Sunday, December 24, 2023



I have previously posted O’Henry’s marvellous short story The The Gift of the Magi so I will not post it again. 

Instead, there is an updated version below.


Some preliminary comments:

As a lawyer, I need to discuss with clients making Appointments of Guardian the inclusion or otherwise of advance care directives, ie whether the person wishes to be kept alive artificially if they have terminal illness, will not have a rational existence etc.

In my mother’s final days, a specialist doctor outlined her condition, problems, prognoses, choices of treatment, consequences of each etc. Ultimately I said to her “She’s at the end of her time. Let her go and spare her sny pain.” The doctor replied “I was hoping you would say that.”

Later I said to my wife Kate, a former nursing sister, “Why don’t they just recommend that?” She said “They're not allowed to, some next of kin will do anything to keep the person alive, irrespective of what the person may be going through.”

I have never regretted my decision.


‘The Gift of the Magi’--Updated for High-Tech Era

By Larence Grey
Dec 25, 1994

(Lawrence Grey is a judge on the Fourth District Court of Appeals, Athens, Ohio)

Los Angeles Times

I don’t know if high students still read O. Henry short stories. Probably not. It’s too bad because O. Henry is one of the better writers and his Christmas story, “The Gift of the Magi,” one of his best.

It is a simple tale, about a young married couple deeply in love, but dirt poor. Between them, they have only two things they treasure. He has a beautiful pocket watch, and her pride and joy is her lovely blonde hair. With Christmas coming and no money to buy a gift for her husband, the woman cuts her hair and sells it to buy a fob for her husband’s watch, only to find--in an ironic twist that O. Henry was famous for--that he had sold the watch to buy a set of combs and brushes for her lovely hair.

That story is almost a hundred years old now, but I was reminded of it recently when I was doing some research on the law related to death and dying. A doctor told me a story about a man, a patient of his, that was almost as poignant.

This man grew up in the Depression, and when he was 14, his father died, leaving the family destitute. He dropped out of high school at 15 to help support his mother and younger siblings. He worked hard all his life and always had a second part-time job. Often he worked two full-time jobs.

He married, had three children and was able to buy a small house. He put all three children through college, and even paid for one to go to graduate school. Considering his lack of education and the fact that he never held a really good paying job, this was a remarkable life of sacrifice and hard work.

As the man grew old, he saw the doctor more frequently and the two became close. Life being what it is, the day came when the doctor had to have that terrible conversation with him--telling him that he had a terminal illness and he did not have much time left.

The man took the news with equanimity. He told the doctor he suspected as much; that his life had not been so good since his wife had died three years before, and that he was proud of his children and of what he had accomplished by his life of hard work. He could face death because he had accomplished most of his goals.

Then he told the doctor of one very important achievement. His father’s death and the resulting poverty convinced him that one of the most important things a man could do was to leave some money to his children. He confided in the doctor and said that, by saving and investing over the years, he had built a nest egg of almost $160,000 in CD’s and conservative mutual funds.

The doctor was in awe of the patience and discipline it would take for a working man like him to accumulate that much money. He had scrimped and saved, denied himself much, but was proud of being able to make this gift to his children. This was his final life’s goal--and he had met that.

The diagnosis was correct and not too long after he succumbed to the ravages of his disease and was hospitalized in the intensive care unit. His children rushed to his side. They insisted on everything that could be done for their father. And it was. He had all the tubes, the wires, the machines--the entire panoply of medical technology. Though the old man lapsed into a coma, one of them was always at his bedside. They loved that old man, and they knew how hard he had worked, how much he had done for them.

The doctor suggested there really was no hope and perhaps less invasive procedures should be followed. As gently as he could, he said they should consider having a “do not resuscitate” order put on his chart. They would not hear of it, would not consider anything that even hinted that this fight against death was futile.

After several weeks, in spite of everything that was done for him and to him, the man died. The hospital bill for his final illness came to just over $157,000. The man had sacrificed for a lifetime so he would be able to leave his children some money, because he loved them. They spent almost all of it in a few weeks in a vain attempt to avoid the inevitable--because they loved him.

This is “The Gift of the Magi” done in high tech.

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