Please Make End-of-Life Plans Now

Lives seldom end as planned or on our own terms, so put your wishes and plans in place now.

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Early last month, Jane Brody, The New York Times personal health columnist, learned that her husband, Richard, was dying from late-stage lung cancer. Now, he is gone. After 43 years of marriage, having six weeks to say good-bye is the barest sliver of time, a relative finger-snap. Yet as Brody knows so well, and explained so touchingly in her column, that is the way of things.

[See The Best Mutual Funds for 2010.]  Brody joined The Times in 1965, and for most of the past 45 years, she simply has been the best journalist writing about health. Often, it seems in hindsight, she was the only journalist staffing a beat that has become so important. In today's world of dazzling medical technology, incredible life-extending drugs, and once unimagined cures for dreadful diseases, we need all the help we can get in understanding how to take better care of ourselves.

Through my adult life, when I have encountered a serious health problem for me or a family member, I regularly have looked to see if Jane Brody had written anything about it. I am sure countless other readers have done the same thing.

A recurring theme in her writing has, in fact, been the unpredictable nature of life's turns, and the need to plan now for future events. Urging readers to take the steps now to protect themselves in the future is an occupational illness for many journalists. So, we entreat you to create solid retirement nest eggs and retirement investment programs. Protect loved ones with insurance. Set up trusts to look after people in case something bad happens to you. Have a will. If you're fortunate enough to have amassed some wealth, craft a smart estate plan.

Behavioral economists lament how hard it is to get people to make a sacrifice today in exchange for a future benefit. Retirement accounts thus go unused or are underfunded. Investing in our personal health likewise suffers. It does take some sacrifice and pain to keep your body in good shape and to push away from the table.

[See Best Affordable Places to Retire.]

Last year, Brody put her great reporting and planning talents to work in a book called "Jane Brody's Guide to the Great Beyond." It includes insightful information and her solid good sense in helping people at the end of life -- either their life or the life of a spouse, parent, or other loved one. It was not lost on Brody in recent weeks that she had, in effect, joined other readers in following the advice laid out in her book. Here are some of the thoughts she shared in its preface: There are many, many circumstances over which we have no control, circumstances that can bring us unwillingly to the brink of life's end. I should say it like it really is -- to the brink of death. . . .

Preparing for the end of life goes far beyond willing your estate to those you love or signing an organ donor card or picking out a burial plot. . . . It involves knowing what to say, and how and when to say it. It involves doctors who do not abandon their patients once cure becomes a lost cause. It involves getting adequate treatment for pain and other debilitating symptoms that rob dying people of their dignity. And it involves knowing what to to -- and what not to do -- when death is imminent so that you or your loved ones can die in peace. I extend all my sympathies to Ms. Brody and her family. Please get her book. Take it to heart. Build solid plans for the emotional and challenging decisions that await all of us as we experience or witness the end of a life. "Because once you've taken care of the end of life," Brody writes, "you'll be in a far better position to fully enjoy the time you have left."

[See Older Donors and Recipients Aid Transplants.]