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Talking about end-of-life decisions is no joke

As we mourn the loss of Joan Rivers, let’s use her death as a teachable moment.

The moment I read Joan Rivers was on life support, I knew the end of her life was near.

When I read this part of Melissa Rivers’ statement about the death of her mother, “She passed peacefully at 1:17pm surrounded by family and close friends,” I was sad yet happy to read Joan Rivers died on her own terms.

Joan Rivers didn’t fear death. As she said in the 2010 documentary about her life, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, what she feared most was a day in her calendar without any bookings. “I’ll show you fear,” she says as she points to blank page, “That’s fear.”

When my kids asked how she died, I answered honestly. I told them about what everyone read in the news — she stopped breathing during a medical procedure and machines were keeping her alive, but in the end she was taken off life support. I said that was most likely Joan Rivers’ wish — to not be kept alive in that way.

The death of Joan Rivers is a teachable moment for older kids about what a health proxy is, end-of-life decisions and the importance of having that discussion before it’s too late. A hard topic to discuss? For sure. But I feel strongly that this issue is brought up with kids old enough to understand what it means for their families.

If your kids are too young or for whatever reason you’re uncomfortable talking to them about advance health care directives, then talk about it with your spouse or whoever in your family may need to make decisions if you’re unable to make them for yourself.

I think about end-of-life decisions much like I do parents choosing a guardian for kids in case they can no longer care for them. No parent wants to think about even the slightest possibility happening that could leave their child an orphan, but it must be done. Otherwise, you are leaving your child’s life open to legal and family battles or your child being in the care of someone they don’t even know.

Parents need to think about the “what ifs” — what if something goes wrong like it did for Joan Rivers and you never talked to your family about your end-of-life wishes or made a living will? I don’t think any loved one should be faced with the decision about whether or not to pull the plug.

As we remember Joan Rivers’ life, let’s not forget the importance of discussing our wishes for death.

Read more

Joan Rivers outtakes
5 Things Joan Rivers wanted you to know about gay rights and suicide
Make end of life documents available

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