Sunday, March 27, 2005

Get It In Writing

As of this writing, I am a scant two days away from turning 34 years old. If we refuse to deal with exact fractions - I was never any good with those damn things, anyway - that puts me at a little over 1/3 of a century old. As I've refused to get emotional over my age, it remains little more that an abstract curiosity, but I'm chuckling at my teenage self who would have called me "old."

As of this writing, Terri Schiavo is at a little more than a week without her feeding tube. It's highly likely that she will die within the next few days, which will bring the frenzied legal hoopla and protesting to a close. I've refused to get emotional over that, either, (well, sort of), and it remains somewhat dreamlike in its sheer surreality, but I'm dreading the wall of sheer nonsense that's doubtlessly going to follow her passing.

What do these two things have in common? A harsh reminder that we are, as Rush was kind enough to point out, "only immortal for a limited time."

I was 26 in 1997. That's when I was less than one year married, and living in Athens, Ohio. Our plans of where we wanted to be by that point had not worked out, so I was working at Papa John's Pizza, which is about as hand-to-mouth as you get. And while we were focused on the future - trying to get CJ a job in her field, rather than typing checks for some company - our immediate concerns were just staying afloat.

Terri Schiavo was 26 in 1990. That's when she suffered a heart attack that put her into the condition she's in now. She may have had plans and concerns, but they were all taken from her in a single moment. And she's been staring at the ceiling ever since: no more good or bad career moves, no more anything - just someone turning her every so often to avoid bedsores.

I don't think I've put too much thought into what seriously bad things might happen to me. I've always believed, for one reason or another, that I can walk away from any accident, and bounce back from any disease or condition. Worrying about winding up brain dead - or in a "persistent vegetative state," as they call Mrs. Schiavo - is a foreign concept to me, kind of like worrying about waking up as a cockroach, or being kidnapped by hot dogs from outer space.

But it could happen. It could happen to me, it could happen to you. It could happen to anyone you know, whether they're in your family or outside of it, just like it happened to Terri Schiavo.

Terri probably thought she had the rest of her life to worry about these sorts of things, if she worried about them at all. But that's life for you: never certain, never predictable, and
very happy to take your plans and trample them underfoot like bull-runners at Pamplona.

In many ways, the Schiavo affair is a textbook case of what all could go wrong. If only she'd had the foresight to make out a living will, and take out other assurances, this whole affair of her "living" or dying probably wouldn't even be a byline in the local paper. Her parents might not have been happy about it, and may have brought legal action to try and stop it, but what could they really have done?

So if there's one thing that this mess has taught me - other than the perils of having Randall Terry as your "family spokesman" - it's that it's not enough to just tell
people you want this or that done. Not nearly enough.

They may forget, or might have other ideas.

They might not be sure what you'd want done under a slightly different circumstance.

One family member might disbelieve the one you told, or there could be a falling out once you're not up and around any more.

And, though we hate to say it, greed and apathy might force people to do things you wouldn't want done.

So don't take chances: get it in writing.

Talk it over with the ones you love, make plans for the worst case scenarios, and make sure all the i's are crossed and all the t's dotted... or something like that.

There's a fairly good article about it over at the Washington Post. I'd suggest reading it, and then discussing the matter with your family and/or your spouse.

It will cost time and money, and may have some headaches associated with it. But anything has to be better than the circus of stupidity and self-righteous bickering we've been "treated" to over the last couple weeks.

You, your family and your loved ones deserve peace of mind. You also deserve to be remembered for your life, rather than a nasty court case over your death.

Get it in writing. Do it today.


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