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September 15, 2006

The Will Not To Live

Blogs are supposed to be personal, and this entry is going to be more personal and a bit less political than usual. I just got back from my father’s funeral. I knew when I saw him last month at his 90th birthday celebration that it likely would be his last, and I’m glad to say he was happy and content. So when my brother-in-law called me on Sunday, September 3rd to tell me Dad was on life support, I wasn’t surprised. Within hours my wife Linda and daughter Adriane and I were on the road to Detroit, where he and my mother had moved to be in an assisted living center near my sister and her extended family.

We arrived the following morning. He had a Do Not Resuscitate order, but the family did not want to remove the breathing tube until Linda, Adriane and I could get there, allowing us the privilege of saying goodbye and, perhaps, allowing my father the opportunity to know his whole family was by his side.

I had steeled myself as best I could, but I was not prepared to see him wired up to the breathing machine and all the other high-tech gizmos. It was clear that my father had actually died the day before and was being kept “alive” only in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sense of the word. He didn’t want that, and nor did my sister. Understandably, my mother was split on the issue but she quickly realized that he was in pain and discomfort. After talking with the doctors, we decided to honor his wishes and have the breathing tube removed the following morning.

After he was taken off the machines, my father was able to summon what little energy he had left to communicate his awareness of our presence. His last act was to acknowledge my mother’s kiss on the forehead with a loving smile. Within six hours of removing him from the machines, he died. Dad had a long and strong life, and if he had one legacy, it was his complete and absolute loving devotion to my mother. He had a good, respectable and honorable life that spanned from World War One through the Depression and the Holocaust to Iraq War Two.

Here’s the point. The decision to live – and therefore not to live – is one only you can make. Not your family, not your doctors, not even your spiritual counselors and certainly not anybody else’s shamen or gurus. It’s yours and yours alone. It’s probably your only truly inalienable right.

But only if you let people know. Given the society in which we live – one where ladder makers have to put a notice on the top step warning you that you might fall – you’ve got to do so in writing. One way or another, and there are more than just two. Personally, I don’t want to go out looking like Uncle Creepy at the scuba gear shop, but if you think you’ve got the miracle card in your deck of life, go ahead and draw for it with my blessing.

But get it down in writing. It’ll take a lot of guilt off of your family and friends, and you will have taken charge of the last thing you can take charge of.

There are a ton of Living Will forms online, some free, some not. Laws differ from state to state, and there are a ton of sundry considerations that you should work out before you start filling in forms. Google “living will” but you first might want to get some background. You might want to start with this bit from the University of Buffalo: http://wings.buffalo.edu/faculty/research/bioethics/lwill.html

Posted by Mike Gold at September 15, 2006 04:34 PM

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My condolences on your loss. Though you knew his wishes, it was probably still a really dificult thing to do. I hope I have the strength to honor the wishes of my loved ones if the time comes when I need to make the decision. While I do not want any desperate measures taken for myself, I'm sure it will be hard to let go of those I care about.

I also absolutely agree on living wills and had mine done some time ago.

Posted by: Karen Boe at September 15, 2006 08:07 PM

My condolences. It's hard to lose a parent at any age. Please take care.

Posted by: Bill Mulligan at September 15, 2006 09:42 PM

My condolences for your loss.

You are right. Our lives are our own and having a living will may sound creepy but it is one of the best things we can do for our loved ones so that in a time of crises when we can't speak for ourselves, our wishes will still be know. Peter and I got our paperwork in order a month before I had Caroline so if something (g*d forbid) had gone wrong at least we knew what I would want.

Posted by: Kathleen David at September 17, 2006 02:17 PM

I'm sorry for your loss, Mike. Please accept my condolences.

Posted by: eclark1849 at September 17, 2006 04:16 PM

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