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The Gift of Final Directives

When Barbara Bush family announced that they were not going to pursue further medical care, that was a gift to the nation. This past week Senator John McCain did the same. The benefits of treatment were simply no longer there. Both decided it was time. They also told the world, when they could have kept it private.

Bush and McCain faced different disease processes. In the end, both lead to the same place. Their final decision was that they be kept comfortable in their final hours, days or weeks. They both passed on, with family and friends, at home. For both their deaths came days after that announcement.

What both families were telling us is that they accepted the finality of what was coming. It was not easy, as family knew their lives were about to change. The person they love is getting ready to pass on. The day it comes is still shocking. You know that your loved one will not be there next birthday, or new year.

They gave a gift to the country. One that matters, but only if we are willing to take it. Have you had that conversation with your family? What do you wish your final days to be like? If you wish no “heroics,” Is it clear to them that you do not want to be connected to life support equipment in your last days? What about last ditch effort surgeries? And if this is the case, have you drawn a living will? No legal document means medical providers will do all they can to save your life, even when hopeless. This includes hooking you up to life support machines, when that was not what you wanted.

We had this conversation a few times over the years with my mother. She didn’t want any of those machines after she witnessed the torture that my grandmother underwent after an asthma attack in 1965. I never met my grandmother, but my mother’s memories of those last six or so months of my grandmother’s life, hooked to life support machines, were haunting.

When living wills first became a thing in the United States in the 1980s, she filled hers. That was the first of many times she reminded us what she wanted.

When she became sick with cancer she filled her final directive in Mexico. It was clear that she opted for palliative care. We followed her final wishes.

I cannot speak to the Bushes or the McCains. For us this was a gift. We knew what my mother wanted. It was clear as day. There were no discussions. When the time came, I was with my mother. It was a peaceful passing. And there was never a debate among her children and grand children that she wanted more done. We knew better and respected her wishes.

Both Barbara and John have given this final selfless gift to the nation. It is permission to speak of this. None of us will live forever. We will all pass from this mortal coil. We have choices, even at that final hour.

Hug your loved ones. Enjoy their presence in your life. But have that important conversation. And yes, fill up those legal documents and make sure to give your doctor a copy. It is best to do this when all of us are still healthy. But it is time to openly talk, even if as a culture we dare not talk about death.

Thank you both. Rest In Peace. And may your families find solace and peace.

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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