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Sue's Views -- Living will is one of best gifts you can leave to loved ones

This past Saturday, I wanted nothing more than to call my Mom and ask for help. My son was having a birthday party and both my husband and I were at our wit's end trying to manage him and his three friends. If you have spent any time with 6th and 7th grade boys, you know that this is a much harder task than it sounds, even though we thought we had planned the activities accordingly. The problem was we forgot to factor in our own tolerance for noise and nonsense.

Here's what I know for sure: Bus drivers and teachers can't possibly be paid enough.

Anyway, we got through the day mostly unharmed and I'm quite sure that my mother is still having a hoot at my expense.

My Mom passed away almost 11 years ago. My son was barely old enough at that time to know who I was, much less a grandmother he had seen only a handful of times. But he is the child she wished on me, one day in my youth when I was being loud and nonsensical and working her last nerve just for fun. So I know she would have appreciated my exhaustion at the end of the day.

I'm thinking of my Mom again today.

April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day. In fact, 2008 is the inaugural celebration of this day, declared by the United States Senate, several state legislatures and other organizations.

National Healthcare Decisions Day is an initiative to encourage patients to express their wishes regarding healthcare through conversations and the completion of advance directives. NHDD is also working with providers and facilities to ensure that individual wishes are respected, whatever they may be.

While that may seem a bit morbid, my Mom was the poster child for living wills. She had one and she wanted you to know that. She used to end nearly every phone call with this reminder, "There's a copy of my living will in the steel box above the refrigerator."

Every year on her birthday, she'd read the instructions in her living will to me, just in case I had forgotten.

I thought every family talked about living wills and advance directives. Turns out, Mom was a bit different in that respect.

A new national survey indicates that Americans are more likely to talk with their children about drug use or sex than with a seriously ill parent about their end-of life wishes.

Nathan A. Kottkamp, chair of the National Healthcare Decision Day initiative said, "Americans have made such wonderful progress expanding the dialogue about drugs and sex with their children, yet we still struggle when it comes to talking about something that happens to every one of us - dying."

When the doctor visited with my family about my Mom's condition and the very dismal prognosis, he was cautious to bring up her living will. But the moment he said it, we all replied in unison, "Shut off the machines and let her die."

I think it surprised him that we all agreed on this. By even the most generous accounts, my siblings and I are a diverse and stubborn group of people not known to always agree with one another. But it really wasn't our decision whether or not to follow Mom's advance directives. She had already made the choice and the best we could do is honor her wishes.

Of course, it still hurts to have lost her. As I said, there are times when I want to pick up the phone and call, just to hear her laugh and tell me that I'm still her baby. (Don't tell the others, but I was her favorite.) Yet I take a lot of comfort in knowing that she died the way she wanted.

So, if you do not have an advance directive, please take the opportunity to write one today. The Minnesota Board on Aging has a form and instructions for filling it out at:

You can also visit with your attorney or contact your local hospital or hospice. This is not a complicated document. In fact, it's better if it's in plain language that your family can understand.

Of course, just doing the paperwork isn't enough here. Make sure you share your wishes with your family. Sure, it makes for an awkward conversation over brunch on Mother's Day, but that's still so much better than your leaving your loved ones speechless when the doctor asks the hard questions in the emergency room.