Christian Death

David Mills, over at First Things, has a great post up on dying.

Excerpt:

It is a great blessing to be with your father as he dies, though mercifully a blessing you will only enjoy once. I was sitting in his room at the hospice, my wife and children having run round the corner to get lunch, my mother having lunch with an old friend round another corner. He had, as far as we knew, weeks to live.

Listening to his labored breathing, suddenly I knew, I don’t know how, that he was breathing his last. I knelt by his head and said “Goodbye, dad.” He drew in a shorter, shallower breath than the others, and then stopped. The nurse came in, listened for a heartbeat, and I stood hoping I was wrong, that I’d missed something, till she shook her head.

At least, it is a great blessing to be with your father if he died the way mine did. He didn’t die with dignity, as those who promote “death with dignity” define it, which means, in essence, to die as if you weren’t dying.

It is not dignified to be dressed by cheerful young women the age of your granddaughter. It is not dignified to waste away, to lose the ability to speak, to eat, to drink. It is not dignified for your children and grandchildren to see you that way. It is not dignified to die when death takes you and not when you choose.

I see the appeal of “death with dignity” and programs like those offered in Oregon and the Netherlands, where doctors will help you leave this world at the moment of your choosing, without fuss or bother or pain. I do not want to die and I really do not want to die the way my father did. I would find the indignities as excruciating as he did, and I have no confidence I would deal with the pain as bravely as he. I would not want my children to see me so pathetic.

“Death with dignity” offers not only an escape from pain and humiliation, but a rational and apparently noble way to leave this life. All it requires is that you declare yourself God. Make yourself the lord of life and death, and you can do what you want. All you have to do, as a last, definitive act, is to do what you’ve been doing all your life, every time you sin: declare yourself, on the matter at hand, the final authority, the last judge, the one vote that counts.

But you are not God, and, the Christian believes, the decision of when to leave this life is not one he has delegated to you. To put it bluntly, he expects you to suffer if you are given suffering and to put up with indignities if you are given indignities. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. And that, as far as dying goes, is that.

This is not, from a worldly point of view, a comforting or comfortable teaching. It is one much easier for Christians to observe in theory than in practice. In practice, we will want to die “with dignity.”

This is what my father taught me: to die with dignity means to accept what God has given you and deal with it till the end. It means to play the hand God has dealt you, no matter how bad a hand it is, without folding. It means actually to live as if the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, and in either case blessed be the name of the Lord. Read More here.

About Susan Kehoe

I am the wife of a Catholic deacon living in Des Moines Iowa. My husband Larry was ordained in 2006. We have two children and five grandchildren.. Our daughter and her family live in Ireland, and our son and his family live in Franklin Massachusetts.
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