“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Psalms 34:18.
Brittany Maynard ended her life on November 1, by swallowing pills legally prescribed by a doctor. The pills guaranteed Brittany a death with dignity. The first time I saw her on an interview, I rushed to judgement. Who was she to decide to take her life and encourage others to do so as well? It was a cowardly decision. The desire to hold on to one’s dignity was to hold on to their pride.
I have since changed my mind for my sister chose a death without dignity. Her breast cancer has spread up her spine, neck, and all over her abdomen. It is hard under the skin like a rubber armor. The cancer has entered her kidneys, lungs, bones, female parts, liver, and brain. She has lost the use of her limbs, bowels, speech, and for the most part her thoughts. She grunts and moans, and uses uncontrolled hand gestures to tell you what she wants. Sometimes a word or sentence is forced out and her voice sounds like a 90 year old woman. She has no body fat. Her bottom is sunk in, as well as her cheeks and eye sockets. Her skeletal face cast a gray and yellow complexion. One of her eyes seems to bulge in a peculiar way through her half opened lids. She talks to people you can’t see, in a muffled tone you can’t understand.
When I came to see her recently, she yelled, “I can’t believe!” (you are here). I wanted to shout it back, for I shared the same sentiment, I couldn’t believe this was my sister. She leaned in when everyone left the room and laid her head on my shoulder, “I’m so sad,” she said. I wiped a tear from my cheek. “Me too sister… Me too.”
Today, my heart is so heavy I feel the weight of it in my fingers. She wouldn’t want anyone to see her this way. She worries her loved ones will think less of her.
Kim Williams-Standridge (KK) and I stayed with her over night, to give Thomas her husband a night off. She fought me when I tried to change her diaper, and said, “I hate this.” I hugged her, “I know you do, but I am so happy you are letting me help you, it makes me feel good.” Then, as if for me, she released her grip on her diaper. She apologized several times to KK and I, and we were struck by how she still worried about others more than herself.
If I close the story here, you will never see beyond the darkness into the light. Look past the shell of a girl dying in her lazy boy chair.
There are four close girlfriends from her church, in the midst of work, families and Christmas, who give of themselves tirelessly to meet any need. A friend who’s like a sister, puts aside her own broken heart only to pour it out into Tricia’s care. A cousin who buried two of her own children, finds joy each morning nurturing her sick cousin.
There are the stories from nurses who tell how Tricia has inspired them, for she had an unexplainable joy in the midst of a terrible disease. The shock her hospice nurses expressed when she came out of a coma fifteen minutes before her son came home from bootcamp.
I have witnessed a mother who saturates her daughter’s shirt with her tears, as she pleads with the Lord “please take her home.” Morning and night, a father leans his forehead against his daughter’s, as he fervently prays for God’s healing in whatever way it may come. There’s a brother, who still tries to make his sister laugh as he massages her head or moves her legs before work, but as he walks out the door his smile fades and he wipes his cheek.
I have witnessed the strength of a little girl. who sacrifices sleep to help her Dad change and care for her Momma all night, and still goes to school the next morning. Each afternoon she bounds through the door, “I’m home Momma. I love you,” she says, climbing on her lap. Some days there is only a grunt, but when Tricia says, “I love you too!” Peyton beams. “Did you hear that Tammy? Momma said she loves me. I haven’t heard that in a long time.”
There are burly sons who sit beside their Momma, and become gentle lambs as they hold her hand and speak softly to her, their eyes fill with tears.
There is a husband who honors his promise to love her in sickness and in health. Through his own brokenness, he meets her needs day in and out. Each time, Tricia hears his voice, she grunts and throws her arms in the air. He kisses her mouth and cheeks, and tells her, “You are so beautiful. How did you ever want to be with me?” Tricia smiles.
There is a sister who promises, “I love you. I’ll be back soon.” While Tricia throws her arms into the air. “Wait!” she says.
She hugs me tight. “I love you too!” She forces out of her slack mouth.
She wants all of us to know how much she loves us.
I’ve never been so proud. I tell her repeatedly, “I’m so proud of you.” It is like witnessing a miracle. I am a writer, (with all humbleness), but with that comes the responsibility of observation. I have seen the unconditional love of God through a death with no dignity.
In the case of Brittany, I don’t rush to judge her anymore, because a death with no dignity is painful, sorrowful, and slow, but it is also spiritual, humble, miraculous and loving. It takes courage and faith to endure it. My sister has given me this incredible gift, through her I have felt the most intense sorrow and agony, as well as joy and love. Instead of discrimination, I feel sorry for Brittany and her family now, for not allowing God to decide when it’s her time to go. I firmly believe there will be rewards in heaven awaiting my sister for humbling herself before the throne, and allowing God to decide her fate. She kept her heart beating for the possibility of a miracle, and I tell you there have been many… a smile, a word, a hug and kiss, a brush of her hand against a babies toes, hurting women who find joy in nurturing, nurses who feel inspired, a husband who still loves…
A death without dignity allows others to share God’s love, show compassion, and bring light into a dark world. It invites God to lean in close to those who are hurting, and feel His presence.
Tricia will finish this life and in the next stand before the throne without shame. God will tell her, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, for you gave much…you gave all.
II. Timothy 4:3-6
“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me- the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”