Brittany Maynard is not a coward as some have said, she’s a terminally ill young girl who has chosen to die rather than to let nature take her out of this world in it’s own time.
I work with a lot of sick and dying people and although death can be, (but not always) a humiliating and painful process, there is a great deal of beauty to be found there, too. Those who take what can only be described as a more logical, rational, choice, deprive themselves of the entire dying process, coming to terms with the reality of their own mortality, having the opportunity to say long goodbyes to loved ones, that spiritual peace and understanding that sometimes comes over people towards the end.
I suppose it’s a bit like childbirth. We used to try and knock women out, to drug them up for what is obviously going to be an extremely difficult and painful thing, but over time we’ve learned, mostly from women themselves, that there is something to be said for honoring nature and the way we were designed. Some of us would like a bit of help with the discomfort there, but most of us also wish to remain conscious, able to experience the whole process.
Brittany is only 29 so when she speaks of death with dignity, I look back at my younger self and understand that she has not had time to learn that dignity is so highly over valued in this world. She has not had time to discover that human beings are often at their most beautiful when they have passed through the brokenness and arrived at a place of humility and surrender. There is triumph and victory to be found there, beauty to be reaped from the ashes of our own dignity.
Often people are concerned about being a burden to their family. I am rather displeased by the way Western culture has tried to insulate and protect people from the reality of death and dying. We have the best intentions, but sometimes what you try to hide away, closet off in nursing homes, hospitals, and funeral parlors, deprives people of something vital and important. Sometimes our imaginations fill in the blanks, creating ideas and images that are even worse than the reality.
Rather than being a burden, it has been a real blessing to spend time with the dying, to witness their process. I have memories that I will treasure for a lifetime, lessons I have learned, people I have met whose stories will live on in me.
Death itself doesn’t make me sad, but rather the fact that we perceive it as an inconvenience and the dying as a burden. In our quest for the preservation of human dignity, we seem to be dishonoring the very nature of our own existence.
To end with some gallows humor from the world of the dead and dying, I have a woman who must be a cat because she’s blown through about 8 lives. She “died” again not long ago, but the paramedics came and packed her off. I visited her in the hospital and she told me, “I died and went to heaven and there were really good looking men up there…dressed up like firemen!”
“No love,” I told her, “I think you had a stroke and that happened in your living room.”
“I don’t care where it happened,” she snapped, “I just want to know how I can make it happen again!”
Ah ha! Not even death can knock a good woman down.