A Farewell With Passion

By Michael Morton

“I feel like if I listen to this concert, then I will satisfy it all with no regrets,” she said from her bed at Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica hours before being driven to Manhattan to listen to Belgian Philippe Herreweghe conduct at Alice Tully Hall.

Dai, a Christian with a Bible on her bed stand, said of Bach, “His music almost equals my religion. I think I can understand God more than just the reading.”

A series of gestures large and small made it possible for Dai, who has a spine fractured from cancer and who has a very short time to live, to enjoy the concert.

First, a patient in the rehabilitation section of Margaret Tietz offered to loan his personal medical folding chair so that Dai could lie flat as she watched. Then the management at Alice Tully opened the hall early and secured a whole box for Dai, Tietz employee Ellie Kantor, and a nurse even though the performance of “St. Matthew Passion” was sold out.

And Hunter Ambulance of Inwood agreed to transport Dai and the nurse at a vastly reduced rate, while Century Car Service of Bayside transported Kantor and the chair for free.

“So many people were involved in this,” Spiegel said. “It shows the city is not such a bad place.”

Dai, who came from Shanghai to New York 10 years ago and who has breast, bone and liver cancer, had already bought tickets to the sold-out performance last March, back when she thought she had successfully fought off the breast cancer that first appeared in 2001.

But then Dai started having back pains and her doctors, who at first diagnosed the illness as rheumatoid arthritis, realized the cancer had metastasized to the bone. It was too late to treat and the cancer broke her back and spread to her bones and liver.

Dai, who said she can walk a little but cannot sit up, tried to give her orchestra seats to Kantor, 64, a Margaret Tietz employee who had quickly become her friend. But Kantor asked Dai if she did not still want to go herself and approached Linda Spiegel, the director of public affairs at Margaret Tietz, to see if something could be done.

“She performed a true miracle,” Kantor said of Spiegel's efforts.

Donations from the families of past patients allowed Margaret Tietz to use funds for Dai's outing, and gifts in Dai's name can be made by calling 718-298-7838. The hospice section of the facility is for terminally ill patients, and while the average length of stay is 10 days, Dai has been there more than a month. Kantor said Dai is in her final days, and she said she will miss the special relationship the two have.

“She's given me this appreciation for life,” said Kantor, a former national teacher of the year from Bayside. “I know a part of me will die when she dies.”

Kantor said the two bonded over Kantor's dog, Max, a mixed breed she brings in to visit patients and which sings or howls to entertain them.

Other than Kantor and Max, Dai receives visits from her friends but not her family, who she left back in Shanghai for a career in drawing for animated films and designing fabrics. Dai saw them last March, when she felt healthy, and said she does not want them to now see her ill.

A portrait of her mother sits in Dai's hospice room, near books about learning to play the piano and an electronic keyboard in the corner.

“I want to learn, but I don't know if I have the energy or ability to do it,” Dai said. Despite her illness, she said no regrets.

“A lot of things come to make me feel peaceful and the lucky one,” she said before being spirited away to an evening of Bach in Manhattan.

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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