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Sun10252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

It’s the advice we’re always given by people who seem to have found a way to make their lives about following their passion: “Do what you love, and you’ll never feel like you’re ‘working.’”

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that luxury: We have mortgages, children to raise, car payments, spouses with physical challenges, fear of failure, and so on.

Every once in a while, we hear about someone who gave up the grind and, for example, moved to the hinterlands to play the guitar in small clubs, or creates blown-glass figures in his or her garage-turned-studio, or sold everything and plowed it all into starting a gourmet cake company about which he or she has always dreamed. Sometimes, those stories have successful, happy endings; sadly, most do not.

Thus, when I hear about neighbors who actually found a way to “do what you love,” I’m interested in how they got there.

John Wisor, 64, is a Palm Springs resident. He has a background as a health-care executive and management consultant. We’ve worked together from time to time in various nonprofit organizations, and I always noticed that when he shared his writing with me, his eyes would light up. John began by doing free-verse poems and tributes for friends on special occasions—weddings, anniversaries, deaths. He would print them on parchment and give them as special gifts. His work was gentle, hopeful, idealistic, warm and loving.

Then John wrote My Husband Is The Same as Yours, a tribute to the foibles of coupledom, straight and gay. He married Edward two years ago after 15 years together, and John’s comparison of relationships was his attempt to enable opponents of gay marriage to recognize the similarities rather than focusing on the differences. It’s also very funny; John’s sense of humor is infectious.

As writing increasingly became an outlet for John, he began developing tales and fables of the adventures of Iam, a small black squirrel who travels The Dream Realm, visiting places like the Land of Dreams Come True and the River of Wisdom—as told by the wise old Grandpa Grey. The stories were inspired by the joy he used to experience when reading to his former stepchildren.

“I don’t think there have been new compilations of stories that grandparents can gift and read with their grandchildren since maybe Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen,” he says—with that light in his eyes.

Enter Nila Hagood, 64, of Palm Desert. She’s the CEO of WillaB Productions, her videography and DVD production company. She’s been married to Jerry for 38 years, and her background included real estate management and insurance, plus writing newspaper columns and working with community nonprofits. However, her dream was to pursue art when she retired. “I was finally able to do everything I needed to do to survive: sculpting, crafts, needlework, painting and now videography,” she said.

Nila and John Wisor met while he was director of the Cathedral City Center (formerly the city’s senior center), and she was delivering food for those in need.

“The first thing he gave me was a compliment,” she says, “which always works!”

As they became friends, John shared his stories with Nila. “I wanted to help,” she says. “I asked John if he would mind if I took the stories and added to them. He had the ideas, and I could do illustrations.”

John was very open to Nila’s help. “She got my stories to another level,” he says. “Previously, I had always written for myself and for friends. But this is a way for a story to reinforce what kids should be learning, (lessons) that seem to be missing today, the values we grew up with. Nila wove the stories into a cohesive narrative.”

Says Nila: “What John has done is magic. The stories are unique and beautiful. Most fairy tales involve scary characters, witches and soldiers and violence, with children at risk. These stories are imaginative and intelligent, with a moral in each story about right and wrong, overcoming fear, using one’s imagination to solve problems, and how to live life and follow one’s dreams. Plus, children often don’t have exposure to how we’re all interrelated, and these stories provide that.”

Nila is a self-described “Internet hound,” and she researched the many ways to get published. As more and more individuals are now doing, they turned to a self-funding site, Kickstarter, to try to raise enough money to get the book into print. They raised more than their $3,000 goal, using a video Nila produced.

The soft-cover version of the book is now available on Amazon, and they expect it to be in hardcover this spring. Their marketing plan includes exhibiting at literary fairs and promotion via social networks, like Facebook, as well as through their website.

“I hope these tales and fables can teach us all the magic and wonder found in each other, and how we can learn from living life in this world we all share together,” John says. “Grandparents often only have moments with their grandchildren, and I want to help them make the most of it.”

I remember the books of my childhood; even as an avid reader throughout my life, I am forever tied to Stuart Little. I can still see the picture in my mind’s eye of that little mouse setting off to find his true love. His sense of optimism and hope infused my imagination and actually sustained me through some dismal times.

What’s your favorite book from childhood? For Nila, it’s Bambi. For John, it’s Little House on the Prairie. What do you want it to be for your grandkids? John Wisor and Nila Hagood hope it will be Grandpa Grey’s Timeless Tales and Fabulous Fables. For both of them, it’s been a labor of love.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

How do you start up something new? No matter how worthy the cause, you need individuals who see a need and are willing to volunteer a substantial amount of time to satisfy that need.

