A Chinese FarewellMarch 15, 2023
April 1st will be 20 years since my dad died. I always think it was his last attempt to be funny by dying on April Fools Day because he wasn't a particularly funny guy. He was serious, thoughtful and smart. He made good decisions and wasn't impulsive about them.
I remember the day I talked about hospice with him. I had driven him to Sloan Kettering for his chemo treatment. I had driven him because he had recently been in a fender bender that he swore was not his fault, but we all knew was. He was getting weak. He was getting a little confused at times. And he didn't fight me when I suggested I drive, so I think he knew.
We walked in to the chemo room and the nurse looked at us and said, "You know you aren't getting chemo today, right?" I assured her we had an appointment, upset that we may have driven into the city from NJ for nothing. "Your dad is jaundice," she said. "He can't get chemo when he's jaundice." I looked at my dad. He was pink! I was working in a hospice at the time, and I saw jaundice people every day. I knew what jaundice looked like. And my dad did NOT look like that. I told the nurse that my father wasn't jaundice and we were here to get chemo. But she knew. She knew that I just didn't want my dad to be jaundice, so I didn't (I couldn't) see him that way.
As we left the office, my dad sat me down and suggested that we talk about hospice. I was privileged to work in an amazing hospice in NJ so I knew how to connect him. It was a very difficult conversation. Pregnant with my second child, my dad said he'd like to stay alive long enough to meet my baby but he knew that may not be in the cards for him.
My dad did not want to die. And I definitely did not want him to die. Having a conversation about hospice wasn't his way of telling me that he wanted to die; it was his way of respecting the fact that death was at his door, and he wanted some control over how it happened. Fortunately, hospice did provide him with all of the comfort and support he needed, as well as my mom, sisters and me.
I have been thinking a lot about President Jimmy Carter as he lives his last days. I hope he is surrounded by the same comfort and support that my father and family had and I hope he feels some modicum of control over the way he lives his last days. I am grateful to work at an organization that can help you to have that same experience. If you have questions about hospice or would like to know more, please contact us at 212-726-2010.
Mandi Zucker, LSW, CT