Dying naturally is NOT undignified: What we can learn from Brittany Maynard

This is one of those blog posts where I’ve written the first sentence about thirteen different times and I’ve deleted it just as many times. Here goes sentence number fourteen.

I think it’s because deep down inside I dread talking about something that bothers me, even when the rest of the country stands as advocates. I sometimes worry about hurting families or saying something that will be misconstrued as, “Well, that blogger is insensitive.”

Because, in all honesty, this is a sensitive subject. In all honesty, it broke my heart just as much as those who agreed with her decision. Brittany Maynard has been the topic of debate for some time, and just last weekend she decided to go through with her decision to take her own life after she was given the grim diagnosis of a rare form of brain cancer. Death would be slow and painful, doctors said, so she packed up and moved to Oregon and decided to use the “Death with Dignity” law.

brittanymaynard

Her story is a painful one. And it brings me back to just last year. Around this time last year my Dad had just begun hospice. His diagnosis was just as grim as Brittany’s. I will never EVER forget the sound of his voice. The way it had changed. The coolness of his veiny hands and the sunken dips of his eyes. I won’t forget the doctors telling us it would be slow and painful. And I won’t forget dad nodding as they said it, telling us with confidence that’d it all be ok.

Towards the end, just like Brittany feared with her own death, my Dad lost touch of the world. The things we saw and the way we’d muffle our tears as we assured him we were close was anything BUT the character of my Dad. But even then–my Dad was never undignified.

And that’s what brings me to the point of why I’m writing. “Death with Dignity” implies that dying by the hand of cancer or another fatal disease lacks honor. It implies that people like my dad–who get to the point where clothes bother them and memories of fishing when they were twelve become “reality” and their children do what they can to clean up the mess in the bed sheets–suddenly rid themselves of the dignity they once had. And that infuriates me. Death is not undignified. And neither is suffering.

hospital bed with dad

I sometimes lay awake at night thinking of the fear that my Dad must have had during those moments when we were asleep around his bed but he just watched the hands of a dying clock. I can’t imagine the finality he must’ve felt. The terror of what it might feel like when his heart decides to stop. And with Brittany, I can’t imagine it either. It’s a subject that I’ll never grasp unless it’s my turn.

But even still. There are thousands–millions–of people who live out each second every day. Millions of people who suffer and still thank God for every day that they wake up and see the faces of their children. There are countless souls who get handed a fate that would make anyone’s heart weak, but they face it with dignity and grace. Not one of them is undignified. Not for a second.

kissy

I feel uncomfortable saying that Brittany chose wrong. Even though my religious background and my discomfort with “suicide worship” makes me want to say that, I sift through the pictures of this beautiful girl and can’t help but swallow my blunt opinion because I realize that it wasn’t an easy decision. And I realize that her family is hurting. Her husband is a widower. Her travel plans are no more. And that is enough to keep me quiet about her particular case and whether she chose right or wrong, regardless of everything.

But within a country that cries out for everything to be on our own terms, I can’t help but stand apart. It’s my body we hear during abortion debates …it’s my own life to take we hear with Death with Dignity…it’s my life to live and my choice who I love we hear with civil rights cases. And despite my opinions on any of these things, I can’t help but notice a common thread. We want to take the reins. We’re tired of life–or God for that matter–dictating what happens to us or what turns in the road will be up ahead. We want to set the terms. We want our dignity.

death with dignity

And I feel like we’re forgetting where true dignity comes from. Dignity isn’t maintaining a beautiful face and living a life free of pain and free of shame. Dignity is trudging through the muck of life, dirt smeared on your face and sins heaped like piles at your feet, and still carrying on and looking up. Dignity is facing it all head on and deciding it’s still a beautiful life. It’s still worth living. Dignity is having the respect for yourself, and for others, that it takes to carry on despite the fear or the embarrassment or the lack of control.

And looking back, seeing my Dad’s blue eyes shoot up to the corner of the ceiling as he took his final breath, I can say without a doubt that I’ve never seen a man with more dignity.