A local coalition has cropped up committed to creating a “Dementia-Friendly Coachella Valley,” composed of individuals who represent local nonprofit organizations, those diagnosed with or caring for someone with a dementia-related disease (like Alzheimer’s), medical professionals and interested citizens.

The DF-CV group recently sponsored the first Dementia-Friendly Café as a way to expand awareness that those living with a diagnosis of a dementia-related disease are still able to enjoy life, socialize and be in a public setting without fear. They wanted to create a “safe space” in which people could come together for a purely social event.

What is a safe space? To me, it’s a place where one can be truly oneself, relaxed and able to be fully expressive without fear of ridicule, judgment, embarrassment or stigmatization based on sex, race, ethnicity, orientation, religion, age, physical disability or any other arbitrary characteristic.

Cathy Greenblat, author of Love, Loss, and Laughter—Seeing Alzheimer’s Differently, was the catalyst for the coalition after the exhibit in Palm Desert of her remarkable photographs of patients with dementia-related diseases in state-of-the-art treatment facilities.

Dee Wieringa, executive director of the new Stonewall Gardens in Palm Springs, made the arrangements for the café with Albert Morales, manager at PF Chang's China Bistro at The River. Morales was enthusiastic about the idea.

“Our company is always telling us to get involved with our community,” he said.

A dining room at the restaurant would be set aside from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Those attending could order off the menu if they chose to, get drinks at the bar, or just socialize with others who could relate.

Rupert Macnee, a filmmaker who lives in Rancho Mirage, did the first draft of a flier. With minimal tweaking, it was ready to distribute online, at hospital rounds and on counters and bulletin boards at businesses and organizations throughout the Coachella Valley.

Pat Kaplan, of Palm Desert, one of the honorary co-chairs of the 15th annual Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, came up with the idea of coalition participants wearing purple ribbons, typically an Alzheimer’s disease symbol, so those attending the café would know whom to ask if they had questions or concerns. She greeted attendees warmly, and generally acted as the unofficial hostess.

Other coalition participants who worked the room included Anne Gimbel, regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association; John Wisor, of Palm Springs; Kae Hammond, executive director of the Dementia Help Center and the author of a definitive book, Pathways: A Guidebook for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers (if you need answers and guidance, this is THE book); Soo Borson, a geriatric psychiatrist; and yours truly, who prints nicely and thus did the name tags.

The expectation was that if we could turn out 15 to 20 people on our first outing, that would be a good start. We wanted to learn what the community needs—and what the community will respond to—when it comes to the potentially touchy subject of dementia. Imagine our surprise when more than 50 people showed up! The staff at Chang’s brought in extra tables, added another waitperson, and generally made it a good experience. People were sitting with others they didn’t already know, making new acquaintances, sharing stories and laughing. There was a lot of laughing.

Two women who attended came alone, without their husbands who are living with dementia-related diagnoses. The wives, being sensitive to what their husbands might require, wanted to make sure it would be a safe space. They were thrilled and plan to bring their husbands to the next café. Other attendees included people from all over the valley, ranging in age from their 40s to their 80s—daughters and sons, caregivers, spouses and live-in partners, gay and straight, long-time and new desert residents. It was a noisy, fun, purely social couple of hours with good food, good company and the comfort of a safe space. One attendee described it as “warm and fuzzy.”

The next Dementia-Friendly Café is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 3, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Chang’s. Morales is eagerly looking forward to making everyone comfortable, and the coalition members are planning to spread the word far and wide.

How do you start something new? You come together with people who know how to get things done—people who genuinely care about the issue you’re addressing, people who make time in busy schedules, people who are your neighbors. When’s the last time you got involved in something new?

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Some recent news items have demonstrated how difficult end-of-life decisions can be.

Jahi McMath, of Oakland, was only 13 when she suffered complications after routine surgery related to sleep apnea, and was declared “brain dead” by doctors, indicating “complete cessation of brain activity.” She was placed on artificial life support, but her “life” wasn’t supported: Her body was merely kept breathing by machine. McMath’s parents wouldn’t accept the doctors’ verdict. As long as her heart was beating, they believed she was still alive, an argument many people support.

