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Rona Barrett: Advance Care Directive Can Provide Peace, Comfort Toward the End

By Rona Barrett |

Woody Allen wrote, "Forever is a long time, especially toward the end."

"Toward the end" is what I write about today.

So many of my friends and co-workers in the entertainment business seem to wear a sheath of “live forever” invincibility. Perhaps it’s because so many of our careers are built on a high-grade, plutonium-like core of self-confidence — the sureness to gamble on oneself.

A friend of mine had this moxie. More than a friend, I called him my brother (and that’s how I will refer to him from now on). I had known him since I was a teenager. I became executor of his estate. He was in the entertainment industry and a multimillionaire.

But toward the end he lost everything — except his ability to carry out his last wishes.

He had been in and out of hospitals. In his final board and care, my brother fell out of bed and severely cracked his head.

Because he was in a coma state, the doctors had no other choice but to send him to a hospital for the severely injured who were dying.

One day he suddenly awakened and whispered, “Rona, let it happen. Just let it happen.”

I kissed him and said, “Everything is going to be OK.”

I immediately called his doctor and said, “He just told me he wants it over. No more treatment.”

This difficult decision was not made quickly, irrationally or based on the emotions of the moment.

In fact, the decision was made many years before, by my brother, based on his own philosophy and religious beliefs. He was of clear mind and took time to think through his final wishes, then detailed them in writing. In this case, my brother had specifically spelled out that he did not want to be sustained with any form of life support if it was clear that it would only prolong the inevitable.

The process of letting him go was gradual. Within four days, my brother for more than 50 years was gone.

I was able to respect his last wish to pass away with a degree of dignity for one simple reason: an advance medical directive.

He had a written document that told his doctors, family and friends how he wanted to be treated should he become physically or mentally unable to make informed decisions.

The California Hospital Association has a wonderful sample document available by clicking here.

In addition, Aging with Dignity’s “Five Wishes” is an easy-to-complete, step-by-step guide that walks you through the entire process of discussing, deciding on and documenting what goes into an advance care directive. More than 40 states, including California, recognize the results as a legal document.

Also, the Santa Barbara-based Alliance for Living and Dying Well has support resources you may find helpful, “especially toward the end.”

Completing a directive is as much for your loved ones as it is for yourself. By considering your options early, you avoid having your family making difficult decisions under duress.

It usually takes a bit of a scare before most people to do it. But please, don’t wait!

Until next time … keep thinking the good thoughts.

— In honor of her late father, entertainment journalist, author, senior activist and Santa Barbara County resident Rona Barrett is the driving force behind the Golden Inn & Village, the area’s first affordable senior living and care facility, scheduled to begin construction in early 2015. Contact her at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.


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