Monday, April 2, 2012

Let's Talk About the Unmentionable

     Words have power only as they elicit a response in those who are aware of them. They have no influence over events that are beyond human control, e.g. if someone is driving too fast, the passenger can control the car only to the extent his words can affect the driver.
     Most people realize this, but I am amazed that many, perhaps most, people refuse to discuss certain subjects. It's as if they were afraid that speaking about them would make them happen. It will not.
     In particular, discussing final incapacitating illness and death are subjects that most people shy away from, but these are exactly the subjects that people should talk about. It is not only unfair to expect a child, sibling or doctor to make life or death decisions with no knowledge of the patient's wishes – it is extremely irresponsible.
     The situation becomes especially acute when there is more than one possible decision-maker. For example, when the daughter who lives down the block decides that mom's illness has reached the point where she would want to be taken off life-support, and the son, who hasn't seen mom for fifteen years, flies in from California and says, “There is no way you are going to 'pull the plug' on dear old mom,” what is the doctor supposed to do?
     So please do your family a huge favor by sitting down while you are still rational, and commit decisions such as these to writing in the form of a Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney. This is a legal document which outlines at what point the it becomes effective, what procedures you do not want followed, and most importantly, who you want to make decisions for you, and the extent of his or her powers. In the event your directives go against the conscience of your physician, he can be legally ordered to find a doctor who will follow your instructions.
     To carry mom's situation one step further, suppose she finally dies. Now there are new questions: Would mom want cremation or burial? If burial, where? A big funeral or an intimate private one? What do we put in the obituary? Flowers or donations to charity? Organ donation? And many, many more.
     Unfortunately, there is no legal document to which you can commit your feelings on these matters. This does not preclude your preparing an informal document which answers these and other questions which you consider pertinent. It's a good idea to contact a local funeral director who will guide you through the maze of decisions which your loved ones will have to make immediately upon your death.
     At the very least, insist on having a discussion with all who might get involved in your final wishes.
     Oh yes, most important of all: Keep your will up-to-date.
     Take my word for it, as uncomfortable as it is to discuss these subjects, you will feel better after you have succeeded in handling them in the clear light of rationality. And you will be giving your family a wonderful last gift.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

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