“I Am Dead”

Arleen’s finger was aimed straight out.

She held it somewhere around her cheek to emphasize her point.

“You know if you don’t do this, she will come back and haunt you every day of your life.”

We were in a waiting room at Horton Hospital in Middletown, N.Y., and my fiancée Carla had fallen into what doctors were telling us was an irreversible coma related to complications from Hepatitis C.

Arleen was talking to me and Carla’s son, Garth.

Arleen was Carla’s best friend.

And she was speaking the truth.

And Garth and I both knew it.

She was warning us to make the right choice about a decision that no one should have to confront: Should we sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, directing doctors NOT to take any extraordinary measures to keep Carla alive?

The decision legally fell to Garth as Carla’s next of kin, but we had teamed up and convinced ourselves that Carla would pull through and therefore we would not sign the DNR. We felt there was still hope.

Done with our little caucus, Garth and I returned to the waiting room and told Arleen of our decision.

And that’s when she warned us about keeping in mind Carla’s wishes. We knew in our bones that Carla would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially.

But here was the problem: Carla never filed any medical directives with explicit instructions about what to do in a circumstance like this.

Had such a document existed, it would have relieved Garth and me of the enormous burden of making that decision.

We ultimately told the doctors not to take any extraordinary measures, and Carla died a few days later.

As if grieving her loss was not overwhelming enough, I then discovered that Carla had no will! In the aftermath of her death, I tried the best I could to tie up the loose ends of her estate.

It was a heavy, heavy lift.

The experience left an indelible impression on me, and I set about right away to get my own medical directive organized as well as a will.

When I got married in 2010, my wife Meg and I talked often of the need to get our will done. We finally did and it was a HUGE relief.

I’ve gone even further and organized detailed information about all of my finances, my wishes for my funeral and a prewritten obituary and collected it all in a huge file labeled “I Am Dead.”

Meg and I recently reviewed it in detail, right down to the music I want to have played at my funeral. (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” cover by the late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole.)

We sat on the couch going over the file, playing that song and crying. The experience “drove a truck through the heart of my soul,” Meg said.

Yes it did, but I would not want my loved ones to go through what I did.

No one gets out of here alive. If you haven’t organized your will and/or your medical directives, do it now.

Do it for yourself.

Do it for your family.

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