Although Sam and his brother-in-law were close, they were very different people – both in how they lived their lives and in how they faced their deaths.
Sam, my husband’s father, was a soft-spoken, kind, modest man. He grew up on the Lower East side of Manhattan in a fifth-floor walkup, helping his hard-working parents make ends meet. On December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy to support his country. He fought overseas for four years and, when he returned, he went to college at night on the GI bill, but never made enough credits to graduate. Then came a wife and family, and so his formal education was put on hold. For decades. He was a giving man, always available, humble and caring. After everyone else’s needs were met, children established, grandchildren thriving, he retired from sales and returned to school, quietly and for his own enjoyment. He graduated at age seventy-three from Montclair State University with a degree in literature, a longstanding passion.
When death came knocking, my father-in-law faced it with honesty and acceptance, and then went on to make it the best that it could be. With the news that the cancer was not responding and the worsening weakness and frailty, he realized that it was time to accept reality. He had heard the cautionary tales that I, a critical care physician, had told about attaching frail and seriously ill people to life support. He didn’t want it, he said. “But maybe a hospital stay could get you through an infection,” some members of his family protested. But he was clear: He didn’t want to go in and out of the hospital to try to milk every last drop of time; he wanted to live as well as he could until it was his time to die, surrounded by his family, with familiar sights, smells, and sounds around him. And so hospice services were engaged, something very unusual fifteen years ago, before the medical subspecialty of Palliative Care became more widely known, along with striking data about the benefits of hospice. For the last forty-eight hours of his life, there was a sign-up chart for “handholders.” Guitars were strummed. The scent of chicken soup wafted through the house. Grandchildren played around his bed as his wife and children held his hands in shifts, keeping them warm even as he lapsed into a coma and ceased communicating with us. Sam died exactly as he had wanted to, comfortable and peaceful to the end.(…) Read Full Article Here