"My name is Ora L. Tyiska-Smith. My birthdate is 1916.  And you figure out how old I am. I have nothing to hide. My life story, I can’t tell it all. I was born and reared in Texas. I grew up on a farm. I am not ashamed. Raised most of our food. I never went hungry a day in my life, but I had to work. I’m not ashamed.  I grew up in a community of people who loved each other. Whoever had something, the others needed, we shared what we had. We didn’t care whether they would pay it back or bring it back or anything. I accept what God has given me. I’m not a rich person, he didn’t say I would be rich. I accept what I have worked for and I am satisfied.

I realize, that we didn’t come here to stay. We’re just passing through. One day I’m going just like my mama did. I know the hospital sent me home to die. I know that. They gave me medicine to ease the pain, not to cure the pain, but to ease the pain. I can’t live today for tomorrow. I have to live this day. And whatever happens tomorrow, you don’t worry about. You find yourself worrying about tomorrow and you know, tomorrow’s not promised. I don’t have any fear. When God gets ready for me, he going to take me. Regardless what they do, what kind of treatment I’m getting, he will take me.

You go through some scary moments. You go through a rough edge, sometime it get to the center. You just keep moving. Just like you go on up a hill. You don’t stop because you’re tired. You don’t go as fast. Sometime you almost level to the ground you be so low in life, but you keep climbing. Don’t give up."


I was introduced to Ora through Pathways Hospice. We met in her home in Portola where she lived with several generations of her family. At 99 years old, Ora was a great-great-grandmother of two and the last living person of her many siblings and school friends. Ora was a staunch believer in resilience and hard work and was proud that each of the generations of her family had more opportunities than the last. At the age of 8, Ora decided to be baptized into Christianity and went on to be an active member of her Church community throughout her life. She attributed her ability to move through life’s challenges to her unwavering faith in God and told me that she had spent her whole life in preparation for the day that God would decide to take her from this earth. Ora died on January 8, 2016. 


Ora - Pencil on drawing and tissue papers - 30" x 22" - © Claudia Biçen 2016