Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was born on July 8, 1926 in Zürich, Switzerland. She pioneered near-death studies and worked with the terminally ill. Kübler-Ross published the ground-breaking book On Death and Dying in 1969. The book describes grief as a process that may include five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Time magazine named Dr. Kübler-Ross ‘one of the “100 Most Important Thinkers” of the 20th century’. In her honor I am reprinting the post I wrote after the death of my mother-in-law. – Jadi
Her chair is in our living room. I curl up in it cross-legged; the air around it is empty.
I wash the leather cushion and back with a damp cloth. It swivels under my touch, then stills.
Her limbs did too, shortly before she died. I gave her the ritual of a final loving massage. It was gentle touch, my palm on her forehead, my hand over her heart.
Her ragged breathing calmed. I found myself matching her breaths. You can go, it’s okay. I thought those words, and said them aloud.
Her breaths slowed. In, out. In. Out. In….. out. In.
And just like that, she was gone.
Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. A hole in the everyday has punched through the solar plexus of life’s waistcoat. I discover I can’t fill the resulting void.
My mother-in-law and I breathed together, the same air, for 24 years. I’m not able to breathe back out, because Mama’s no longer here to do it with me.
In memory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, July 8, 1926 – August 24, 2004
My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out.
The Trail Back Out was honored as 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network and with a Red Ribbon by the 2021 Wishing Shelf Book Awards of England. In addition, The Trail Back Out was an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts, as well as a Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book Awards. Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award.
Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.
Just two years after Great Britain handed the island back to mainland China, we went to Hong Kong. We were heading to Indonesia for a month and bracketed the long flights to get there with a stop in Hong Kong at both ends. Those seven days would cost us as much as the four weeks on Java and Lombok and Bali, but man, were they worth it….
I’ve gone back a half-dozen times since. One of my sisters taught at international schools in Hong Kong and the New Territories.* My nephew Nikolai ran two restaurants in Sai Kung and just opened a new bar-bistro named Graceland in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district.** Graceland opened the first week of November 2021.
But let’s go back in time a few decades and return to that first trip to Hong Kong. Uwe and I ate great meals of dim sum and quickly found ourselves dining in spots where we simply pointed at photos of menu dishes that looked familiar (and we hoped didn’t consist of canine or rodent). Hong Kong is and was a fascinating world city, and we explored knowing we’d definitely return.
Along with stocking up on traditional Chinese salves and medicinal oils to use in my own massage practice, I made an appointment for Chinese foot reflexology. This was easily done as soon as we found a street lined with neon lights of foot soles.
I booked a time slot for a few hours later, happy that I was going to get a massage. Long flights are hard on me, and I’d felt pretzled ever since the plane landed in Hong Kong. When I arrived at the clinic my feet were bathed and cleaned, and I was led over to my therapist. He was a delicate looking older gentleman in glasses. He looks like someone’s honorable and slightly fragile grandfather, I thought to myself.
The therapist and I didn’t speak each other’s languages. The clinic manager handed me a sheet of paper with a diagram of a foot and points on it highlighted in Chinese characters, numbers, and the names of the body’s organs in English. I rolled up my jeans, my therapist rolled up his sleeves, and we sat facing one another. He placed my foot on a towel on his knees. He slathered some lotion on my leg. I studied the diagram, wondering how to use it.
Then he went to work on the sole of my foot and the first jolt of pain hit.
I jumped in my chair. “Ouch!” I exclaimed.
“#32,” he commented.
#32 on the information sheet corresponded to kidneys or liver. Now along with the pain, I was horrified that major organs were being bruised.
He moved his hands down my foot looking for the next tender points and immediately found them. He drove his thumbs into the new spots.
“OUCH!!” I repeated. You know that jolt you get if you jab your elbow against a hard surface and your nerves shoot pain all the way up and down your arm? Magnify that pain about 100 times and imagine it blasting up from your foot which is being tortured by an evil sorcerer…
Uwe moved to the side of my chair with his camera out and a fat smile on his face.
“Having a good time? Are you enjoying documenting suffering?” The questions were caustic but I’d turned into a sniveling bundle of inflamed nerve endings. I felt pitiful.
“Like you always say… Relax, Jadi. Plus, don’t you want me to take photos so you can remember this later?”
I wanted to make the perfect sarcastic retort, something like, “Why would I want to relive pain like hot needles being pushed under my nails?” But I was too busy flinching. Every time Grandpa probed a point, I jumped in my chair.
Breathe! I reminded myself over and over.
“#17.” “#23.” He kept calling out numbers and I read along as Grandpa punished my internal organs. Diaphragm. Lungs. Sciatic nerve. Forget a sore back from a long flight; clearly, I was one hot mess.
