Living and Dying

How_to_Die_in_OregonThe last 24 hours have been an incredible time of conversation and learning for me. It’s times like this that I look at our technological culture and marvel at the opportunities for individuals to grow through all of the mediums and media outlets that we have. Like any tools, they can be used for benefit or for harm. The choice of which way to use them is up to each individual, but I choose them to be used for my benefit and learning.

Yesterday, I posted some of my thoughts about Brittany Maynard and her decision to “die with dignity” as the law in Oregon permits one to do (you can read the post here). After reading my post, a friend suggested that I watch the documentary “How To Die In Oregon.” Another friend and I engaged on the topic through messages and helped me to see how I could have better communicated what I had said. I was grateful for both recommendations and conversations and I set about to find the documentary and watch it.

It was heartbreaking, it plucked the emotional heart strings of the viewer, invoking all kinds of emotions within me. I think that the filmmaker did a fairly good job trying to be as objective about the subject matter as possible. While I think there might have been better examples that could have been used for both sides of the argument, that’s simply speculation. Real life examples are what they are and I would guess that, although the law allows this in Oregon, that everyone takes advantage of it or is willing to have their specific case highlighted in a documentary. The film primarily followed a middle aged woman who was dying of liver cancer. She had the prescription filled for the medicine that she would take to die but would only do it when she felt that the disease had progressed to unbearable. The film gives a window into her world, her life beyond the expected date given to her by doctors, and it ends with her taking the medicine and passing peacefully, the scene only seen by the viewer watching silhouettes through the curtains of an outside window like a stalker.

It was an educational piece to see others, and to be honest, it made me relive my own experience with my mom and her last days with cancer. Anyone who has traveled the road through cancer diagnosis and treatment knows the roller coaster ride that it can be. After the ups and downs of treatment and hope in a possible surgery, my mom elected treatment to simply extend her life a little longer and try to have as much quality of life as possible. Her last few months may not be easily defined as “quality” but we were all grateful to have had her. The week before she died, she was taken to the hospital because in taking the solution for her upcoming CT Scan, she got sick. That was her last hospital visit. She went home on a Thursday with hospice care and was gone the following Tuesday. What we experienced in those six days was something I would never wish upon anyone. While there were sweet and tender moments, from the moment my mom began receiving morphine, she was hardly responsive. I was grateful that her last days of suffering were cut short.

As I wade through this difficult topic of end of life issues, I am learning more and more every day. Let me share some of what I have learned:

– Much can be learned when we actually take time to listen to each other and express ourselves in a calm and collected manner. I had some great interactions with people yesterday who helped me to see again the importance of words and how they are used. I saw how saying one thing can easily be misconstrued if I am not careful. It helped a communicator like me think harder about how I can sharpen up my communication skills. I can never stop learning.

– Things are rarely as black and white as the extremes of an ideological vantage point would make you believe, especially when you are calling the shots based upon speculation or the experiences of others. When the experiences are your own, it seems that all bets are off and the blacks and whites of extremism tend to blur a little bit.

– Convictions are only as strong as the testing that they have experienced. Let’s face it, we can speculate all we want about how we would react in a particular situation but until we are actually in the midst of it, it’s hard to know just how we might react. Convictions are important, but even more important is the testing of those convictions. If you have established and developed strong convictions, I think that it’s important to test those convictions to see how they hold up under scrutiny and challenge. If you haven’t had your convictions tested and tried, expect them to be flimsy and fragile under the weight of uncertainty and trial. They will not hold up well. Trials and tests are the foundation upon which we can build our convictions.

– I learned that a friend of mine’s co-worker is Brittany Maynard’s husband. I was amazed at how God had put her in such close proximity to him. She asked me to pray for him and his family. I have been and will continue to do so. I do not envy the decision that he and his late wife felt like they had to make. I do not envy the experiences that they had to endure. My heart breaks when I think about what could have been with them, in much the same way that my heart breaks when I think about what could have been had my mom lived as well.

So, all that being said, let me share my convictions:

– I believe that every life is of value, whether it was planned or unplanned, whether it seems unvaluable or not. I have seen parents of severely disabled children take such care of them and demonstrate Christ’s love to me and everyone around them as they selflessly care for these who may be considered the “least of these.” I have heard the stories of these parents who have been told by doctors that the life of their child is not valuable. I believe that we are created in the image of God and the value of a life is not easily defined by what people can or cannot do or by a specific quality of life. Quality of life is a very subjective term that can change as easily with a person’s geographical or financial status as it can a person’s mental status.

– I believe that there is hope beyond death. I believe that there is a God who created us and who loves us. I believe that his son, Jesus, came to live, die, and rise again so that those who profess faith in him might experience that same life, death, and resurrection. I believe in a hope that extends beyond what I can see, feel, and even think. I believe that all of creation was impacted by the sin of humanity and that it is not operating as it was originally intended. We see but a glimpse of God’s glorious creation and its purposes, one day we will see it in full.

– I believe that end of life issues are important to talk about, to think about, to discuss, and even to debate. I don’t like to think about the need for anyone to suffer. I also don’t know what kind of a slippery slope we might be creating by beginning to “play God.” While I see the desire and intention of people to avoid the agony of a prolonged end for themselves and their loved ones, I know how strong the human will is and how powerfully it can surpass all expectations or predictions.

– I believe that God is sovereign and that the timing of everything is in his hands. That’s why I get concerned about taking it upon ourselves to mess with that timing. I trust that God’s timing is perfect, even when I don’t understand it or like it. I might not know why his timing is as it is, but I trust him and I trust his heart.

Over these last few days I have felt deeply for a family who I don’t know personally. As I said, I have felt that I have had to relive some of my own experiences as I’ve read and thought about theirs. I hope and pray that Brittany and her family have a hope beyond this life. I believe that they made a choice that seemed best to them. While I can’t say that I agree with that choice, I also know that my disagreement comes as an innocent bystander who is looking on rather than experiencing the pain, anguish, and hurt that they have had to endure. My heart aches for what might have been between Brittany and her family had she lived.

While you might not agree with me, I hope you can at least hear the things that I have learned and the things which I call convictions. My hope and prayer is that we can come together over issues similar to this one, regardless of which ideology we hold to, in order to better learn from each other, to love each other, and to sharpen our own convictions.

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