Written by Doctor G

Just do this.

Warning:  This is a downer.  And a call to action.  I’m hoping to make you think about something hard, and make you DO something.  If you aren’t up to it today, bookmark this for a future day.  Just don’t skip it entirely because I wouldn’t nag you like this if it wasn’t really, really important.

One of my best friends is in sales.  We started together in drama school a bunch of years ago, and (like a lot of my theater friends) when I gave up a great theater job to go to med school she was astounded.   And a little dismayed.  As one friend put it, “What are you doing?  Now it IS brain surgery!”  When my friend in sales gets a frantic call about a shipment that will be a day late, she invariably tells them, “You know what?  My good friend is a doctor.  When she has bad news, people die.  Is anyone going to die?”

Most days this story (and the various reactions she gets) makes me chuckle.  The truth is, though, she’s right.  More often than I’d like, I have to tell people that someone they love is dying.  As you might imagine, this causes a shift in focus and a fair amount of introspection.  I won’t bore you with my all of my grappling with mortality.

In truth, I’m grateful for the perspective this gives me.  I do actually get less upset by the small stuff than I used to.  But that isn’t all.  Here is where you come in.

Are you ready?

I don’t mean are you ready to die.  In my experience, very few people under the age of 85 are ready to die, and that is how it should be, I think.

I mean, have you done that stuff you ought to do just in case?

  1. Who will take care of your kids?  Do THEY know that?  Seriously, have you asked them to be your children’s guardians if you and your partner die?  Have you written it down in a legal document and given it to someone for safe keeping?  Don’t let your kids become the bone grandparents fight over in their grief.  Or leave them to be shuttled between homes for months while the family figures it out.  Try not to let siblings become separated.
  2. Do you have life insurance?  In the horrible event of your family having to go on without you, try not to leave them struggling to make the mortgage as well.
  3. Do you have a living will?  This has nothing to do with your stuff.  This is a document that guides your family if you are unconscious but not dead, about what you want them to do.  As a doctor I see far too many instances of families fighting and breaking down over old hurts and grudges when these decisions need to be made and it has never been discussed.

I KNOW this is awful.  Some people believe, down deep, that discussing this is tempting fate.  For some it seems too painful to contemplate.  Also, doing this does not guarantee that it won’t be necessary.

Since when do parents get to ignore something because it’s hard?

It’s not only the right thing to do, you’ll feel better when it’s done.

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6 thoughts on “Just do this.”

  1. I myself have a living will. we both have life insurance. what I CANNOT seem to get thru my husband’s head is how very important it is to have a will and plans for the kids. I was 28 when my mom died and it was still a huge pain that her will had nto been updated in fifteen years. can you imagine the morass of legality that will ensue if we both get run over by a bus tomorrow? sigh. suggestions? because repeated asking, discussing, reminding over ten years has not worked. can I do it myself? hmmm….i finally wrote up a document and put it with my important papers so there’s SOMETHING in writing but I am sure it’s not a legally binding document.

    1. I don’t spend a lot of time plugging companies but I did a little checking and I do have a suggestion. Let your husband know you are dealing with this issue this week. Give him a deadline (Mother’s Day?) to let you know if he has any opinions about the issues. Then go next Monday to Legal Zoom and spend about $80 to create your last will and testament. Since the stuff we’re worried about here assumes that your husband has also died, you don’t have to worry about his will. Or you could do one for him as well. Then put it in front of him for his signature. Fait accompli (done deal).

  2. How do you go about asking someone to be the guardian for your child? We have talked about it, and right now, we would like one of my cousins’ families to take her if it was, say, tomorrow that we both died, but my mom says that she and my dad would do it in a heartbeat. Someday, when she is more settled, my sister would be our first choice. It seems weird to ask someone who is either way too old to be a new parent all over again (like my parents) or not at all ready to be a parent (my sister who is just starting med school in the fall) to be the guardian, but also odd to tell my cousins that they are our first choice because at least she would grow up with siblings and young(ish) parents.

    1. Katy,
      It is OK – in fact I think it is crucial – to be very honest with anyone you would approach for guardianship of your kids. My husband and I made a list of requirements ourselves before we spoke to anyone – two parent home, our generation, our religion.

      You can speak to your cousins, in person if possible, and let them know that, at least for the next couple of years, you would like them to be in your will to take your children if you both die. They know (and it is ok to say) that your family situation may change. You could have more kids, your sister could alter her own situation such that you would ask her, you might make close friends in your own community. The way it stands now, though, you don’t want to leave such an important decision to chance. Please give your cousins time to think about their answer – do not let them answer the night you ask. If you can’t talk to them this openly, then they may not be the people to raise your kids. You will, after all, want them to be able to talk openly with your kids if they are needed.

      As for your mom, it is hard but fair to let her know that you depend on her to help your kids if they lose you and their other parent. That they will need her more than ever. And that you also know they will benefit from parents who are still in the kid zone.

      Hope this helps.

  3. New follower here 🙂 Hope you’ll follow me too: atpauley2011.blogspot.com I’m a new blogging mommy looking for mommies everywhere to learn from and share with. We can all use more Mommy friends 😉


  4. Not only the living will, but something called a medical power of attorney (also known as a healthcare proxy or surrogate) – someone who can serve as a decision maker for you when you can’t. A living will can sometimes be a little like a Chinese menu: “I’ll take one feeding tube, two antibiotics, and a transfusion.” Years in advance it’s hard to know what interventions will make sense for you. Even if you do a living will, pick someone you love, trust, and believe can hold it together well enough to make your medical decisions for you – IN THE WAY THAT YOU WOULD MAKE THEM YOURSELF IF YOU COULD. Make sure to talk to them about what you value – independence, conversation, being pain-free, whatever matters. And take the time to check out the website I’ve helped assemble (www.closure.org) for all sorts of resources to help you face this difficult topic.

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