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Facing Death's Uncertainty, Corvallis Family Finds Answers

On the way to chemotherapy last summer, Keith Kaufman, of Corvallis, started a conversation that no parent wants to have with his child: funeral arrangements.

Keith had an incurable brain cancer, glioblastoma. His doctors were doing all that they could to keep him alive and functioning for as long as possible. But his cancer was aggressive.

Just 59 years old, Keith had so much to live for. His family: wife of nearly 30 years, Cheryl, and their adult daughters, Kelsey and Hayley. When the girls played sports in high school, Keith woke up at 4 a.m. to make them breakfast-to-go. He and Cheryl rode bikes on Sundays with the family dogs, Genny and Lucy, at Willamette Park in Corvallis, then everyone got a cheeseburger after the ride. His beautiful garden grew vegetables and other ingredients for the dishes he prepared for family and friends.

One moment it seemed he had it all. The next, he faced the inevitability of his mortality.

Keith wanted to help his family prepare. It was important they knew about his wishes. He wanted to die at home, not in a hospital.

And about the funeral: “We both agreed they are sad and depressing,” Kelsey said.

As they drove south on Interstate-5 that day, father and daughter planned for an event that neither was ready for.

Radiation failed to slow the growth of his tumor. It came back just weeks after a second resection surgery to remove it last fall. His cognitive function slowed. Keith chose not to pursue experimental treatment at a far-away hospital.

In late October, he suffered a sudden decline caused by a pulmonary embolism. The arteries in his lungs were blocked by a blood clot. Keith was hospitalized, unable to move on his own or participate in discussions about his care. But his family knew what he wanted. With the help of Samaritan Evergreen Hospice, they were able to honor his final wish and bring him home.

Though Kelsey had months to prepare for what was happening, she still felt anxious. “I was freaking out about making sure he was comfortable,” she said.

A hospice nurse reassured her, explaining the changes to be expected when a person is actively dying.

“It was very comforting,” Kelsey said. “I just needed a timeline.”

Two days later, Keith died in his easy chair in the living room overlooking the garden. Cheryl, Kelsey, Hayley and the pets were by his side. They called hospice and were told that there was no rush. Take time to say goodbye.

Kelsey, an event planner, already knew the details for her dad’s service.

“We decided his should be fun,” she said.

A party at the First Presbyterian Church in Corvallis. Food and drinks from Keith’s favorite restaurants: Local Boyz, American Dream Pizza, beer from McMenamins. A slide show and memory table with Keith’s cookbook on display.

Kelsey sought closure by speaking at the memorial.

“I’m usually a terrible speaker,” she said.

When the time came, she not only got through it, but did quite well.

“I like to think that my dad was with me, holding me up,” she said.