The gracious grandfather who I now referred to as He-With-the-Steely-Thumbs-of-Death went on inflicting pain and suffering on my left foot.
He inflicted the exact, same, unbelievable pain on my right foot. I twitched in my chair as he calmly called out numbers.
As soon as the torture session was finished I tottered off to the bathroom to pee (funny how torture really clears out all your systems!). But when I came back to the main room where the manager, Uwe, and my therapist waited, I felt surprisingly okay.
Back out on the street I had the strangest impression that I was about to levitate. I felt that good. I slept like a log that night and my back pains vanished. I bet my inner organs benefited from the workover he gave them, too.
Take a look at the third photograph. I am glowing. It had to be from increased blood flow due to shock to the various parts of my body (like, all of them). Or it was the vast tide of the endorphins that followed the experience.
But I’ve never looked at gentle old grandfatherly types again in the same way. Gracious Ancestor? Hah! He-With-the-Steely-Thumbs-of-Death!
NOTES: *See my blog thread Adventures in the New Territories for more pictures and stories. **Graceland’s instagram page is @gracelandmk
My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out.
Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was honored as 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network, and American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts, and named a Finalist for Greece’s international 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).
Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.
To my readers: Welcome to the first post in my new blog thread: A Person + Place/Time/Thing
Robert McKimson was born October 13, 1910 in Denver, Colorado. He worked for Disney for a while, but is best known for animating and directing Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Bros. Cartoons. He was a contemporary of Chuck Jones.
According to his son in the wonderful short documentary Drawn to Life: The Art of Robert McKimson, McKimson suffered a concussion in an accident. When he recovered, the concussion had improved his powers of visualization, and he became an even faster and better animator.
Robert McKimson created and/or directed shorts with a stellar list of cartoon stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Bugs Bunny. He also created the Tasmanian Devil. He also created Speedy Gonzales. And, if they weren’t enough, he also created the indomitable Foghorn Leghorn, an oversized rooster with an oversized voice and accent.
As a kid I got such a kick out of Foghorn Leghorn. He was loud, blustering, and incredibly funny (I admit that I still think all these things as an adult, too!).
A few years ago I went to check out the Wong Tai Sin Temple in China’s New Territories. It’s dedicated to the gods of medicine, but upon entering the temple grounds I was met by statues that were oversized animals of the Chinese zodiac including – you guessed it – Foghorn Leghorn’s Asian brother.
In honor of Robert McKimson and his larger-than-life rooster, (“Well I say there, boy! I say!”) I am reprinting the post I wrote describing the statues. – Jadi
I spent a few weeks north of Hong Kong in the New Territories. The transportation system is easy and each day I went exploring. I’d read up, select yet another fascinating place to discover, and off I’d go.
As a massage therapist I went to pay my respects to Sun Si-miao Zhen Ren, Perfected Master and god of Chinese Medicine. Taoists honor him as a god of healing. Even today, the ill and infirm (or people wishing to stay healthy) visit his temple to make offerings.
So I headed to Wong Tai Sin Temple. Inside, I was met by wonderful bronze statues of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac!
I managed to photograph all but the ox and dog.
The temple is just outside a metro stop, smack dab in an urban area. Who would have suspected that Foghorn Leghorn resides there?
In memory of Robert McKimson, 13 October 1910 – 29 September 1977
My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out. Books make great gifts!
Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was a 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies for American Book Fest. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts.
Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.
I was going to tell you about Malaysian Borneo when I got sidetracked by their neighbor Brunei. Moving on quickly (which is what we did as we flew over the sultanate on our way to the state of Sarawak), we landed in Kuching. What a lovely, lovely city. Kuching should get its own post, and likely will. We roamed along the riverfront walk and slurped down laksa noodle dishes with gusto. Kuching is a great spot to head out to various national parks to see wildlife.
Borneo is home of the native Dayak tribes. Remember childhood tales of the wild headhunters of Borneo? The Dayak call this ritual Ngayau. We visited Dayak long houses. Smoked skulls still hang at the hearth in the central long house.
The most important tribal figure is the head chief, closely followed by the shaman. This medicine man, also known as a balian  is responsible for the health of the tribe as well as interceding between the worlds.
During our time in Kuching I’d been glancing in shops without actually entering any of them. Among the streets of tourist trinkets, one store fascinated me. On the last day I made a beeline for that shop. 
And then I made a beeline for a shelf lined with containers topped by human figures.
Jerry Ang, the soft-spoken shop owner, kindly answered all my questions. He told me these were Dayak shaman medicine containers. The figures are hand carved from polished buffalo or cow bone. A shaman had hand-etched the jar with scrimshaw patterns. Dayak shamans used the containers to store herbs, magic powders and betal lime to make medical potions. Some still contained resins – Jerry and I opened each jar and sniffed.
