Magazine article The Human Life Review

Death Dignified by Christ

Magazine article The Human Life Review

Death Dignified by Christ

Article excerpt

He was a dignified man suffering all the embarrassing ways cheerful young women the age of his granddaughter deal with the body's failure as cancer begins shutting down the organs. Dying in a hospice, you lose all rights to modesty as you lose control of your body.

Few men could have found the indignities of those last few weeks more excruciating than did my father. But this was what dying of cancer is like, and my father, being the man he was, took it like a man. It was the hand he'd been dealt, and he was going to play it, as bad as it was.

Though he died five years ago, in bookstores I still find myself starting to buy a book I know he'll like, and thinking as I start to pull it off the shelf, "No, wait," or deciding to ask his opinion on a matter great and small, and thinking as I reach for my phone, "No, wait." The world has a hole in it and not one that will ever be filled in this life. On this octave of the feast of All Saints, I wanted to say something about what he taught me about dying.

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. …

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