Retirement; like your parents, but way cooler
In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age
of 38. Now, into their 4th decade of this
financially independent lifestyle, they invite you
to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.
The following is a
pictorial account of the last months of my Mother's life as photographed by
George Sakkestad with text by Kelly Luker. Published in the Santa Cruz Metro
Newspaper, the story and photos rocked this little beach town at the time.
If it weren't for the fact
that Billy and I left our conventional jobs to retire early, I wouldn't have had
the personal time to care for my Mother in a 24/7 home hospice situation for
It was a life-altering
experience, one that I cherish to this day.
Enjoy this amazing story
Betty feeding the
pigeons at Capitola Beach, California
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
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 joking around with
her hospice nurse, Richard
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.
Sharing a fun moment
with a friend, champagne glass in hand
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.
Betty dozes on her porch
in Capitola, California
'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
Betty organizes her
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 taking a toke on
her water pipe
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.
Vials of pills and a
glass of water on the table
'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
With her glaucoma,
Betty's eyes would water often. Many would mistake that for tears of grief.
'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
Betty must have dozed
off. The smoke curls from her long-ashed cigarette.
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.
Betty looked curiously
to marijuana, and hoped it would help her nausea.
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.
Betty in her living
room, with some visiting neighbors
'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
Betty wiping her
watering eyes, Karena and her husband look on
'The early part of Mom's illness I wasn't here. I wasn't
really a caretaker until recently.' --Karena Christman
LeAna and Betty share a
bed, which has been moved out into the living room
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.
LeAna and Betty share
the emotion of loss together
'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
Betty asleep in the
afternoon in her home with medical equipment surrounding her
'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
Betty walking down the
hallway with Akaisha holding the oxygen tubes
'I've never been treated so well. It's ironic--I had to
wait until I was dying to get it.' --Betty Breadth
Betty cannot lift her
head up much. LeAna communicating with her
'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
Betty and Akaisha taking
an afternoon nap
'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
Betty has ulcers on her
feet now, so they are wrapped up.
'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
Akaisha is giving her
mother water through an eyedropper, Karena strokes Betty's head
'I know that I'll be with Mom again. Sometimes I felt like
Dad was more with me after he died.' --Karena Christman
Betty on the bed, with
Akaisha and Karena holding a sketch of their Father so Betty can see him
'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.'
LeAna on the phone
'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
LeAna kisses Betty's
forehead, as Karena looks on
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.
Akaisha and Karena cry
as the funeral directors carry Betty's body out of her home.
'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
Close family and friends
at the gravesite, toasting to her life with champagne
'It's been an interesting voyage for us--she kept it
interesting.' --Akaisha Figliola-Kaderli
Betty's Celebration of
Life at a friend's home
'Betty approached death like life and left nothing undone.'
-- Jan Landry, Hospice chaplain
LeAna, Karena and
Akaisha at Betty's gravesite
'The lesson was her joy in life.' --LeAna Olson
'I hope I can have a similar effect on others like my Mom did.' --Karena
'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
Early Lifestyle appeals to a different
kind of person – the person who prizes their
independence, values their
time, and who doesn’t want to mindlessly
follow the crowd.
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