Jacquie Murdock, a dancer, model, and Jazz enthusiast, was legally blind when we first met her two years ago, but she was able to get herself around the city on the subway by relying on the help of strangers.
Two years later, She is now completely blind, and has been diagnosed with cancer in both of her lungs. “I am just very glad to still be here,” Jacquie says, more than once, when we talk on the phone.
Jacquie was diagnosed with cancer right after she lost her sight. She stayed with her son outside of the city during her six weeks of radiation. Her son’s fiancé drove her into the city every day for treatment. After her radiation, her son thought that she should recover in Florida. This trip turned from relaxing into a three-month hospitalization and a twelve-day stay in the Intensive Care Unit as a result of a bacterial infection. “I’ve been through a lot,” she says. "if life throws anything in your way, you just step over it and keep going."
Jacquie’s stay in the hospital, and then in rehab, was marked by what she defines as an “out-of-body experience.” She was down to 99 pounds and found her time in the hospital “a horror.” She said she decided to pray and meditate and “take [her] spirit into a different place.” It was during these moments that she saw the first character of a book she would like to write appear in front of her, and she “lived with these characters like they were [her] friends.”
When Jacquie was in the rehab facility, she says Vogue Japan attempted to contact her. She wasn’t able to reach back out to them, and is anxious to get back in touch. “They don’t even know that I lost my sight,” she explains, “but I don’t let that stop me.”
Jacquie’s son is planning an 87th birthday party for her next summer at his home. “It’s s my faith, my love of life, that kept me going to survive, to come back to New York and see my family again. I wasn’t sure I was going to see my family again.”
In the meanwhile, she wants to dictate the book she is writing using a tape recorder. “That’s something that will keep me busy…because if you know anything about me, I was always on the go.”
Chandrakant Sheth had two big events in his life in the last year. The first is physical. Chandrakant was accidentally pushed on the subway escalator subway while en route to Flushing Temple. A man who tried to help him, lifted him up with such strength that he fractured his right shoulder. Chandrakant’s kidneys were too weak for him to have shoulder surgery, so he had to let it slowly heal on its own.
This did not stop him from taking a grand trip to India for seven weeks this past winter. His son surprised him by secretly buying plane tickets. Chandrakant was grateful to see his family and return home. Chandrakant described that the day he got to India, he saw a few of his younger family members and then they all “disappeared.” He asked where they went, and it turned out that they went to rent a large hall for his welcoming reception, which would be held the next day. His relatives called friends and other relatives, and thirty-two people came to the reception. They had dinner, played games, and read poetry—Chandrakant says that there was “so much love and respect,” and he felt fulfilled but undeserving. “They said I was a role model,” he said, with a grin, “but I don’t think…” he trailed off.
The trip was bittersweet, as he happened to be there when his sister’s husband died suddenly. He said his sister and her family had been asking Chandrakant to visit them during this trip, since he hadn’t seen them since 2012. He finally traveled a few hours to her home, and they had a wonderful time together—they stayed up talking until one in the morning. Then, one night, in the middle of the night, suddenly, his sister’s husband passed away—and Chandrakant was right there. “I never saw a peaceful death like that…no suffering, nothing like that.” Chandrakant said it made him feel more comfortable with death to witness it so closely.
Chandrakant says he does not know if this was his last trip to India. He was glad to have gone home, but was then glad to be back at home in Queens.
The morning that we visited Aurea Texidor was a lively morning at the senior center. A self-defense class was underway, and participants were being taught to use their canes to protect themselves, smacking a cushion aggressively. We sat with Aurea and watched as they methodically and strongly beat the mats and encouraged each other along the way.
Aurea still walks up and down the four flights of stairs in her apartment building without taking breaks. She continues to go to her senior center every weekday morning. This year, a good friend of hers from the center died, but she still notes that going to the center is "what I look forward to." Aurea continues to have trouble paying for and accessing dental care. She spoke about difficulty with one of her teeth that needed to be worked on, and that caused "a lot of blood." A highlight of the year for Aurea, was a dinner celebrating her birthday with her daughter (who she lives with) and two beloved granddaughters.
Not a great deal has changed for Otto Neals in the last year. He continues to watch nature shows, visit with friends, and to make and think about his art, and the art of others, every day. Concepts for pieces pop into his mind, and he says he feels compelled to create them.
At one point during the year Otto was in bed with a terrible cold, and he couldn’t work--he described the feeling of having ideas, but being unable to execute them, as “agony.” As soon as he was better, he began to create again. Otto continues to take the subway to Franklin Avenue for drawing/sketch classes, even though it takes a lot of out him. He sees several doctors regularly but, in general, says he feels “pretty good.”
Otto has shown several pieces at Bailey’s Cafe and Simmons Gallery, both in Brooklyn, but isn’t interested in having another big show. He’s not exactly sure what will happen to his collection, and in the past has given some of it away--but whenever he parts with pieces or potential pieces (like a big stack of wonderful wood), he says he regrets it, and calls it “painful.”
Otto is worried about what will happen to his artwork when he is no longer alive, but says that he hopes he can “put things together so my family is comfortable.”
Maria Soledad turned 88 and has been feeling tired and not very well, but she doesn’t spend her days idely. She cleans the backyard, cooks, and washes dishes, and finds herself “at peace.” She is tired, and occasionally her bones ache, but, she notes, “nothing hurts,” and she has not been hospitalized and is still able to manage her diabetes.
Maria spends most of her days indoors--she has stopped going to Church and has stopped climbing trees--as the streets are “a little dangerous,” and her family is also worried about her getting lost. She is not interested in returning to New York, because she “feels happy with all of [her] people [in DR].” She very much misses her grandson, but is able to interact with him through Facebook pictures, which gives her great joy.
Over and over again, Maria reminds us that she is grateful to the Lord for giving her good health and the ability to take care of herself. She hopes that God continues to enable her to move forward, and asks God to ensure that her family is able to move back to the Dominican Republic with her, so that she can have her children closer. The happiness of her children comforts her, and though she is sorry that they are so far away, she knows that he Dominican Republic is her home. She is content. When asked what she hopes would change in the world for the next generation, Maria says that she hopes for tranquility, and for peace in the world.
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