The carved figure indicates the illness the potion was intended to treat. Some of the figures held their heads (aches and pains of the head) or their stomachs. Some figures even depicted a person crouched over… the traveler’s curse of diarrhea for sure.
My piece has a prawn carved on the back: Jerry thought maybe prawns were one of the main ingredients in the medicine. Or perhaps the prawn indicated the woman who made the potion (he said the figure was female), or an ancestor. An on-line source tells me the scrimshaw work represents animals that bring good luck. If anyone can give me more information, I’d be most grateful!
NOTES:  Balian is the term used for traditional healers on Bali, too. Healing arts are passed down through generations. Twenty years ago I did a massage exchange with the son of a balian there; he had been taught by his father. To learn more about the Dayak shamans go to http://factsanddetails.com. The article gives the following information: “Shamanic curing, or balian, is one of the core features of these ritual practices. Because illness is thought to result in a loss of the soul, the ritual healing practices are devoted to its spiritual and ceremonial retrieval. In general, religious practices focus on the body, and on the health of the body politic more broadly. Sickness results from giving offense to one of the many spirits inhabiting the earth and fields, usually from a failure to sacrifice to them. The goal of the balian is to call back the wayward soul and restore the health of the community through trance, dance, and possession.” [Source: Library of Congress, 2006] Or see Wikipedia: The Dayak People  See also Unika Borneo, the shop where I found my figure. I receive no commission for mentioning the store. I just think they deserve to be mentioned. More figures can be admired at https://borneoartifact.com and https://www.esotericstuff.com
NOTE: In 2012, this was one of my very first posts when I began these Adventures in Blogging…. Happy Halloween to my readers everywhere!
In the early 1960s Mom had three small girls and was the leader of a troop of Brownie Scouts. My mother was a sucker for holidays, and she loved Halloween. From personally answering the door with big bowls of apples and candy (both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ treats) she progressed to dressing up as a witch in cape and hat. We had a Walt Disney “Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House” record that played over and over in the background. Mom began to dye her face and hands a rather convincing green. She perfected a witch’s cackle and would slowly open the front door to a dark living room. The yarn cobwebs and paper skeletons hanging from the ceiling then became visible in the lights from the candles.
Needless to say, our house became cult. Little kids (and their parents, who discovered it had to be seen to be believed) saved our house for last to visit on the trick-or-trick circuit. We ended up having to buy lots more apples and candies every year as the number of visitors grew.
Mom was always slightly hoarse and had a sickly green-y pallor for days after that holiday. Green food coloring does not wash off easily….
I wish I had some pictures from those days but this one will have to suffice. As a massage therapist I have a (not-real) skeleton standing in my treatment room as a visual aide. Each year on October 31st I set him in a window backlit by candles, to honor my mother and all the dead.
I missed several appointments to meet my refugee and give her massage therapy. I didn’t show up, because my father died while I was on vacation. I had to cancel my flight home and extend my visit to America.
I called M’s daughter the day after I finally got back to Germany. We set up another appointment. Just like always: Monday afternoon. I got there and took off my shoes. M’s husband offered me a glass of strong Turkish tea. “No sugar,” I requested. (It’s usually served with enough sugar to send me into diabetic shock.)
M was sitting up in bed with a smile. I sat on the edge and took her hand. “Please tell your mother how sorry I am that she didn’t know where I was for the last three weeks.” (I’d sent a SMS from the States, but they hadn’t read it.) Her daughter dutifully translated my German words. I looked into M’s eyes and talked slowly, willing her to understand.
I tried for a session that would make up for the long summer pause in her therapy. I began with foot reflexology and moved on to treat her knee and hip joints, her shoulders and neck, her hands. When I was done, M surprised me by taking my hands back in hers and scrutinizing my face. She spoke for a long time.
The daughter translated for her. “My mother says to tell you, don’t be sad that your father died. Everyone’s going to die sometime. And you and I, we’ll have to die too someday.” M kept holding my hands and I felt tears come. We kissed one another on the cheeks.
The tears were for my father; they were for myself and my loss; and they were because that day was the first time that M comforted me rather than the other way around. Cold comfort, to be sure…. She gave to me out of her terrrified flight, her pain, the violence and death she’d seen in her home country. Her words were framed with the bitter truth of the life she’s known. But she presented me with that truth, because she wanted to ease my ache.
At the start of each week I spend my afternoon massaging a traumatized refugee. When I volunteered back last fall I promised her, her family, and myself that I was committed to doing this, that I’m in it for the long haul.
