Jimmy Carter’s Long Goodbye

Practically no one ever thought he would be elected president in the first place. Or that he would forge a landmark treaty in the Middle East. Or that he would win the Nobel Peace Prize. Or that he would beat cancer.

But Jimmy Carter has been confounding expectations throughout a life that has lasted nearly a century. And so he is again now near the end.

Mr. Carter entered hospice care one year ago Sunday, choosing to forgo further life-prolonging treatment with the intent to return to his simple home in Plains, Ga., to pass his final days in comfort and peace. As it turns out, there have been more final days than he or anyone around him anticipated.

The former president’s long goodbye has defied the odds and absorbed many around the world who have spent the last 12 months honoring his memory even as he has refused to follow anyone else’s timetable. Hospice care is meant to ease the end for both patient and family, prescribed for those with less than six months to live. About half of those who enter hospice care last no more than 17 days. Just 6 percent are still alive a year later. Mr. Carter, the only president ever to live to age 99, seems destined to keep pushing the limits.

“He’s been a record-breaker for decades — the oldest-living president, the longest-married president,” said Jill Stuckey, a longtime friend from Plains who visits him regularly. “It’s always been on President Carter’s terms. That’s how he’s living, and that’s how he’s going to die.”

His endurance at the end may serve as a rejoinder to those who never recognized his tenacity. “Carter once told me that he thought the biggest misconception about him was that he is weak,” said Jonathan Alter, author of “His Very Best,” a biography of Mr. Carter. “He wasn’t, as either a person or a president. In truth, this slight man — called ‘Peewee’ as a boy — is a person of extraordinary toughness and grit.”

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