I think a lot of fans have been upset this season with the Winchester brothers' fundamental failure to communicate; I know it's been bothering me. Their relationship is broken on basic levels. We all know it needs to be healed – but HOW?
I was in the shower when it hit me: what the brothers really need is a tool to force them to face and work through the hard questions together. To my mind, the perfect one would be a family discussion guide to what they each want when it comes down to their end-of-life and catastrophic health care choices, both to define their individual desires and to codify their respect for each other's decisions.
Real World Stuff
Before I get into this in fun and fictional terms, let me be absolutely serious for a moment.
If you haven't already done this, every single one of you out there in the real world should have this conversation with everyone you love. IT MATTERS. At least in the USA, most families don't sit down to do this (unless they live in LaCrosse, WI, which is apparently the world capitol for advance directives http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/03/05/286126451/living-wills-are-the-talk-of-the-town-in-la-crosse-wis) because people tend to avoid talking openly about death and crippling injury. It makes most people uncomfortable, as if we fear that by naming the demon, we're going to summon it.
But you know something? We're ALL going to die. A fair number of us are going to confront temporary or permanent life-changing illnesses or injuries somewhere along the way. And we'd all be happier if we knew we'd live or die on our own terms, with our own desires observed by society and the people we love. Trust me, the absolute WORST time to confront these issues for the first time is when someone we love lies unconscious and unable to express their own wishes. And talking about it WON'T make it happen, for crying out loud! There's a huge difference between coincidence and causality.
So DO it. Think about what you really want from and in your life. Talk about it with the people who'd be called upon to act on your behalf if you couldn't. Put it in writing. That's what an advance directive, “living will,” or medical or health care power of attorney (POA) is all about. And without one, you're at the mercy of “the system” and whatever OTHER people think you would (or worse, SHOULD) want.
Here are some practical tools to use if you're thinking of or ready to have this conversation. Please, take a look at them and use them. They can help. I'm speaking from experience, here.
Caring Connections: http://www.caringinfo.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3407
MedLine Plus: US National Library of Medicine: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/advancedirectives.html
Now, let's go play with the Winchesters.
Where You Stand Determines What You See
To my mind, Sam is justifiably upset with Dean for having usurped Sam's control over his own life by tricking dying Sam into saying “yes” to unwitting healing possession by an angel – who then turned out to be duplicitous, murderous Gadreel, not upright Ezekiel. Dean dug himself in even further by facilitating Sam's double possession by Crowley to help evict Gadreel. At the same time, however, I think Dean has been deeply hurt by seeing Sam discount his motives as being purely selfish ones – Dean's pathological need not to be alone, rather than any genuine love or caring for Sam – and hearing Sam insist on their continued relationship being a purely business one, with no recognition of family bonds or love. They're at loggerheads because they're both approaching the situation from diametrically opposed positions with limited or no perception of the other's critical viewpoint. Still, despite Sam's dispassionate statements, his emotional responses every time Dean has been in danger have demonstrated that his deep love for his big brother is still very much there. And for all of Dean's current distance and frustration, not to mention the confounding effects of the Mark of Cain on his mental state, his commitment to preserving Sam's life remains unchanged.
So, let's look at what's underlying each of the brothers' motivations here.
I think choice is an even bigger issue for Sam than it is for most of us precisely because he's been deprived of it totally all too many times. I'm not talking about all the bad choices he himself has made in difficult circumstances – and he's made many, as witness, for example, how he followed Ruby's deceptive enticements unwittingly to free Lucifer – but about things that have been done to him without his knowledge or consent. Azazel bled into Sam's mouth when he was only six months old, and that infusion of demon blood led directly to Sam's development of psychic abilities; to him (and the other psychic kids) being drafted into a winner-lose-all combat; and to his body having been designed and prepared to become the perfect vessel for Lucifer. Sam didn't ask to come back to life after Jake killed him in All Hell Breaks Loose; Dean made that decision for him despite knowing how wrong and angry he himself had felt when John had done the same to him. Meg took over and possessed Sam in Born Under A Bad Sign and used his body to murder another hunter and then shoot and torture Dean; Sam couldn't resist or evict her. Castiel erred badly when he unwittingly brought Sam back from Hell without his soul at the very end of Swan Song; Dean was the one who contracted with Death to force Sam's abused, tormented soul back into his body in Appointment In Samarra despite soulless Sam's desperate, terrified attempts to resist. Sam had no choice in any of those things; he was used, plain and simple. Is it any wonder that Sam is extremely sensitive to things that override his own will and ability to choose?
