NEW YORK - The latest Fox 5 Film is a tale of life and death and all the lessons you learn in your final days. (Music courtesy of Rodrigo Nassif Quarteto; songs by Fendas, YMB, Fronteira)
CHAPTER 1: FINAL DAYS
After years of fighting, battling, and living to survive, Youssef Cohen said he was ready. The 68-year-old has mesothelioma. When the cancer was first diagnosed in 2012, Cohen did all the treatment: chemotherapy, surgery, radiation. But the mesothelioma came back. And when mesothelioma comes back, it usually kills you, he said.
Cohen said he doesn't want to die but made his peace with it. That peace gave the former NYU faculty member who was raised in Brazil a new perspective on life. He says he enjoys his life as he has never enjoyed it before.
It is hard to believe those words. His last days, he says, have been the best of his life. He said he found meaning in the little things about daily life. He also said he finds meaning in the intimacy and closeness with people.
We met him the day before he and his wife Lindsay were traveling to Oregon, a right-to-die state. He had also advocated for end-of-life options with Compassion and Choices, a group pushing for legislation in New York.
Cohen said that the thought of having the option to end one's life takes a lot of the fear out of it. He said it gives one the capacity to enjoy life and do the things that one loves to do. He said it is not an easy choice to decide to take a drug that is going to kill him.
CHAPTER 2: SONGS FOR THE SOUL
When music needs to feed the soul, Charla Burton often knows what note to play. She is a creative arts therapist with Metropolitan Jewish Health Systems. At home hospice care, she mends spirits and eases physical pain for those at the end of life.
She said music is a way to help patients regain that sense of dignity and strength. She said she wants to make the end of their lives that much more meaningful.
Her clients on the day Fox 5 spoke to her were Walter Morris, 93, a cancer patient, and his wife of 60 years, Elaine.
Burton said her clients learn a lot about life when facing death. And she said she has learned a lot, too. She said she has learned to not sweat the small stuff. But the biggest lesson is that the important things in life are love and family.
CHAPTER 3: LAST BREATHS
Eunju Lee is a social worker with Visiting Nurse Service New York Hospice with the Haven Specialty Unity. As a hospice care social worker, Lee helps families through some of the most vulnerable times.
She said that she was drawn to the profession because she knew that you learn how to live life when you're closer to death.
She said that that being closer to someone's grief allows her to tap into her own sadness and grief and loss. She said it is a reminder of how fragile we are.
Dr. Leonard Bakalchuk is a visiting physician who cares for VNSNY Hospice and Palliative Care patients in their homes. He said that people tend to die the way they lived. He said that they help people come to terms with their death and to see this as a new phase of their life.
CHAPTER 4: YOUSSEF
Creating illuminated letters are among the many joys that brightened Youssef Cohen's final days. He said he decided to do golden letters for all his friends. He made more than 50.
He brought the artwork with him to Oregon, where he met with doctors who would prescribe him legal end-of-life medications. He never used it. Six days after our interview, the man who would have turned 69 in July started to deteriorate.
His last moments were spent with family those he loved by his side. His beloved Brazilian bossa nova music was playing in the room as his fight, his journey, his life here on earth ended in hospice care.
He told us that one becomes much freer with other people, much less judgmental, much more compassionate about other people because one realizes that we're all in the same boat and that everyone, one day will have to face what he faced.
Youssef Cohen died on March 31, 2016.