I remember singing in front of a mirror with a hairbrush ‘mic’ in hand belting out one of Whitney’s best. That was the age of innocence for the beautiful vibrant Whitney Houston. She was a hit machine back in those days.
After her marriage to Bobby Brown she seemed to disappear. Not so unusual for stars choosing to settle down, have children, enjoy privacy (e.g. Celine Dion).
I remember being shocked when I saw her on a news program interview. In her late 30’s she looked years older, she was disheveled and disorganized, confused yet courteous. It was clear she was struggling to present as someone she no longer was. As she tried to dispel the rumors of drug addiction to say she was less than believable would be gentle.
So how does an icon fall so far? It is hard to believe she was only 48 years old. What can we learn from her story? What legacy will she leave?
Teens today missed out on the Whitney we knew. At a time when another icon, Madonna, is making a comeback, to compare the journeys of these women similar in age presents a contrast so stark it is hard to understand.
We can always learn from situations especially a seemingly self-imposed tragedy such as this one. Rumors abound about how Whitney became involved in the world of drug and alcohol addiction. While many want to point the finger at her ex-husband Bobby Brown, to expect him to shoulder the blame is not only unfair but unreasonable.
Perhaps the message we can communicate to our teens is this: In life we are faced with choices-- some positive some negative. It is up to us to navigate our own path, chart our own journey, every step along the way counts. We are responsible for our own choices. If those close to us make choices about which we do not agree, we need to make our own decisions about how we will proceed. As parents, we teach by example. Whitney’s story provides an opportunity for us to sit down with our kids and tell them her tale.
Perhaps the knowledge that she came from the same generation of performers as Madonna will help us explain to our teens how far she soared and how fast she fell from grace. We can use this fact as an opportunity to demonstrate how the choices we make as individuals matter.
In the days to come, there will certainly be talk about what prompted her death. There will be speculative truth and lies. We will remember Whitney as the iconic diva she was as well as the sad, seemingly lonely woman she had become.
Rest in peace Whitney, we will remember you for who you once were, not who you became.
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Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder, Psy. D. is currently a clinical administrator on an adolescent inpatient unit in a private psychiatric hospital. She is an adjunct Professor of Psychology at Pace University and maintains a private outpatient practice. Jennifer enjoys interior design, reading, baking and playing with her 95lb black Labrador Retriever.
She and her professional partner, Barbara R. Greenberg, Ph.D., met over a decade ago during an interview for a clinical position. That first introduction resulted in a meeting of the minds. What started as a professional relationship has bloomed into a strong friendship and has served as an even greater support network for each other’s triumphs and challenges.
"From early on in our respective careers we have perceived ourselves as students of adolescent language and behavior. We have listened and learned from the finest of teachers…the hundreds of teens and parents who continue to touch our lives daily."