Rain Pryor is the middle child of the late great comedic legend Richard Pryor, who succumbed to complications related to Multiple Sclerosis in December 2005. A great comedian, actress and singer in her own right, she jokes that her parents knew she would be an entertainer, so her father gave her a rainbow-colored Afro wig and a microphone when she was younger, while her sister who became an educator got “the trust fund so it worked out.” She has been on a mission to increase awareness about Multiple Sclerosis from a young age, after experiencing the fear and helplessness of having a family member diagnosed during a time when there was limited public information available. While she was in Philadelphia last December as the keynote speaker for the Greater Delaware Valley National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s (NMSS) Annual Meeting, I met and listened to Rain discuss her father, her increased awareness and dedication to sharing information about the disease with others, especially caregivers.
“MS affects not only the person who has it, but those who surround them as well. There are feelings that come up, fear, anger, frustration and sometimes hopelessness. When my father was diagnosed with MS, we thought that MS stood for “More Stuff.” That’s because my father’s a man who had survived quadruple bypass surgery, substance abuse, ex-wives” she quipped.
She continued explaining that back in 1986, when Richard Pryor was given a diagnosis of Primary Progressive MS, “there were no treatments or therapies for MS. It was a word that kind of hung on you like a suit that didn’t quite fit. It was like a secret that your body knew about but couldn’t find the answers to, and we didn’t know what was going on as his family members. We thought at first (his illness) was because my dad was doing drugs, had bad behaviors, or because he was stubborn and partied too much the night before. Or he just wasn’t trying hard enough to get through the day and felt like being lazy. And it’s because we didn’t have the answers or know where to look.”
A teenager when her father was diagnosed, Rain says “it was difficult to watch my dad, who appeared very powerful and very big to us as kids, go through the feelings of depression, fatigue and aches. And I noticed, because of being around him, that I would start to become fatigued and feeling depressed; and there was no one around to explain what was going on. I felt like my life was starting to get a bit off-balance and I needed someone to talk to, and to explain the changes that were occurring in my father’s life.”
Acknowledging that a tenacious drive and spirit run in her genes, Rain also believes her middle child status contributed to her quest to learn everything she could about the disease. “Being the middle child meant that I placed the world on my shoulders. My job was to fix and make everything better, and MS was the first thing in my life that I couldn’t make better.” Fueled by her passion to overcome this lack of knowledge, she “ began to seek information, develop relationships with doctors and ask as many questions as I could, even if I felt that they were silly.” Her goal was not only to educate herself, but to share information with family and friends so that they could be empowered while coping with her father’s illness.”
“I contacted the NMSS and began familiarizing myself with MS. This for me was the beginning of making lemons into lemonade. Of turning those feelings of powerlessness, fear and anger into feelings of power. I learned right away that my father’s MS was not because of his substance abuse or because of his behaviors. That MS can affect anyone, it wasn’t known why, and there is no cure. And not only did my father need to learn to cope with all of this, but I needed to learn to cope with my feelings. I needed to understand and have compassion for this man, my father, who was not always in control of what was happening to him. Knowledge, to me, was power towards developing that understanding.”
Rain Pryor functioned as a caregiver for her father, who had a rapidly progressing form of MS, during the course of his illness. Reminiscing on the last day she saw him, she stated “the last time I saw my dad was on November 29, 2005. And I asked my dad was it okay if I continued to speak and talk about MS. And dad said yes.”
And now, a little over the eight year anniversary of her father’s passing, Rain believes it more important than ever to remain vocal. “MS is not something we have to keep silent, or should have to be afraid of in our work environments. It should be something that’s on the front lines as with any other disease. I wish we heard about it all the time so it’s not such a big secret.”
For those who missed the article I posted on examiner.com back in December, click here to learn about the defining moment when Rain realized the seriousness of her father’s illness. And you can get additional information about Rain Pryor, including show and contact information, at www.rainpryor.com.
Check out the next MMT MS Awareness Week piece on Wednesday, featuring legendary songstress Jennifer Holliday, and help us raise funds for the Philly Walk MS campaign by clicking the logo at the top right of this page or click here.
Until next thought family, Thomasena