Jimmy Carter’s Final Chapter: Peanut Butter Ice Cream and His 99th Birthday | ET REALITY


Maybe it’s the peanut butter ice cream you still like. Or the fact that his first-place Atlanta Braves are approaching the playoffs and he wants to see another World Series. Or, as many of his loved ones and former advisors suggest, he may be too stubborn to follow everyone else’s schedule.

Whatever the reason, seven months after entering hospice care, Jimmy Carter is still going strong, thank you very much, and is actually approaching his 99th birthday in just over a week. While almost everyone, including his family, assumed the end was imminent when he abandoned full medical care last winter, the farmer-turned-president has once again defied expectations.

“At the beginning of this process we thought it was going to be in about five days,” Jason Carter, his grandson, said in an interview, recalling the former president’s decision to leave the hospital and receive palliative care at his home in Plains, Ga., last February. “I was there with him in the hospital and then I said goodbye. And then we thought that it would be in that week that it would come to an end. And it’s been seven months.”

Carter was already the oldest president in American history, but his staying power even in palliative care has captured the imagination of many admirers around the world. He has generated a long, unplanned but remarkably fond farewell for a president who was ousted from power by voters after a single term but transformed his legacy with decades of service that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the months since he returned to his small town to face his final fate, the flood of memories has been heartening for his family and friends. Instead of a memorial service that he was unable to attend, Carter has experienced a living eulogy, absorbing tributes from around the world. Family members and advisors say he is aware of what has been written and said, and is deeply grateful.

“He’s very happy to see his presidency and post-presidency reviewed,” said Paige Alexander, executive director of the Carter Center, the nonprofit institution that served as the foundation for his philanthropic work over the past four decades. “In many ways, that keeps him going, along with peanut butter ice cream.”

Carter has retired from the active life he led until recently. The usual calls with Mrs. Alexander are not so normal anymore. What animated him for so long were not the ins and outs of the daily news but the projects to which he dedicated his life, such as eradicating certain diseases from developing countries.

“I wasn’t asking about politics or economics,” Ms. Alexander recalled. “I just wanted to know what the Guinea worm count was.”

While Carter has good days and bad days, he hasn’t lost his insight or his sometimes cantankerous sense of humor. Ms. Alexander recalled a telephone conversation over the summer in which she mentioned her next big day.

“If I don’t talk to you before your birthday, happy birthday,” he recalled telling her.

“I’m going to be 99 years old,” he responded. “I’m not sure what’s happy about that.”

However, the Carter family, both those who are blood relatives and those who are part of their long-standing circle, are planning several celebrations to commemorate their minus-one century milestone on October 1.

The Carter Center is asking its supporters to send photos or videos which will be arranged in a digital mosaic. It gathered 6,000 in the first three days, from celebrities like Martin Sheen and Jeff Daniels, as well as ordinary people in Africa and around the world. Peter Gabriel led the audience in a round of “Happy birthday, Jimmy” at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.

The following night, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation presented its lifetime achievement award to Mr. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, and Ms. Alexander collected it on their behalf. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum will hold a naturalization oath ceremony for new U.S. citizens on his birthday. David Osborne, known as the “pianist to presidents,” will perform at Mr. Carter’s Maranatha Baptist Church.

Mr. Carter was not suffering from any particular ailment that prompted him to enter hospice care last February, according to people close to him, but he was tired of being in and out of the hospital and wanted to spend his final days at home with Ms. Sump. . Hospice is defined as care for terminally ill patients when the priority is not to provide additional treatment but to reduce pain and discomfort toward the end of life. It is intended for patients who are not expected to live more than six months.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Carter ignored that deadline. He has defied death longer than anyone who has served in the Oval Office. In 2015 he defeated cancer that had spread to his brain. In 2019, he recovered from several falls, including one that broke his hip. “He has faced what he thought was the end several times,” Jason Carter said.

Now he spends his days in the house where he and Mrs. Carter have lived since 1961, a two-bedroom, one-story house so simple that the Washington Post once estimated it was worth less than the Secret Service vehicles parked out front. His children and grandchildren take turns visiting them and he has a team of caregivers, but he hasn’t seen a doctor in more than six months. President Biden calls from time to time to check in.

“It’s a day-to-day thing,” said Kim Fuller, his niece. The children sometimes read news articles to him and he watches Braves games on television. “They yell at the TV and do everything you normally do when you watch baseball,” Ms. Fuller said.

Mr. Carter can no longer teach Sunday school at Maranatha as he did for so many years (the church website says almost optimistically that he will not teach “until further notice”), so Mrs. Fuller has taken over.

Her uncle watches her every Sunday live on Facebook. At first, she would offer criticism. “He would let me know if he had said anything that wasn’t the way it should be,” she said. “He doesn’t do it anymore. I kind of miss that. I would like him to do it.”

Mrs. Carter, the gracious former first lady who made mental health advocacy a cause while in the White House, announced in May that she had dementia, and the two are quietly spending days together, recently celebrating their 77th birthday. “She’s very happy,” Jason Carter said. “She’s reminiscing and remembering some of the great moments she’s had.” As Ms. Alexander said, “They continue to offer us lessons in dignity and grace.”

For Mrs. Carter’s 96th birthday last month, Mrs. Fuller said she organized a butterfly release at the house. Fuller said her uncle was aware of her upcoming birthday.

“He wants to get to 99, I know,” he said. “The last month has been different for him,” she added, but “I just pray every day that he makes it to 99.”

“It’s bittersweet,” he added. “We’ve all been on pins and needles since February. Every day is a celebration.” But as his uncle has proven time and time again for almost a century, no one will dictate anything to him. “He will do exactly what he wants to do when he wants to do it.”

For Carter, any birthday celebration will be celebrated at home, surrounded by family.

“He’s very limited physically and he’s coming to the end, there’s no doubt about that,” Jason Carter said. “I think he’s frustrated by that. But he is at home. He is together with his wife. They are in love. They are at peace and you don’t get more of that. You certainly don’t get more than they got in this life. And the ending is exactly how you would expect it to be.”

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