Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Thanks giving


This is the latest Facebook post from my friend Liesel Kopp. That’s her on the right, and her father Merv on the left.

I don’t post that often, but because Facebook seems to be the best way to reach out to a large number of people all at once, I’m very compelled to post right now.

After a very long and painful battle with cancer, my Dad passed away last Wednesday evening, November 16, 2011. I always loved my Dad, but we had a difficult relationship, and we were very different people. However, his steady decline over these past 3 months afforded me an opportunity I never thought possible: I was able to help my Dad through the most difficult struggle he ever faced, and in doing so, I finally found the dad/daughter relationship I always longed for. I was thrust into a role I never thought I’d have—I became his caregiver/primary health care advocate, and the more I settled into this role, the more fervidly I fought. My Dad also gave me durable power of attorney in his Advanced Directive and named me as Successor Trustee on his trust (two things that every adult on this planet should go create for themselves immediately), and while terrified at first (and then again many times after), I ended up wearing the titles proudly and lovingly. This has become the most important thing I’ve ever done.

Since August, my Dad had been in and out of the ER and hospital, and for the last month he was at a skilled nursing facility as well as on Hospice. I have learned more than I ever thought possible about life, death and everything in between, such as the failings of our healthcare system; the wonderful parts of the same system (yes, they actually exist); how you always need to be a respectful yet exceedingly squeaky wheel if you want anything done and especially when it’s literally a life or death matter; how you can change Hospice providers if you feel that something is not right (thank you, Buena Vista Hospice, from the very bottom of my heart for your compassion and wonderful help, I only wish I had hired you sooner); and that skilled nursing facilities in general are nightmares, though there are some absolutely wonderful nurses and staff members at every facility. I also learned how death defies all reason and understanding as it latches on to a person both slowly as well as extremely rapidly; how forgiveness, compassion, love, regret, anger, sorrow and joy can all exist in your brain simultaneously; and most importantly, I learned that I’m stronger and more proud of myself than I ever thought possible.

This experience has been as wonderful as it was terrible, and if you’ve lost a loved one, and especially if you’ve been there for the final steps of their journey, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The gratitude and love I now have for my Dad are absolutely amazing; I only regret that it took his death to bring us so close. The last conversation I had with him two weeks before he died will live forever in my head and in my heart. He lay on his bed in the nursing home while I kneeled next to him, we held hands while crying, and we told each other how thankful we were for each other, how we regretted letting life and our own pettiness keep us apart, that we were extremely proud of each other, and that we loved each other so very, very, very much.

A few days after that conversation, his cognition completely left him. A few days after that, he stopped eating. Then he stopped drinking. Then it became difficult to rouse him from sleep. Then he couldn’t form words anymore, and began moaning and gesturing to communicate. Then he slipped into unconsciousness, and remained that way for three more days. Then he was gone.

I’m writing this now, the week of Thanksgiving, to implore those who have difficult or stormy relationships in their lives to take a step back, breathe, then try to find ways of forgiving and finding love for the people you never thought you could or would be able to do that for. I hope that they can then do the same, as it takes both people to commit to truly plug in and push insecurities and ego aside to navigate an unsteady relationship. My objective in writing this is not to be preachy, but instead to be honest and open and share my own experience in hopes of affecting others for the better. I’ve been through a very difficult yet exceedingly rewarding experience, and I am so very grateful for everything I’ve learned. But I do regret not being open enough to learn it sooner, and I have a very heavy heart that I’ve lost my Dad and was only was able to bond with him and feel the purest feelings of love, protectiveness, and gratitude for him in the last months of his life.

Much love and appreciation this Thanksgiving, holiday season, and beyond to all friends and family, near and far.


— with Merv Kopp.


There’s a great deal of wisdom and empathy here. I’m proud of Liesel, and glad I once got to meet her dad at one of our shows. I also love the photo. It’s a beautiful photo — she’s leaning in to get every last bit of their relationship while she can, and he’s greatly amused by it. The photo tells its own story, as all great photos do. I told Liesel that I’m sorry for her loss, but glad that she can note her gain:  the best sort of final reckoning between a parent and child, one that allows a good transition for each. 


Yesterday was Thanksgiving, in some ways our most obdurate holiday, one in which it’s demanded that we give thanks on at least that day, even when we sometimes don’t want to, even when its founding is shrouded in ironic myth (that of the European-Americans serving a bountiful feast to the natives, when the probable actuality was the natives taking pity on the starving whites). And yet I found myself thinking about Liesel and her father, the wisdom she so obviously showed in taking advantage of the time she had to get what she wanted, and then in giving her father the best going-away present imaginable. And so I found myself  completely grateful for my family and friends who came over, for the wine and food and good times, for the dog who must be let in or out every 60 seconds and who must argue with every other dog on every walk, and for the hours and hours we spent laughing uproariously while eating and playing board games, just grateful for each other’s company. I reminded my wife before bed of my longstanding opinion that Thanksgiving is the dumbest holiday, one where we’re asked to eat too much to prove our good fortune, but then I added that this year it was indeed a feast, filling and satisfying in all ways. And that next year, I’d cook.


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