Retiring the Champ: A Story About Coaching Life's Last Big Bout

retiringMARBLEHEAD, MA– Judith Black – nationally acclaimed storyteller, Emmy Nominee, and herself the beloved target of a Jewish Mother – brings the poignant and humorous story of her mother-in-law’s final months to the Callan Studio Theatre. This is a story about coaching the world’s smallest heavyweight through her last big bout; only this fight ring echoes with the sounds of laughter and redemption. The physical journey from downsizing the home and dealing with the medical and elder care establishment, and the social journey involving the delicate weave of family relationships and the spiritual journey of a son from angry boy to soulful adult is the stuff of this tale.

As Judith describes the tale, Retiring the Champ, she slips into the storytelling mode and yells, “The bell sounds. This life-long prizefighter bounds from her corner throwing jabs and hooks. The eldest child of immigrants, teacher, and union organizer in the New York City schools, Trina, a fierce and valuable ally, was not to be danced around. The paradox is that at 83, she was still throwing punches, but forgetting which direction her opponent’s were coming from. “You see,” Judith says now out of the storytelling mode, “this is a familiar story to many of us: the slow disintegration of a parent to the ravages of old age and Alzheimer’s disease. But, as the lotus emerges from the mud, so too, this feared journey can be filled with strange beauty.

Judith goes back into the tale.
“My husband’s favorite anecdote about his mother was that she could run a tablecloth through the digestive system of a camel and still get a full refund for it from Lord and Taylor. Trina was not a little old lady given to accepting help, opinions, or battle plans from anyone else. Now, with all the willingness that you or I muster for the insertion of a root canal, her son steps forward to help support and coach her through her last bout with life.”

Judith_BlackAbout this story Glenn Morrow, editor of the The Museletter says:
“Fearless, fierce and funny, Judith Black goes where no storyteller dares. Trina is an elder likeen metal — and she is the hero of this tale. As if the challenge of sympathetically depicting such a character weren’t enough, Judith Black tells the tale of Trina from a hard and honest place — close in, where no one emerges with their virtue untarnished, least of all the teller. This perspective is hard-won and immensely important, because this tale tells us all that we are not alone, that caring for our elders frustrates, hurts, burns, and ultimately (perhaps) purifies. For in this story Judith Black takes us on Trina’s journey to death, a raging against the fading of the light, and on her own journey as a deeply conflicted caretaker. Dark as this passage might seem, Judith fills it with funhouse mirrors in which we come upon ourselves is unexpected perspectives and laugh at the resemblance. In this work of extraordinary honesty, compassion, and humor, Judith Black does the truest work of the storyteller: to show us how our lives are story, and how stories enable us to live our lives.” 

Judith explains that the power and success of storytelling comes from its essentially spare style. With only a single teller on stage conjuring characters and images, listeners are called upon to fill in the details with their own imaginations and thus pieces of their life story. It is a heightened level of listening, hearing, and personal investment that results in the impression of indelible images, feelings, and understandings about the material shared. 

Using The Champ for In Service Training Social Workers, Nurses, Physicians and support professionals all require continued education in order to remain vital in their work. Retiring the Champ has been used to draw both professional and support staff together, present them with a completely different vantage point on the issues they deal with daily, allow a forum to discuss important topics, and provide the continuing education credits that are often a requirement of their work. 

Following is a list of the topics professionals will address through this tale: 
Participants at this event will:
1. be called upon to discern the difference between a clients issues and needs and those of their extended family.
2. become aware of the holes in the medical system that can exacerbate rather than help or heal the problems of elderly.
3. have their attention drawn to the delicate weave of family and how it effects the care and condition of the elderly.
4. be made aware of the difference between personalized and systematized care.
5. be inspired to reflect upon the hierarchy of assisted living and how it effects the care delivered.