To Die or Not to Die

IMG_0915_edited-1I slammed on the brakes as I detected motion out of the corner of my eye. My heart beat rapidly as I watched a deer cross my path and head into the woods on the opposite side of the street. Luckily, we both survived the scenario relatively unscathed aside from my sure spike in blood pressure.

I instinctively turned my head to see if any other creatures of the like followed. One lone deer stood in the distance riveted to its place. If deer thought in English, I feel with certainty it would have been thinking, “Holy Moses. Why in the world did he chance that? What an idiot.”

We are all created so differently. Even animals possess unique personalities that cause them to behave in different ways. Some of us seek adventure, others prefer the comfort of the familiar. One person’s joy can be another person’s pain.

Have you followed the story of Brittany Maynard? This young 29 year old woman was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. She moved to the state of Oregon where they have the Death with Dignity Act which enables terminally ill individuals to terminate their own lives through the use of medication. On Nov. 1st, Brittany chose to end her life by taking a lethal pill in order to spare her husband and mother the pain of watching her suffer a long and difficult death, and spare herself the agony of a failing body.

Interestingly, I found out about Brittany’s story from Ann Voskamp’s blog when she had a guest post by another blogger who wrote an open letter to Brittany. The author, Kara Tippetts, writes at Mundane Faithfulness. Kara is a mother of four in her thirties who also is dying of cancer. Her story started with an aggressive form of breast cancer, first thought taken care of, only to have the cancer spread to other parts of her body. Kara has chosen palliative care and trusts her doctors and nurses to gently and kindly see her through the dying process. While waiting for my mom to recover from her breast cancer surgery, I read Kara’s book The Hardest Peace. I highly recommend it, by the way. It is a truly poignant and heart wrenching memoir.

Two women. A story that intersects. Two choices.

I hesitate to express an opinion or cast judgment. Objectively, I can see the reasons both women have made very different choices.

First, I will say, though, that I feel like the Oregon act is somehow misnamed. To call it Death with Dignity insinuates that those who choose a natural death somehow lose dignity. Having stood beside my dad who passed away from complications with Parkinson’s I would say his death was anything but undignified. Yes, he may have progressively lost more and more functions of his body and been unable to care for himself, but he faced his last breath with fortitude, courage, and even hope. I think loss of true dignity is a choice.

Secondly, as an individual who has been a part of a difficult dying process, I understand the feeling of wanting to rescue your loved one from pain and discomfort. I so wanted to be able to fix things or make it easier for my dad. However, and I have no doubt this is not the experience for all, looking back there is something about those final days that are precious to me. My compassion grew. My respect for my dad grew. My life will forever be transformed as a result of walking through that valley. The shadow of death holds new meaning, but so do the comfort of the rod and staff as we read about in the 23rd Psalm. It is a humble privilege to serve those you love in their darkest moments.

I cannot accurately express my respect and appreciation for those working in palliative care. They were supportive, caring, understanding, and most importantly available. Without hospice, I don’t know what my dad’s last days would have been like.

It may be possible to cheat death in some places, but I wonder in what ways we may cheat ourselves or those we love in the process.

So, whether you are like the deer willing to make it across the road into the forest against poor odds, or you quietly wait in the background full of caution, realize your life has infinite value. All of our days are numbered. Let’s do our best to appreciate the today we have been given.

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One thought on “To Die or Not to Die

  1. Love your thoughts especially how you point out that dying a natural death is still dying with dignity. And while I understand that Brittany may have wanted to spare herself and others pain by ending her own life, I feel like there’s much to be learned in going and growing through pain. I can’t help but wonder if she took the easy way out. Yet, I’m sure in her mind, she rationalized it.

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