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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

 

Breadth of Life

Photo Story by George Sakkestad

It's a simple story.

One lives, one thrives, one dies. End to beginning, a Möbius strip of existence. A wondrous party thrown just for you, where the music is turned on, then off till the next show starts. This then is the story, told in images and song, of the last days of a single orbit of the here and the after by an extraordinary woman and her three daughters: LeAna Olson, Karena Christman and Akaisha Figliola-Kaderli.

Her full name was Elizabeth Ann Mary Theresa Helena Reitter Figliola. But she came across the word "breadth" one day and thumbed through the dictionary in search of its meaning. Two years later, she legally changed her name, and Betty Breadth emerged out of that cocoon of born, christened and married monikers.

The Oxford American Dictionary offers up only a two-word definition for Betty's adopted last name: "width, broadness.'' But that pretty well described how Betty Breadth decided to live ... and die.

We met Capitola resident Betty Breadth in the spring of 1998, when we worked on a photo essay about spirited older women. Betty also fit that description but had a bigger story she wanted to tell. She had just learned she had inoperable cancer and was given less than six months to live.

Betty Breadth invited us into her and her family's world to document what became 11 months of remarkable beauty and grief, grace and anguish, honesty and joy. She died at the age of 69 on March 22, 1999.

When death came aknockin', Betty decided to throw open the door and greet the Grim Reaper head on. There were parties to be planned, fundraisers to throw and a funeral to organize. Betty may be the only person ever who wrote thank-you cards in advance (addressed and stamped) to be sent to all who would eventually send sympathy cards upon her death. Betty even scheduled her own Christmas at Thanksgiving, in case she didn't make it.

Where others see a terrifying void--the Great Unknown, the Grand Perhaps--Betty Breadth sensed an opportunity to die as she lived: dancing to the music.

Betty's first choice was assisted dying with the help of Dr. Kevorkian. She was adamant about being in control of her death. Gradually, she learned to accept the idea of dying at home with the support of nurses like Richard Smith (above) of Hospice Caring Project.

Nonprofit organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Wo/Man's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, Meals on Wheels, LiftLine and the Glaucoma Foundation benefited from various fundraisers that Betty organized in her final months. Here, she gets a hug from friend Maria Vasquez at the fundraising dinner for Hospice Caring Project.

'Sometimes my family kills me with kindness. I get irritated when they hover and dote too much. They're entitled to, but it makes me nervous. I need space.' --Betty Breadth

It is late October, and Betty starts planning and organizing her death with almost manic energy. The house is crammed with holiday decorations and gifts for her Thanksgiving/Christmas party. She outlines where the wake table will be and what refreshments will be served. Stacks of binders hold pages of inspirational sayings and thoughts to be given away to 200 acquaintances before she dies.

 

Betty is starting to move more slowly, and her stomach is so bloated. She notes that she can now open the blinds. They've been closed for years because the bright light hurts her eyes, which have been damaged by glaucoma. But the medical marijuana is helping the eye disease. 'I've even got a water pipe,' she laughs.

'The pain is in the back, and when it's in the high range, then it affects my stomach and I get sick. I'm going down, I know that. It's OK, I just want to last until I'm done with my Christmas deliveries and Thanksgiving celebration. If I can handle my own death at home, I will. I've always talked about not wanting to linger. I'm not afraid of dying--I'm kind of looking forward to it. The curiosity is getting to me. I feel comfortable with my life as I've lived it. I'm finished.' --Betty Breadth

'I find that people I know are keeping more in contact with me since they know I've been at death's door.' --Betty Breadth

The autumn days are getting chillier, but Betty sits outside her mobile home daily to enjoy her wind chimes, the neighbors and a few more drags on her Salem Lights.

The narcotics used to control pain brought on nausea that can only be controlled with marijuana. With her daughter Akaisha's help, Betty heads to an evening meeting of a support group for users of medical marijuana.

'I've found, since I've been ill, I'm surrounded by all these wonderful people. I always thought they were out there. This is one of the blessings.' --Betty Breadth

'The early part of Mom's illness I wasn't here. I wasn't really a caretaker until recently.' --Karena Christman

Her daughters never sway from a path of gentleness and tenderness with Betty. Brushing her hair, helping her dress or walk or just going through daily living, kindness rules. Sometimes it's just about holding hands and telling Betty she is loved.

'I'm not afraid of dying, but of pain. I can't handle the pain medications. It's important to see my daughters' tears.' --Betty Breadth

'I tried to kill myself when I was younger, with pills. I wasn't afraid then and I'm not afraid now. It's almost a relief that my job is almost done.' --Betty Breadth

'I've never been treated so well. It's ironic--I had to wait until I was dying to get it.' --Betty Breadth
 

'I really enjoy taking care of her. I feel like I can't help her enough. There are times when I wish it were all over, but then I realize that when it's over, it's over, and I get really sad.' --LeAna Olson

'I think more about death--there are more questions. I wonder if this is going to be my last step. It's like attempting suicide: You have a plan, but you don't have a plan. I want to be aware to a certain extent, and on the other hand, I don't. I would like to just go to sleep and not wake up.' --Betty Breadth

 

'She says she doesn't know what to do with herself, that she's bored. She wants to do something so her mind's occupied, so she doesn't feel the pain. Videos and TV aren't enough, so finding a way to occupy her mind isn't easy.' --Akaisha Figliola-Kaderli

'I know that I'll be with Mom again. Sometimes I felt like Dad was more with me after he died.' --Karena Christman

'She said she wanted to go, and we asked her what she's hanging on to. I think she's hanging on to control. She thinks dying is physical, but it's spiritual. She thinks she can just push a button and go, but I believe she has to let go spiritually.'
--Akaisha Figliola-Kaderli

'LeAna's gone through a hell of a lot in the last couple of years--the divorce, her dad dying, now me. That's a lot for any individual. She's doing the best she can.' --Betty Breadth

Betty died at 4 this morning. LeAna, Karena and her husband, and Akaisha are there. LeAna sits with Betty's body, crying. Akaisha says it was peaceful. Betty is surrounded by mementos. It is still oddly peaceful. The feeling in the house has been one of growing peace each day as she approached closer to death.

'This is what I want to convey to my daughters: My body will be gone, but I will still be in your dreams.' --Betty Breadth

'It's been an interesting voyage for us--she kept it interesting.' --Akaisha Figliola-Kaderli

'Betty approached death like life and left nothing undone.' --Jan Landry, Hospice chaplain <

'The lesson was her joy in life.' --LeAna Olson

'I hope I can have a similar effect on others like my Mom did.' --Karena Christman

'Mom talked about how society puts you in a box. But Mom looked at how you can move the sides of the box.' --Akaisha Figliola-Kaderli

Although Betty Breadth invited us in, this project would not have been possible without the cooperation of her three daughters--LeAna Olson, Karena Christman and Akaisha Figliola-Kaderli. They were equally courageous and allowed us to witness what one family does when the end is near. Often it's beautiful, but when it got terrifying, they never shut the door.

 
Text by Kelly Luker. With thanks to Buz Bezore.

From the October 27-November 3, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.
Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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