How I became the adult my parents needed

How I became the adult my parents needed

by Kathleen Vallee Stein

626-824-8324 | |


I knew in my gut that my dad was dying. He was emaciated, unable to eat or drink, and

struggled to breathe. The pain in his voice when he told me that he didn’t want to live

like this anymore weighed on my heart. I had to see what was right in front of my eyes.

I had been manager of an advocacy program for seniors on Medicare through the

California Department of Aging and was well acquainted with the Medicare Hospice

benefit. But when it was my own father who was dying, I couldn’t find the words to talk

to him about hospice; I was afraid he’d think I was giving up on him.

I asked Dad’s physician, Dr. Archer to help us talk with Dad about Hospice. Mom and I

stood by Dad’s bed, as the doctor told him guys like him were considered terminal. Dad

responded in a way none of us expected. He said he had had a good, long life and was

grateful. Because he so graciously accepted his fate, the rest of my father’s days were

some of the most richly lived of his eighty years on earth.

The next day the Hospice nurse came into Dad’s hospital room and said, “Mr. Vallee, I

am here to talk about the rest of your life and how we can make it the best it can be.”

Then she gave me a list of things I had to have ready before Dad went home, starting

with medical equipment: a hospital bed, oxygen concentrator, and suction machine. I

had to remove his meds and get new prescriptions under Hospice, and I needed to get

his bed out the bedroom and into storage before the hospital bed arrived.

I left Mom at the hospital with Dad and got to work. I returned before lunch and told my

parents that, for a fee, the nurse at their retirement community would keep track of his

meds and an aide would deliver them to the apartment. My sister Anne had found a

home health agency in town that would provide a caregiver for them for a few hours a


“Oh, no, Kathy – that’s too expensive, we don’t need it,” they said, practically in unison

as they shook their heads. Mom added, “I can handle it.”

I knew she couldn’t. My parents believed they could “handle” this, but I knew that Mom

wasn’t physically strong enough to take care of Dad. She wouldn’t be able to take him to

the bathroom or keep track of both their meds. Anne and I didn’t live nearby so we

wouldn’t always be there.

Despite my trepidation in overriding my parents’ wishes, I called the home health

agency and ordered 24/7 caregiving. Then I called the nurse at their retirement

community and signed up for the prescription service, despite my parents’ specific

instructions not to. I was very afraid of their reaction, but I knew they needed the help.

Dad took a Medi-Cab home from the hospital and got settled in his bed with all the

medical equipment in place. I was terrified that my parents would yell at me when the

aides showed up. When I was growing up, Dad was the boss. He was in charge of Mom

and the kids. I still viewed him as an authority figure, but he was very ill, and he needed

my help.

When a young woman came to the door with their meds, Mom and Dad quietly took

their pills and didn’t ask about the cost. The first home health aide came at 6:00 p.m.

and said she would stay until 6:00 a.m. Each time I held my breath.

But they weren’t mad at me. They were relieved! And then my dad thanked me. Better

yet, when my husband called to see how he was doing, he praised me!

That evening before dinner, Dad wanted a martini. Now that he was home, he could

have one whenever he wanted. As I prepared my father’s favorite adult beverage, I

realized that my parents and I were truly home. I was the mama bird now, perched on

the edge of a nest that was not built with feathers, but with a hospital bed, an oxygen

concentrator, suction machine, the retirement community staff, and a Hospice nurse. I

had become the adult my parents needed.

Dad passed peacefully in his sleep, twenty-nine days later, in his own home, on his own

terms, and in his own time.


Loving Choices, Peaceful Passing:

Why My Family Chose Hospice

Kathleen Vallee Stein


Kathleen Vallee Stein was the Manager of the Los Angeles County Health Insurance

Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) administered through the California

Department of Aging. She trained volunteer peer counselors in Medicare and related

health insurance and then placed them in senior centers throughout Los Angeles County.

She also provided community education and advocated for changes in Medicare law to

benefit seniors.

Ms. Stein’s opinion pieces have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles

Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Pasadena Star-News, Orange County Register, and the

Jewish Journal for more than twenty years. She writes about a variety of life experiences,

such as caring for aging parents, raising children, and reflections on work, friendship, and


When Stein’s father was terminally ill, she experienced first-hand the difficulties families

face when confronted with end-of-life issues. The dreaded decision to stop curative care

and begin comfort care was monumentally difficult but resulted in a transformative

experience for Ms. Stein and her family. After her father died, Stein was moved to write a

book about it. Loving Choices, Peaceful Passing: Why My Family Chose Hospice was

awarded the Independent Press NYC Big Book Award in 2021.

Ms. Stein graduated from California State University Northridge with a Bachelor of Arts

Degree in Psychology, cum laude

Find her opinion pieces on caring for aging parents, videos on a variety of topics about

her family’s hospice experience, podcast interviews, and more about the book at  See page 15 for more details on her book.


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