Friday, February 13, 2015

Reclaiming Valentine's Day

by Emily Riegel, MD

With all of the marketing and promotion of February 14th as the day of love, it's a hard day not to notice. When I walked into my local grocery store the day after Christmas and saw shiny red hearts hanging from the ceiling over the huge candy display, my first thought was “Seriously, I’m not even finished eating all the Christmas candy yet!” You can’t make it through a day without seeing some kind of reminder that you should love someone, and that someone should love you. Candy and cards and jewels and smartphones all costing money and seeming perhaps unoriginal and empty gestures of love.

What can we do to show that we really, truly care about the people we love ?

What if we gave gifts that are deeply personal, cannot be bought, cannot be sold, and could prove to be invaluable for our loved ones?

What if, instead of buying a card written by a stranger and mass produced to be sold to thousands of people, we wrote our own kind of Valentine?

What if we engage in a new kind of Valentine tradition?

What’s the new tradition? What could this amazing gift be, you ask?

It’s something super romantic, maybe even a little bit sexy.

It’s…wait for it…

An advance directive.

Maybe even Durable Power of Attorney paperwork.


Yep, it is THE gift everyone wants this Valentine’s Day.

Imagine it. You and your sweetie are sitting down at your favorite restaurant. The lights are low. The violinists are meandering about. You look into her eyes. You say, “You know that I love you more than I have every loved or will ever love anyone else in this world. You are my beloved. You are the person who knows me best.”

You step up from your chair and, at her side, you take to one knee, as you hold her hand in yours.

You look in her eyes. Time stands still as you say to her, “No one else could ever be so important in my life as you are. Darling, will you make me the happiest man on earth, and will you please be my durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions and let me talk to you about my wishes should I ever be incapable of making my own medical decisions?”

She begins crying as she takes your hands, and she declares, “Yes! Yes, with all my heart!”

The two of you embrace as the entire dining room, all eyes upon you and your love erupt into cheers and applause. The notary public steps forward as you sign your names to the forms. The violinist begins to play that Peter Gabriel song, as her soft lips find their way to yours and you kiss.


Isn’t that the most romantic thing you’ve ever read?

It’s true, I may have a warped sense of appropriate gifts, which my husband will attest to regarding the time I decided that Father's Day was the best day to find out how he would want me to make decisions for him if he were severely burned and was going to have to lose all his limbs in order to have even a minimal chance of survival…but I think I made up for it when I wrote this love letter for him.

In all seriousness, though, why don’t we start to use Valentine’s Day as a day when we take time to sit down with our families and loved ones who need to know our wishes, and talk to them about what matters to us in terms of quality of life and healthcare? If this is the day when we are supposed to partake in acts of love, why not give one of the most loving gifts out there?

This is not to take anything away from National Healthcare Decisions Day, but, QUICK, tell me what it is? Are you able to immediately remember what the date might be? Are all the stores you walk into decorated with reminders for NHDD? Is your kid’s class having a party on NHDD, which you forgot to make cookies for until midnight the night before? I’m just saying, it’s hard to remember things, and it’s hard to remember what happens on which days, so if we link these conversations and discussions to a day that we can’t really escape knowing about, we are more likely to remember to do it, to make it our own tradition.

Some suggest this be done at Thanksgiving, or during the holiday season when families are together and these discussions can be held face to face with the ones you love. That’s a great suggestion, but not all families are eager to do because they fear it might lead to the ruination of the one day of the damn year when we’re all together and we love it.

So what do you think? Are you with me? What if we reclaim Valentine’s Day and make it a day that transforms our relationships and shapes our futures? Will there one day be a line of Valentine’s that feature a DPOA form or an advance directive as the text?

If you want to transform Valentine’s Day, here are some resources and sources for inspiration:
Caring Conversations
The Conversation Project
Engage with Grace

Commenters, feel free to add your own favorite sources for getting the conversations started.

Also, feel free to write your versions of Valentine Greetings related to DPOA/Advance Directives, etc.

Emily Riegel, MD is a palliative care physician at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where she sees both children and adults. No one will believe her but she actually knows how to arrange flowers.

Photo Credit: Emily Riegel cc

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