I’m terrified of dying. Straight up, I’m terrified of death. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been afraid of the grave. I don’t know what it must feel like to lose the ability to breathe, the function of sight, or to lose the ability to even move. It frightens me when I think of those things. What happens in our final thoughts as we let go of life? What happens as our bodies are no longer living things? Our Souls move on but it’s frightening to even think about what that looks like or feels like.
Perhaps, for me at least, it’s the fear of the unknown. It’s the fear of moving to something beyond this body, THIS body that I know, the senses that I understand with sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. I can comprehend the world around me with those things. But how do I comprehend what happens when I no longer have those things?
For me, it’s why I could never do what Brittany Maynard (link for Time Magazine’s story on Brittany) did in Oregon yesterday. After having been diagnosed with a terminally ill disease and given just months to live (and painful ones at that) she decided to take her life into her own hands. She decided to take her own life by assisted suicide with medications prescribed to her to make it painless. It was part of her die with dignity plan.
If you haven’t heard, read, and seen anything about this, I suggest watching the clip below to give you an idea about Brittany’s situation. It’ll catch you up to speed.
Truly, Brittany and her family were faced with incomprehensible decisions. I won’t pretend to even begin to understand what they had to go through. I won’t deny that I have no truly authentic thoughts that can display the amount of sadness I feel for her and her family. And I truly have no absolute answer on whether it was the right thing or not.
This area of assisted suicide has brought along with it much dispute on the natural order of things. And truly, I can’t express my area of “gray” on this area enough. I don’t know if I have final thoughts on this. I mean, because what about those who are left to live on artificial death beds. They are brain dead and still connected to tubes with the body still alive. The family is then left to decide whether to pull the plug or not. Sometimes miracles have happened. And sometimes they don’t. Who is to say which is the right answer? Who is to say how much suffering and pain is enough?
That’s what I guess this article is really about. How many people who have waited by the bedside of someone who was connected to these tubes has wished that person would wake up to tell them it was okay to let go? For me, this is what seems to be at the crutch. We either wait for God to cause miracles or we wait to let go.
Death is inescapable. And so many of us hope and wish to go peacefully in our sleep at a certain age that’s not too old nor too young. But how many people really experience that? And how often is it really painless? It’s really not the reality of a body failing to be alive anymore. The body failing is most likely a painful thing for most if not all. However, how many stories have we heard about those who make miraculous recoveries? How much of those stories do we place our faith in for our own family members? Do we hope that God will be good to us like that other family and miraculously heal them?
It’s hard to say when enough pain and suffering is enough. It’s hard to say when it’s time to let go. I’m not sure if we ever really know what the right answer is, either. However, I’m convinced that we should give a choice to those who are terminally ill on how they would like to go, if it’s even possible for them to choose.
Brittany had to make a difficult choice. She even moved to another state to make sure it could happen on her own terms. She made the choice that she wouldn’t suffer any longer than she had to suffer and wouldn’t have her family helplessly watch her deteriorate any longer than necessary. And so, she left on her own terms. She was able to say goodbye, and left with dignity.
But, I believe there is more to the story than where we end. With death comes new life. With those who pass, the new life has begun as they have entered into eternal rest. They have gone to what lies beyond the grave.
Then for those of us still left, we grieve. But our stories have a new life to them as well. Instead of asking, “why?” we can begin to ask “what now?” The person has left from us but always remains with us. Who they were leaves an imprint on our souls and will always be a part of who we are. Because of who they were in our lives, we are forever changed. And we can use that to make positive movements forward.
This doesn’t mean we don’t grieve or we don’t suffer and hurt from this great loss. But at least we have hope.
Yesterday was All Saints Sunday. At our church we remembered a number of names of those who have gone to join in the cloud of witnesses in the last year. We rung a bell after we spoke each name and took a moment of silence. This is, for many, a time in which grief can still be felt. Sometimes, just the memory of the loss of a loved one is too much to bear. But that is suffering and pain that we endure here. We also have the hope that one day, this suffering and pain will come to an end. One day, this life will be no more.
However, while we lay here on earth in this life, we must remember those who are suffering. How do we have the conversations about pain and suffering that are helpful not only to the families of those in the family but also the pain and suffering of those who are dying? How do we positively impact those conversations to help nurture love and grace to those who wrestle with the decisions of how long to suffer and how long to wait until we let go?
Truly, my heart grieves for those whose hearts are heavy today. May God warmly embrace you with the love and grace that surpasses and may it be felt through loved ones that surround you during this difficult time.