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Live Long And Procrastinate

Like millions of Americans, during the Terri Schiavo tragedy, I saw how important it was for my wife and me to make certain arrangements in writing. I didn't want the government or strangers making these very personal decisions for us. And like millions of Americans, from the moment I made up my mind to do something about it, I did absolutely nothing. Until now.

Finally, last week, I got a Living Will/Durable Power of Attorney Form. It's not unusual to delay doing things that deal with the unpleasantness of death. We all know that we should have wills, but how many of us put off making one out? Similarly, we might joke about our future funerals. Maybe we don't want to be cremated because smoke always makes us sneeze. We kid about silly things we might want on our tombstone like, "Your shoe's untied," or "You Lose. It's My Turn To Pick Up The Check." But we don't want to talk seriously about "the arrangements." So, it's no surprise that I kept putting off thinking about and making some serious medical decisions.

One of the main purposes of the form is to designate the person you want to make life-and-death decisions for you if you're incapable of doing so. See? It's not exactly a fun form to fill out. The document states that your "agent" will be the person making the big decisions for you. This brought me to an abrupt halt. My show business experience with agents has taught me that they might not be the ideal people to decide these things. If a client isn't "hot," an agent treats him as if he were dead, and if he is hot, a good agent will still try to get him a job long after he's dead and buried.

But then I saw that "agent" was just the legal term for proxy or the person that you want to make these decisions. Obviously, this is a huge responsibility that you're giving someone. It's the ultimate in trust — even more so than letting them drive your new car.

For many years, my wife and I had somewhat different philosophies about all this. She's a realist. I'm a dreamer. I worried that the day after they pull the plug on me, they'll discover a cure for whatever I had. I read about people who were in comas for twenty years and then suddenly wake up one day, run a mile and come home and conjugate their French verbs. And I figure, why not me?

Recently, the more we've talked about things, our points of view have gotten closer together. But that doesn't really matter. Our living wills don't have to be the same. The beauty of these things is that you can customize them to your own personal feelings. If the only "heroic" or "extraordinary" means you want to keep you alive is a chocolate milkshake every day, you can write that in. As I went through the form, I saw that every contingency imaginable is provided for. It's one thing to think of procedures and treatments in the abstract, but here they're talking about you. Seeing all these possibilities in print made me want to put the document aside, but I persevered.

Those who make up these forms must know how difficult they can be to get through, so they even throw in a clause for comic relief. At least, that's the only reason I can think of for it. This provision states that if you name your spouse as the person to make these decisions and you get divorced, you can still have your ex-spouse be the one in charge. Yeah, right. That's exactly the person you want making life-and-death decisions for you. If you've had a bitter divorce, can't you just hear your angry ex saying something like, "He's got the sniffles? Pull the plug."

I made it through the entire form. Despite how uncomfortable it made me feel, I'm glad I hung in there. It's obviously the sensible, mature, and responsible thing to do. And now all I have to do is sign it — which I'm definitely going to do later today. Or tomorrow. Well, soon.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver