becki’s limitations from her aphasia, the process of writing her story was a journey in itself. After Becki and Denny prepared a general chronologic outline, Becki verbally provided and recorded thoughts on tape for Dawn, who put them on paper. Dawn and Becki met numerous times over the course of two summers and during a school year, at coffee shops, parks, and their respective homes. Recollecting experiences and events from 25 to 45 years ago also provided challenges, although many of the experiences seemed like they occurred just yesterday. Dawn’s diligence, dedication and artistry helped re-create Becki’s story.
It has been several years since Becki and Dawn completed their initial draft — getting to the point of publication now is awesome! Becki and Dawn are extremely grateful to Judith Gwinn Adrian, who did the final editorial review and helped facilitate the path to publication of the book, and to their publisher, Kira Henschel (HenschelHaus Publishing). Judith’s and Kira’s passion and compassion for Becki’s story was very serendipitous.
When Becki asked me to write her story, I was hesitant at first. I was honored that she asked me, but I knew it would be a difficult undertaking. She struggled with word retrieval and many times needed assistance to get her thoughts and ideas out. But I saw how she connected with others no matter what her communication limitations were. That was her gift. I knew she would not only connect with others through her story but inspire them as well. I just didn’t know if we’d be able to get past the communication issues and bring her memories alive on paper.
But Becki was persistent. One day she pulled me aside and said, “Dawn, I know it’s not going to be easy, but I trust you. I just want my story out there. I want my kids to know that their mom is smart; that I’m strong. I think I can help other people too. I know you can help me. And I’ll help you in return.” Then she grinned and said, “You be my hands and I’ll be the brains of the operation.” What could I say to that? I had to laugh. We started on her book the very next day. Two years later and many trips to the park with a notepad, her kitchen table or mine, and the first draft of the book was done!
Becki and Dawn celebrating publication of Hernzebekana.
Becki and Dawn in Packers jerseys during homecoming week – three days before Becki’s October 1998 stroke.