By contrast, I would submit Dean has been the show's poster boy for self-determination, choice, and free will. Yes, he's been given incredibly hard, bitter, and seemingly foreordained, irresistible choices, but most of them – good and bad – have indeed been his to make and live with. For example, Dean chose to obey John, chose to sell his own soul to reclaim Sam's life, chose to get off the rack in Hell by torturing others, and chose to deny Michael. He also has a long history of imposing his will on others – not just Sam – by claiming for himself the burden of making decisions that took choices (especially potential sacrifices) away from them; remember Dean having Castiel erase Lisa's and Ben's memories of him in Let It Bleed, for example, or trying to force Castiel into escaping Purgatory with him. I can think of only two circumstances where Dean himself actually and absolutely lost agency: when he was briefly possessed by Eve's Khan-worm in And Then There Were None and murdered Gwen, and when he and Sam were both possessed by the Wicked Witch in Slumber Party. Both of those instances were brief and isolated, however, and because of that, I think Dean isn't emotionally equipped to understand just how thoroughly violated Sam actually feels by having the right to choose and act for himself taken away from him.
I think Sam similarly is unable to fully appreciate how Dean feels. Intellectually, he may understand that, given John's obsession and frequent absences, Dean was as much a father as a brother to him, but I don't think he understands viscerally just how much of Dean's commitment to him stems from the reality that Dean was effectively a parent with Sam having been his child and obligation. Because of that, Dean will always see their proper roles as involving Sam surviving him; no parent ever wants to imagine their child dying before them. It's not just an older brother/younger brother thing: emotionally, it's also a parent/child one. Their situation is thoroughly messed up, and that won't change even with understanding on their part; still, understanding is necessary for them to be able to move on and function effectively as brothers and equals.
Somehow, Sam and Dean need to be forced to confront their self-determination issues and talk them through together. That is emphatically not a guy or a Winchester thing, however, so I'm betting it will take them being trapped, imprisoned, or infected by something obsessed with truth to bring them to the talk. That, or a really long, unbroken drive in the Impala.
However, having gone through advance directives thought sessions, questionnaires, and family discussion sessions myself, I couldn't help but imagine Sam and Dean doing the same. What follows is a bit of meta and psychological silliness. I hope you enjoy it.
Advance Directives, Winchester Style
Writing this down is a stupid idea.
Doesn't matter. We agreed. Okay; first up. Organ or tissue donation.
No goddamn way! Don't you remember the chick with her sister's haunted liver? Or the Aztec god thing? Hunter's funeral, man: salt and burn. No shortcuts this time, for either of us. Right?
Umm – right. It was a kidney and the god was Mayan, but – never mind. Yeah. Okay. Call it religious reasons: no organ donations, no graves. Cremation. Plus salt. Promise. Next up: feeding tubes.
That's it? Just – no?
Not if it's long term. Hey, look: I got no problems with critical care stuff. I mean, hell: how often have we wound up shot or crashed or clawed and needing a hospital, not just each other? That's okay. I mean, ordinary extraordinary medical stuff is okay when it's necessary. But long term? No way. If I've gotta have machines to keep me alive, that's not being alive. Not if I'm not gonna recover. Just pull the god-damned plug already.
O-kay. Got that. So – that the same for dialysis or breathing machines?