Almost a year later, the haul feels long indeed.
I knew on all sorts of levels it wasn’t going to be easy. Progress was going to be slow and probably measured out in small increments. We would face language barriers. Culture barriers. Experience barriers. The trauma she’s gone through.
No worries. I figured, I’m a trained professional, I could deal with the patient work her therapy was going to entail. Sure I could. In reality, I was clueless. Ten months later, I’m still clueless. I don’t see any improvement other than the way she no longer cries through the entire session. Now she only cries for most of it or just a few minutes. But she always sobs with pain at some point while I’m working on her.
With the exception of Christmas, a week when I had the flu, and a day when she had other appointments all day long, we’ve never missed a Monday. So why isn’t she better?
I arrive at the refugee housing and some days there are lots of small children playing in front of the building, their asylum-seeking parents going about their chores. We all say hello. Then I climb the stairs to the apartment where M and her family live, take off my shoes outside, and knock on the door. I greet the daughter who translates for us and head for the bedroom where M is on her side in bed with her eyes closed, or propped up on pillows in bed with a smile, waiting for me. Either way, she’s never without pain, her body is still a treacherous surface of hidden nerve hotspots. The family insists I should keep returning each week, that the massages help her and she’s always happier on the morning she expects me. So what am I doing wrong? What do you do with expectations and hopes that seem to go nowhere? The long haul looks like a long road to no place I can predict or hope to reach.
I go back each week anyway. To do so I’ve needed to reconfigure everything, and I mean everything, I thought I understood about the goals of therapy and the protocols to measure success.
I threw them all out.
I can’t have goals because there’s never any visible improvement. I can’t aim for success as I understand the term, because success in this case has nothing to do with measurable, quantifiable progress. Give your level of pain a number from 1 to 10, I told her. Is it worse here? Better when I press here? If I can’t end her pain, maybe I can help her to see it as lessened.
M can finally breathe into the painful places. One day she spoke in a loud voice and I asked her daughter to translate for me. M had growled something along the lines of, “I don’t want to give you a stupid number! Just give me the massage!” It was the first spark of will I’d seen or heard from her. The fact that this traumatized, raped refugee felt secure enough to snap at me was a good thing. This is how I now measure ‘success’, this is what I can call ‘progress’.
The journey she and I are on together inches its way forward.
NOTES: Go to my earlier posts Helping Refugees-Part 1, 2, 3, 4 to read more about my attempts to come to grips with the refugee crisis.
I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.
This is my 99th blog post.
I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….
My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!
…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.
It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!
The Germans have a wry saying. “We sent for guest workers, but Menschen came instead.” Meaning that after WWII, the work force of foreigners who came to Germany turned out to be fellow human beings.
I find myself thinking about that saying. The flow of refugees heading this way is huge and overwhelming, and in some ways I am afraid. I love the security and safety of life here, how clean it is. I’m proud to live in a land with universal health care and great mass transit, wonderful street cafés, and (most important of all) the guarantee of personal freedoms and a firm commitment to human rights.
What does this have to do with the hordes of refugees flooding the country? I’m not sure. Maybe nothing at all. But I hear from some of my friends, “What if Europe becomes Muslim? What if the streets are filled next with women in full burkas? What if we lose our freedoms as Germans bend over backwards to accommodate the newcomers?”
They’re nameless, faceless. They’re the others, the ones who constitute a vague but ever-growing threat.
One of my great bonds with the man I married is our desire to explore the world together. We’ve taken vacations in moderate Muslim lands. Every trip was wonderful, filled with people with dreams and hopes like yours and mine. I have a serious disconnect when I try to reconcile the horror of ISIS with the kindness of the friendly people we met in Egypt… Indonesia… Tunisia… Malaysia… Turkey… Singapore. The answer, of course, is they can’t be reconciled. The two have nothing to do with each other.
I’m terrified of the fanaticism that just killed more than 100 people in Paris. The refugees are terrified, too. The people fleeing to Europe want the same things we do: a civilized place to work, live, and raise their children. A stream of humanity is arriving. People with dreams and hopes, like yours and mine.
Each time I go to massage the refugee M. , I’m confronted with my own fear of the unknown foreign.
We have no languages in common. I’m not only working without any knowledge of her history; we can’t even talk. One of her children remains in the room the entire time to translate into German for her.
These are the hardest sessions I’ve ever attempted.
As a therapist my hands know their work; I’m capable to treat her PTSD symptoms. But the person-to-person connection…. I have to do this solely through touch. The afternoons of therapy have changed my understanding of the human dimension. It’s become more complicated, and much simpler. It’s changed me as well.
NOTES:  To respect the privacy of the persons involved I have changed the names and use initials only.