Woody Allen on Life, Death and Advance Directives

Jan 15, 2013 | 0 comments

Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters

Woody Allen the hypochondriac in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Filmmaker, actor, writer and comedian Woody Allen wrote a brilliant opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times: Hypochondria – An Inside Look. His essay provides a great conversation starter on advance directives and end-of-life issues.

Allen insists he’s not a hypochondriac but an alarmist. He doesn’t experience imaginary maladies — his maladies are real. He explains:

What distinguishes my hysteria is that at the appearance of the mildest symptom, let’s say chapped lips, I instantly leap to the conclusion that the chapped lips indicate a brain tumor. Or maybe lung cancer. In one instance I thought it was Mad Cow.

The point is, I am always certain I’ve come down with something life threatening. It matters little that few people are ever found dead of chapped lips. Every minor ache or pain sends me to a doctor’s office in need of reassurance that my latest allergy will not require a heart transplant, or that I have misdiagnosed my hives and it’s not possible for a human being to contract elm blight.

Even though he is in great health and takes great care with vitamins, supplements and exercise, still, the fear lurks.

But what’s this obsession with personal vulnerability? When I panic over symptoms that require no more than an aspirin or a little calamine lotion, what is it I’m really frightened of? My best guess is dying. I have always had an animal fear of death, a fate I rank second only to having to sit through a rock concert. My wife tries to be consoling about mortality and assures me that death is a natural part of life, and that we all die sooner or later. Oddly this news, whispered into my ear at 3 a.m., causes me to leap screaming from the bed, snap on every light in the house and play my recording of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” at top volume till the sun comes up.

I sometimes imagine that death might be more tolerable if I passed away in my sleep, although the reality is, no form of dying is acceptable to me with the possible exception of being kicked to death by a pair of scantily clad cocktail waitresses.

The real fear, though, is experiencing a fate worse than death: a debilitating stroke, a coma (when he’s aware and can’t change the channel from Fox News), or being on life support and hearing relatives argue about pulling the plug. The worst is ending up a living vegetable.

This is a great humor-filled essay to help start those advance directive conversations with your family. Read the essay and start a conversation today!

A Good Goodbye