What the hell do you think?
Dialysis doesn't necessarily need to be every day …
Shit. Details. Okay, look, here's the thing. If I can move, then … maybe … okay. But if I'm brain-dead, screw it – if I'm not there, I don't want my body to be either.
What if you'd be in a wheelchair? Missing limbs, paralyzed, blind, deaf, something like that?
How morbid can you get? Look – so long as I can move some, think, and talk, I'm okay with that.
Really? Hey, man – just … not what I expected you'd say.
Yeah, well … I'd probably have said different, years back. But after Bobby … well, hell. If the old man could find ways to fight from a wheelchair, I've gotta think I could do it too. And Pamela didn't give up when she went blind, either. And we're not just hunters anymore, right? We're legacies. Men of Letters, huh? More than one way to fight back.
Okay. What about resuscitation? You know, if your heart or breathing stops?
Like the machine shit. Short term stuff, the critical care thing? Yeah, all right, fine. If I've got a chance of recovering – a real chance, not some wishing crap – go for it. I don't wanna die.
Sure about that?
Screw you! Are YOU? Don't pull that shit, man. We're not talking about suicide here, okay? That's not in this. And it's not funny, either.
Fair enough. What else?
All the stuff that's not in that stupid guide. First off, no deals! No selling your soul at a crossroads to bring me back.
Like you did for me?
How long are you going to blame me for that? Shit. Yeah. I mean, no. And no monsters. Nothing non-human. No vampires, werewolves, skinwalkers. No witches. No reapers. No freaking magic. No Doc Benton-Frankenstein science shit, either.
Okay. My turn. No possession, not by anything. Demons, angels, witches, reapers, God, you – I don't care. None of that. And no deals for me, either.
Man, it's my soul …
NO! Not if you give it up for me. You want to sell it yourself for a few more of your own years, that's your own stupid affair – but leave me out of it. You sell it for ME, you've crossed the line: you don't have the right to make decisions like that for me! That's what this thing is all about.
And if I'm trapped and tell you to run?
Then I'll be conscious and able to make my own damned decision, won't I? You can order me to do whatever you want – I don't have to obey you. It's MY life, dammit!
Yeah, well – back at you! You don't get to die for me!
Then don't get stupid!
So – are we done?
Almost. If – something happens – who do you want acting for you?
Stupid question. You're my brother. Unless – are you going to say we're not family again? 'Cause that's a lame way to get out of doing your job. And you're going to promise to do what I want, right?
I'm older. Which means I'm right.
Oh, grow up! And screw you!
And I guess – if we're both screwed, I'd want Garth to be the one. You?
I – yeah. I guess. He may be a werewolf, but he's still – Garth. And if we're both – gone – maybe … the bunker should go to Aaron Bass. You know – the Judah Initiative?
The boy and his golem. Heh. Yeah. That might be okay. Unless Charlie comes back from Oz; she's got first dibs.
They'd get along.
Yeah, they would. I'm good with that.
So am I. So – print off the forms?
Be the first time we've actually done a really legal thing, huh?
I suppose. Under Kansas law, we'll need to have our signatures witnessed either by a notary public or by two witnesses who aren't involved in it at all. Then send copies to Garth. And keep each other's. Put a set in the Impala's glove box, I guess, so they're handy when we need 'em.
Wait: we need witnesses? But you wrote down the supernatural stuff!
Chill out: I didn't put all our personal contract details in the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care one. That's the official one a hospital will care about. And they're only witnessing our signatures, anyway; they don't get to read the whole document. The bunker stuff won't be included. I'll do a separate package to get that delivered – afterward.
I guess that'll work …
I studied this stuff, remember?
Yeah. Long time ago. Guess you are the family lawyer after all.
And you never thought it would come in handy!
So – sometimes, I'm wrong.
… Never thought I'd hear you say that.
You're wrong more often!
(And so it continues … Fill in the rest yourselves!)