The parents’ very public fight with the hospital, which wouldn’t perform “unethical” medical procedures and life support on what they considered a dead person, finally led to a compromise: She was officially declared “dead.” Her body was then moved to another facility which agreed to continue the life support.

A second case involves Marlise Muñoz, of Fort Worth, Texas, who died after a possible blood clot—while she was 14 weeks pregnant

According to one interpretation of Texas law, Muñoz cannot be removed from life support, although diagnosed as brain dead, because medical intervention is keeping her fetus alive. Her husband and her parents support terminating life support, and he is suing the hospital based on his legal right to act as a surrogate for medical decisions affecting his wife.

He claims they had many discussions about end-of-life choices (both are emergency medical personnel and well aware of the ramifications), and that she would not want her body artificially sustained, regardless of the pregnancy. The condition of the fetus is not clear; it may have sustained serious damage due to a lack of oxygen after Muñoz’s sudden illness. 

The third article that brought this subject together for me concerned the death of Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, after spending over eight years in a “coma.” Although in a “vegetative” state—he apparently lacked consciousness or cognition—he still had some brain function. Sharon’s life was sustained at his family’s request until he died at the age of 85.

If you were in a coma, would you want your life to be sustained by machines, immobile in a hospital bed for eight years? If not, you’d better tell someone!

Carl Hiaasen, a Florida columnist, wrote after the highly publicized Terry Schiavo case, “…[I]f a reasonable amount of time passes—say (fill in the blank) months—and I fail to sit up and ask for a cold beer, it should be presumed that I won’t ever get better. When such a determination is reached, I hereby instruct my spouse, children and attending physicians to pull the plug, reel in the tubes and call it a day.”

John Wisor, of Palm Springs, is president of The Living End, a local nonprofit which focuses on end-of-life decision-making. (Full disclosure: I am a member of The Living End’s Board.) The organization is supporting a pending book on the subject, which I am writing.

“Our mission is to educate both professionals and the public regarding the importance of having discussions with loved ones about the choices one wants to make for treatment at the end of life,” Wisor says.

“This should not be a decision left to chance, or even to doctors. The right to refuse treatment has been affirmed as an individual right, and Congress passed a Patient Self-Determination Act in 1990 enshrining that right for every individual over age 18.

“This is one of the most personal choices one will ever make in one’s lifetime, and it is important to not only have the conversations, but also to put one’s wishes in a legally-binding writing and then ensure that they will be respected. We can help.”

According to California Healthcare Foundation’s extensive 2012 survey, as many as 60 percent of Californians say these decisions are “extremely important”—and yet 56 percent have never communicated their wishes to family or doctors. And while 82 percent say it is important to put their choices in writing, less than 25 percent have ever done so, in spite of free forms made available by the state.

“We recommend using the form Five Wishes,” says Wisor, because each state implemented the law with their own forms, and what works in one state might not work in another. Five Wishes forms are valid in 42 states.

“People have such difficulty having these discussions, and these forms include not only the legal decisions—like who you want to speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself, and what treatments you do or do not want—but also non-legally binding things that a stressed-out family might not consider.

“Even with written forms and clear communication, one’s own choices do not necessarily prevail, but without them, one is at the mercy of professionals or legislatures whose influence can overwhelm the situation.”

Anyone old enough to have experienced end-of-life situations knows how problematic they can be. I’ve seen my own share of horror stories. There was the drug-addict son who claimed to have his mother’s consent to act as her surrogate, and prevailed over other siblings who wanted their cancer-riddled mother to receive the most aggressive pain relief possible, even if it might hasten her death. He maintained they were trying to kill her. The hospital delayed for days until it became clear he did not have any legal authority. That family’s relationships never recovered.

Then there was the gay man whose family disowned him when he came out—and then his family overruled his long-time partner’s ability to act as his surrogate. There was no writing to validate his wishes.

I once knew an elderly couple who had discussed their preference for no extreme measures for many years, and even named each other as the surrogate for decision-making—but when push came to shove, the wife couldn’t bring herself to end life support for her husband, even when all hope was gone.

A recent effort, “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” encourages discussions that help people plan for decisions that might need to be made.

As for me, I don’t want to be kept alive to make everyone else feel better if I can’t be an active participant. And I especially don’t want anyone to feel guilty about whatever decision is made—I want it to be my choice, not the courts’ choice, or the state’s choice, or even my family’s choice.

For heaven’s sake, and your own, talk about it!

To reach The Living End, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors