Having the Time Of My Life

By Art Buchwald
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

This is the first day of the rest of my life. I'm winding up nearly five months of living in a hospice.

The purpose of the hospice is to help you go gently into the night when all else fails. You are supposed to do it with as little pain as possible and with dignity.

It didn't work out that way for me. I will not go into the details of why I stayed here this long and why I'm leaving. Most people who enter a hospice depart by a different door than the one they came in. There are 14 beds in my hospice, and the average time a person spends here is two to three weeks.

The irony of my stay is that word got out that I refused dialysis (a form of saving your kidneys) and probably didn't have long to live.

The fact that I was in a hospice and people could come visit me anytime they wanted made it a happening.

Hospices have never gotten much attention, because people relate them to death. People are afraid of the mystery of death. Relatives and friends are initially afraid to visit.

It's a whole different ballgame from anything else in a person's life.

While in the hospice, I have had visitors from all walks of life. I suspect one of the reasons was that the hospice was centrally located and people came to see me after they bought flowers at nearby Johnson's florist shop.

Women were the most moved. The thing that kept them going was that I was always upbeat. I knew I was getting into something very serious, but I didn't want my friends to worry.

My hospice is very special. It has a large living room where families can hang out while their loved one, in almost all cases, remains in bed. Some patients stayed for days and others for weeks, but the bottom line was, we weren't going to be around very long.

People took a lot of interest in what was going on, first with me, then with the hospice as a whole. We celebrated birthdays here and fed the goldfish. There was no reason the fish had to die just because I was going to.

Of course, people want to talk about death if you give them permission. I always give people permission to discuss it. I discovered it made them very happy to be able to share fears and questions about dying.

During the past five months, people kept asking me, "What is it like to die?"

I answered, "I don't know, because I haven't died. I thought I was going to, but then something changed."

Instead of going straight upstairs, I am going to Martha's Vineyard. I doubt that people will be that interested in me there.

I had such a good time at the hospice. I am going to miss it.

I don't know how long I'll be around, but I do think I won't be in a hospice this summer. If nothing else, I made an awful lot of people happy.

Dying isn't hard. Getting paid by Medicaid is.

2006Tribune Media Services


© 2006 The Washington Post Company