HOLIDAY — Three times a week, for the last two and a half years, Stanley Lachut sat for dialysis. Because his kidneys were failing, doctors said, the treatment was the only thing keeping him alive.
But two Saturdays ago, Lachut, now age 88, decided he'd had enough. No more medication, no more dialysis. When his time was up, it was up. He wanted to die in his home.
Doctors said Lachut had a week to live, so he and his close friend, Horace Langston, began planning his last days. They spoke to a funeral director and sifted through his old mementos. They laid out what he would wear in the coffin: his trousers, his cummerbund, his cowboy boots and red Shriner's fez.
On Monday, Lachut's old bandmate, John Leventis, stopped by his home in Orangewood Village to deliver a tape of music they had played last year. Lachut and Leventis had in years past played for Sunshine Christian Homes and the Elfers Senior Center, using the band name the Mummers.
Lachut had told Leventis he wanted to send the recording to his only child, Bonnie, who calls him every day from Lampoc, Calif. But when he got there, Lachut, now on Day 9 without dialysis, had another idea.
"Stanley insisted I gather the guys," he said, "and play for one last time."
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The jam session began Thursday afternoon, Day 12. Lachut, Leventis, Jeff Butler and Jimmy Engue crowded into Lachut's living room, joined by three HPH Hospice employees who came for the show. Leventis started strumming his antique mandolin. Butler joined in with his acoustic guitar.
Lachut had been a farmer for most of his life, tending to 315 acres with his brother, Ervin, in his hometown of Dracut, Mass. But his life, he said, was music, and as it began to float throughout his small Holiday home, he reached into a canvas bag and pulled out a Comet harmonica.
Lachut yelled for Let's Have a Party, and Butler yelled it was in the key of G, and the men plunged into the music, with Lachut, one arm swollen from dialysis, clutching his harmonica at his lips. The men strummed, and Engue and the hospice women sang, and Langston held a Radio Shack recorder to the din for Bonnie. When the song began to fade off, Lachut yelled, "Don't stop the music," and Butler went back to strumming.
And so it continued, past Amazing Grace in the key of G, and My Melody of Love, and I Wish I Was 18 Again, with Lachut punching into the air, belting, "old folks and old oaks, standing tall, just pretend."
The singing was beginning to wear on his voice, which was raspy and cut with coughs. The hospice workers asked whether he needed a breath of oxygen, but Lachut waved it away. He had "more energy than ever," he said.
"I've been through a lot in my life," Lachut said. "But the last two weeks of my life have been the happiest of my life, having all you people here."
"Okay," said Leventis, 80, as he tuned his strings for the next song. "Are we going to drink some beer now?"
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Near the end of the session, as Langston brought the hospice women cans of ginger ale, Lachut raised a cordial glass of apricot brandy.
"Good luck, everyone," he cheered. He lifted the glass to his lips. "I don't drink alone."
He tilted the glass, took a sip and sat back into his La-Z-Boy. The room was quieter now, though his harmonicas were still at his side.
"Oh, boy. That burns a little," he said with a laugh. "But now I can sing twice as good."
Contact Drew Harwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.