Advance healthcare directives: The ultimate gift of love

My father died suddenly and unexpectedly on March 6, 2008.  (We kids believe he had a heavenly hand in the Jayhawks winning the national championship the next month. His KU fandom knew no earthly bounds.)

Dad had suffered a massive stroke the night before. As we all gathered at the hospital, life support systems had already been put in place to keep his body alive so organs could be harvested when the inevitable time came. As my sisters and I comforted our mother in the ICU waiting room, my brother ran home to get “the folder.”

A little background:

  1. Our dad was always the organized type, a planner with an impeccable attention to detail.
  2. He was also a 50+ year Type 1 diabetic who received an award from Harvard’s Joslin Institute for surviving 50+ years past his diagnosis. Dad had been making yearly trips to Cambridge - an enthusiastic lab rat - so the brains at Harvard could learn why he had successfully managed his disease for so long.
  3. Every one of my dad’s immediate family – father, mother and brother – had died of strokes or stroke-related complications.

Thus, “the folder.”

Inside were Dad’s advance directives, every document my mother and hospital authorities needed to ensure this dreadful moment was unencumbered by legal red tape: living will, medical power of attorney, organ donation instructions (selected organs going to Harvard for research) and a non-legal (at the time) completed questionnaire describing in detail his last wishes in terms of his comfort and care.

My mother and father had talked about this day many times. It was undoubtedly a difficult conversation yet they were on the same page with each other’s plans and desires. But, that folder – all signed, notarized and legal – saved our family a lot of extra, unnecessary grief.

That was Dad’s final gift to us: peace of mind.

- Cathy Hamilton