Recovering The SelfA Journal of Hope and Healing

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Disabilities

Remembering Jewel Kats (1978 – 2016)

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VJewel Kats (2010 publicity shot)

by Victor R. Volkman, President
Loving Healing Press, Inc.

Jewel came to me in 2009 with a pitch for a vastly under-served area of great personal importance to her, specifically, treatment of abused girls in the South Asian immigrant community: a highly cloistered environment where you did not talk of such things, regardless of how often they happened.  The book was “Reena’s Bollywood Dream: A Story About Sexual Abuse”.  I am always clear about including a subtitle so parents know what they are getting. The purpose of this book, like others we had published before, was to make sure the child knows that the abuse was not their fault, that they are not the only one in the world to have this happen, and the importance of reporting all inappropriate contacts.

Her major mission, helping children cope with disabilities and normalize them in society, started with her most heartfelt project  “Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair” and together we envisioned the “Fairy Abilities Tales” where each book would rewrite a cherished fable, but with a fully empowered protagonist who just happened to have a disability.  As time went on we tackled cerebral palsy, autism, and vitiligo.  We were in the planning stages of visually impaired Little Red Riding Hood when Jewel’s health took a turn for the worse — among other things her own vision declined into legally blind.  But she had the kind of heart that could turn the most foul turn of fate into an asset.

Even reading the manuscripts could bring tears to my eyes — the sheer pluck of the hero/heroine and nobility of spirit, starting from a situation where most of us would just give up.  That was the case in The Princess Panda Tea Party, my eyes are welling up as I write it, where the girl in the orphanage with cerebral palsy, the butt of jokes, with the clumsiness that comes with the disease, by sheer willpower and faith learns the manners and skills required to put on a tea party for the visiting royalty.

Jewel’s generosity of spirit also showed in her helping to develop illustrators along with her work.  The early books used up and coming watercolor artist Richa Kinra.  The later books allowed her the freedom to cultivate brand new artists in their field to help them find their voice as well.  Most recently, her innovative collaborations with Claudia Marie Lenart, an American fiber artist, helped create an astonishingly beautiful 3-D look for the illustrations of Hansel and Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist.  While some critics claimed that Hansel went too far beyond his Down Syndrome disability, that is an argument you would never hear from Jewel where purity of spirit and courage carry the day. For Jewel, the Fairy Tale was a mechanism where we could show our ideal selves: heroic, kind, forgiving, and above all gracious  Soon to be released, the groundbreaking “Jenny and Her Dog Both get Cancer” brings Jewel’s love of animals to the forefront in a way that brings this difficult subject home to children.

While Jewel styled herself as a “diva” and could be bossy up to a point, there was no one more generous and thoughtful with her time and attention.  At a book event, she would be sure to make sure that any child with a disability got extra special attention and would find her inner princess powers. It’s hard to judge the impact of someone else in your life until they’re gone: a sad fact of life. Today I checked my outgoing mailbox and it shows that I sent 1,736 replies to emails to Jewel Kats since she first contacted me.  I have to say that’s how the Diva-esque part impacted me, but since she called me “Dear Editor”, how could I not respond? Some days we would exchange up to 8 emails.  It could be exhausting but it was always, always in service of making a better product, getting more exposure, and making a bigger difference in the world.

One of Jewel’s core beliefs was  that ALL girls can be a Princess.  Why not?  It doesn’t matter what shape you are, what you can or can’t do, what color your skin is, how well you speak, every girl was a Princess in her eyes and that brings me the tears again.  Childhood can be a cruel place and she was dealt an awful hand with her childhood car accident that brought chronic pain to her every day and declining mobility, but STILL she would volunteer to read stories to children at the hospital which had held her prisoner for so many months.  She was that kind of person, who would bring a girl with cerebral palsy backstage for a personal meet and greet, and that girl would be a princess for all time.

I want her to be remembered for all that and more.

Postscript

Michelle Meera Katyal (a.k.a. Jewel Kats) was pronounced dead on January 7th, 2016.  The official cause of death is listed as complications following surgery in October 2015 to repair a bowel obstruction. She had two decades history of struggling with gastro-intestinal disorders and was frequently hospitalized for it. Jewel also had struggled with an eating disorder.


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6 thoughts on “Remembering Jewel Kats (1978 – 2016)”

  1. She was a remarkable woman with a true vision and a big heart. I only know her from her work, but we need more people like her. I’m sure wherever she is, she’s sending healing energy to the planet.

  2. Aimee Levesque says:

    My daughter and I are proud to call Jewel our friend and we will miss her. Always. Thank you for this beautiful piece; Jewel was all of the things that you described (and more) and we are so happy that you shared this with the world.

    She will never be forgotten.

  3. Sneh says:

    A bright light has been extinguished.. a star has been taken away from us. Jewel Kats​, my son’s sister-in-law will remain in our hearts forever, motivating us, from yonder, to look beyond the current drawbacks in our lives and attain fulfillment of our dreams.

    Taken away at a very young age, 37, Michee, as she was called at home, used the pain and difficulties of her life to dream big. She countered her setbacks by becoming an author of a “different” theme.. that of the lives and aspirations of people with disabilities.

    The decade that I knew her, helped me to realize the power that strength of conviction and compassion bring to our lives. Her smile always inspired me. I have always been proud to know her, her talent and her perseverance. She has left an indelible mark on many lives and there are numerous tributes pouring in for her from people who were either physically challenged or were parents of children who were born “different”. Jewel used her disarming smile and compassion to endear herself to people, while coaxing them gently and convincingly to look beyond the current setback to soar for the skies.

    The Toronto Star, in its tribute, has this to say of one of her most daring achievements, to shake an established comic series to take on a “different” approach from the general able-bodied characterizations:

    “Her fearlessness led to the introduction of the first recurring Archie comic book heroine to have a disability: Harper Lodge.

    Artist and writer Dan Parent created the character after Kats challenged him on the omission at the Toronto Comicon Fan Expo in 2013.

    ‘I remember how she asked me in a straightforward manner how come there weren’t any disabled characters in Archie,’ Parent wrote in an email. ‘And I didn’t have a good answer!’

    Kats helped Parent develop the character, who looks like the author.”

    I commend The Star for their moving tribute to a star who will continue to motivate and assist many through her books and comics. Jewel Kats, you are missed, the Almighty sent you here with a message, you have now gone to be in the care of the Almighty.

    Thank you for a fitting tribute to her, Victor.. Many thanks for bringing insight into her life from your association with her.

  4. Ernest says:

    I feel she is still there, shining, and I can tell she will be there for a long long time, maybe forever. And for that this world will remain a place to still love and live in.

  5. What a wonderful piece of accomplishments and huge contributions–and Jewel was much more. Rest in peace now Jewel, we will see you again.

    1. victor says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Leesa. We are finishing up another Jewel Kats book this month, if interested in writing a blurb, let me know and I’ll send you a PDF for review.

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