Out on a Limb
A Monthly Newsletter from Martha Clark Scala
Invest in bringing joy back to your life.
February 2008
Welcome to Out on a Limb, a monthly newsletter from Martha Clark Scala. This free e-zine is meant to invite and inspire you to maximize the joy in your life. To Subscribe, click here.

The Biggest Uncertainty

I must give co-author credit for this month’s newsletter to my Mom. Back in mid-January, my plan for this February newsletter was to address the topic of cultivating joy while dealing with uncertainty. My biggest uncertainty was rather daunting: I had no way of knowing how the final chapter of my 88-year old Mom’s life would end. Would this life story include hospital visits, illness, nursing homes, round-the-clock care? I knew I wasn’t the author, and I wasn’t the editor or publisher so I had to sit back and be a concerned reader.

If you knew my Mom, it wouldn’t be news to you that she authored her own life right until its end. She refused hospitalization, saying “I’m 88 years old, if I die at home tonight, that’s okay with me.” In fact, she made it through one more night, and died on January 26th, at home, with her animals. It was exactly how she’d scripted it. My sister and I were taken by surprise; we both thought she would live into her 90’s, like her father did. But that’s not what Mom wanted: she had recently stated to us that she didn’t want to live past 90. And she didn’t. If Mom were still around, she’d be high-fiving us for pulling off such an uncomplicated ending. I couldn’t be more proud of a woman whose fierce independence and fortitude were, and continue to be, sheer inspiration.

Messages Left Behind

Taped to my Mom’s desk was a photo of one of her heroes: Boston Globe columnist Donald Murray, who died a few years ago. Next to the photo was the following quote from Dr. Christiaan Barnard:

“Suffering isn’t ennobling. Recovering is.”

I take this message left behind by Mom as our blueprint for grieving this loss. Very recently, I’d told Mom that no matter when she died, it was going to be very hard for me. She didn’t have much patience for this, often reminding me that dying would be better than lingering on and on with diminishing capacities and independence. I couldn’t argue that. So yes, it does stink that she’s gone and she clearly would insist that the emphasis be on recovering. I’m taking lessons.

  Donald Murray & Dr. Christiaan Barnard

I don’t think Mom’s “desk messages” were random:

Murray wrote extremely candid stories about being the caregiver for his wife, Minnie, who had a debilitating illness. Mom often told me she felt he was a kindred spirit because he knew the challenges she faced in taking care of my Dad prior to his death three years ago.

Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first successful human-to-human heart transplant in 1967. Mom’s son/my brother, Nick, received a heart transplant in 1985.

We never know who might derive inspiration from our words and deeds, do we? Ah, more uncertainty.


 Feather and Bandit Snoozing.

Feather and Bandit Snoozing.


From Uncertainty to Joy …

Mom had two cats and a dog. We were immediately faced with the challenge of finding new homes for three pets, all over 10 years old. My sister adopted the two cats even though we had concerns about Mom’s favorite. Feather used to hiss and claw at my sister. Now, she sleeps on my sister’s bed, purrs up a storm, and keeps the other cat, Stoney, company. Mom would never have predicted this good outcome!



From Uncertainty to Joy, 2 …

Bandit, a 10-year old Miniature Schnauzer, got clearance from his vet to fly to San Francisco, so he came home with me. Bandy has 2 new cat buddies, and they’re not yet sure if they like him, but he’s a very happy Californian, now. Mom used to walk Bandy 4 times a day (yes, at 88 years old) so we have a legacy to uphold. The walks afford a nice opportunity to remember many walks with Mom over the years, and that brings joy commingled with sorrow and uncertainty.


Joy-Gram for February

Gosh, February is almost over already! Inside Mom’s desk, I found a quote she had saved on walking and I invite you to click here if you’d like to read it. For the remainder of this month, and for the months to come, I urge you to discover and relish the joys of walking! The photo above was taken during a walk at Sandy Neck Beach in West Barnstable, Mass. Mom was 84 at the time.

By no means do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!


Martha Clark Scala, MFT 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303

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