Evangelina Holvino

Evangelina Holvino is a creative non-fiction writer and a free-lance consultant on issues of social differences and justice in non-profit organizations.

After much procrastination, my husband and I completed our Advance Directives – just before witnessing my cousins scramble to make decisions about my aunt’s end of life as she lay in a coma in a hospital in San Juan. I remember thinking how grateful I was to have my directive on file with my doctor, my hospital and the Vermont Registry.

My partner James was diagnosed with Parkinson’s on his sixtieth birthday. And because we knew so little about this disease, this felt like the end of the world for us.

In spite of the freezing cold, which the wood stove fire could not entirely abate, I enjoyed so much making wreaths and centerpieces with my gardener friends Linda and Edwin. For a few hours in their cabin in the woods we had a Santa-like workshop going on to fit the season.

What shook me most about the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by the police was their execution-style. Then, to complicate the violence, five police officers were killed in a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration a few days later.

I haven’t been able to get the Orlando Pulse’s nightclub shooting out of my mind. Massacres like this one always rattle me, but this one feels closer. It's like the distance got smaller between Orlando and Brattleboro, LBGTQ and straight, Anglo and Hispanic, armed and un-armed. Most analysts blame homophobia and hate. But as soon as I started reading the names of the dead I knew homophobia and hate were not the whole story.

The Puerto Rican government recently defaulted on a 400 dollar million debt payment. Another 2 billion dollars default is expected on July 1st if Congress does not take action. In all, Puerto Rico owes its lenders more than 70 billion dollars that it cannot pay.

I was always a good student, never experiencing trouble in school. But, my brother was just the opposite: distracted, always clowning around and acting out in the classroom. His best grades were never above a C. Yet, in spite of his poor performance, he graduated from high school and found a decent working class job. In the zero tolerance environments of today’s schools my brother would have been suspended or expelled for his disciplinary problems; as is the case with an estimated 4,000 students in Vermont’s public schools yearly.

As a Puerto Rican child, I had the good fortune to get gifts both on Christmas Day and on the Three Kings Day, January, 6th. Early in the evening on January 5th, my brother and I cut grass clippings from the backyard and placed them in two shoe boxes in front of our bed to feed the Three Kings’ camels.

Last Thanksgiving, I traveled more than a few miles to meet seven other volunteers and twelve inmates in a medium security prison for a Thanksgiving Table of sorts. I was apprehensive, since this was my first visit to a prison and it was all new to me. But the prisoners all shook our hands and welcomed us warmly.

While Vermont is the whitest state in the nation, as many as thirty-four thousand of its residents speak a language other than English in their home. And as many as sixty different languages are spoken in some of our schools: French, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, Polish and Vietnamese, among them. Language is a ready source of diversity in our state and a rich tool for intercultural learning and human understanding.

In 1955, Rosa Parks inspired the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama when she refused to give her rightful seat to a white man. I was seven years old and living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Dr. Martin Luther King led this boycott, and for thirteen months blacks walked and carpooled everywhere, refusing to take the bus.

As early as I can remember, I’ve considered Christmas the happiest holiday. A photo of a four-year-old me, dressed as a shepherdess, reminds me of the Christmas dramas I loved to participate in at church.

One of the hardest decisions of my life was telling the oncology nurse at the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital that I was not submitting my 87 year old mother to the painful daily treatment the blood specialist was recommending. It was clear the treatment was not going to cure her or make her life more comfortable and she had trusted me with her end of life care when she could not decide for herself. Though I knew she did not want extraordinary measures or aggressive treatments to prolong of her life, it was still a gut wrenching decision.

This winter, my brother lay in a comma in a San Juan Regional Hospital bed dying from Kaposi’s sarcoma. This fatal type of cancer had spread to his internal organs and was now shutting them down. Rober, as we affectionately called him, had abused heroin for more than thirty years and this was the final result and my last moment with him.

This year, a fox the color of fire took up residence in the lower part of our overgrown garden. She built an enormous den and proceeded to play, feed, sleep, sunbathe, run, sit and nurse her pups at a prudent distance from the house. Ordinary days looking out the window in my office were turned into extraordinary days looking for and watching Mama Fox and her five pups. It turned out that the bathroom with the smallest window had the best view of the den, a mound of brown dirt hidden between the trees where color and movement signaled that the foxes were there.

I came to appreciate the importance of language in health care when my bilingual mother returned to live in Brattleboro after spending a few months with her sister in Puerto Rico. Suddenly and without apparent reason, she began to speak only in Spanish.

In the eight months before her death, only one of the many nurses, caretakers, therapists, lab technicians and emergency personnel who attended her spoke or understood Spanish.

As my mother’s health deteriorated and her dementia progressed, I became more and more involved in her care.  My brother in Puerto Rico could not help.