Life is hard. Cancer sucks. Mourning is—well, there might not be a word to describe it. But we face it every day because that’s what we’re here to do. The Savior never said it’d be easy. In fact, he felt it all for us long before we were here and he bled and cried and begged for relief. We are not exempt.

I pray for Brittany’s family and I have cried over her story. Such a beautiful girl with a trial that would overwhelm anyone. I pray for comfort and love and peace in that home.

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But I also pray for our country–and for our world even–to reevaluate.

In the moments beyond our control we learn about endurance. Love. Bravery in the face of fear. And faith. We learn that death is a moment beyond our choosing, but the eternity afterwards has everything to do with what we choose while we’re here.

That choice is a life well lived.

That choice is dignified.

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What the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge really says about you

As I write this, I’m assuming that you know exactly what the ice bucket challenge for ALS is. If you don’t, then–well, you may or may not be living under a rock. *Not to judge, or anything*. But if you’re of the majority and have either had your newsfeed choked with videos of drenched facebook friends or you’ve taken part in it yourself, you’ve also probably heard the debates.

The challenge, some argue, wastes valuable water that people in Africa are literally dying to drink. Hmm. It doesn’t make sense to me because the same people who are saying that are also going to waterparks where tons of water on a daily basis is splashing on to concrete and serving little purpose. These same people also run through the sprinklers in the summer time, keep the water running as they brush, and take too-long of showers. So that argument just doesn’t do it for me.

AP ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE A FEA USA KS

Then there’s the side that aruges the challenge is dangerous. Some people have gotten hurt while taking the challenge and some buckets have fallen on some heads. Well–I’m not going to touch that one.

The argument though that has gained the most momentum has even gained the attention of the media. The ALS challenge is a fraud, some are saying. The money is landing in the wrong hands. And that was almost enough to sway me.

But then I met Donna.

And she had the best argument yet–if you could call it that.

Donna was a client of mine at work yesterday, and I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with a heavier heart. Her husband is dying, I learned. And he only has a couple more weeks left, at best.

ALS is killing him. “Have you heard of it?” she instantly asked.

And just like a social media dweeb I mentioned the ice bucket challenge and I immediately regretted it. Why would she care about the nation pouring water over their heads when her husband can barely breathe while stuck in bed? So I quickly apologized. But she stopped me.

She told me the ice bucket challenge is one of the greatest miracles that could happen. The disease is a lonely one, but because of the challenge–even her husband feels a little bit less alone.

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The reason ice water is used, she taught me, is because ALS causes muscles and tendons to tense, spasm, and eventually paralyze, ultimately freezing the whole body and all of its functions. Her husband was diagnosed ten years ago, almost to the day, and he told her that ice water is a good way to get a good feel for what it feels like every second of every day. The empathy, in an indirect way, has been healing for him.

This challenge taken on by people all over won’t heal him–of course not. But spreading the word will lead to understanding, understanding will lead to enthusiasm to end it, and eventually, Donna hopes, there will be a cure.

“What better bandwagon to jump on then the bandwagon that lets people know they’re not alone?” Donna said to me. “Despite the money raised, people are learning what this disease is. People are telling my husband, without even realizing it, we see you.”

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ALS isn’t the disease that kills the most people each year–but it does kill. 5,600 people are diagnosed every year and the majority of those only lives two to five years after catching it. It deserves the same attention anything else does. Just as cancer stole my dad last year, I know the feeling of wanting people to just know and to just care that it takes the people we love for good.

I know what it’s like–and you probably do too–to fight a lonely battle and to just wish everyone knew what it’s like. When you dump that water on your head it’s saying a lot about you. To people like Donna and her husband it’s saying, “I know you’re suffering. And I want it to stop.”

I’m not one to use this blog as a bandwagon blog. In fact, if you follow me even semi-closely you’ll notice that a common theme is to stand apart and be individualistic. But I’ve learned that we live in a world of mirrors. Everywhere we look we see ourselves. We see our struggles, our turmoils, our bills, our chaos. And rarely do we have the chance to see someone fighting a battle that has nothing to do with us. Rarely do we get to unite as a WORLD and say “I see you”.

Don’t jump on every bandwagon.

But do me a favor. Jump on this one.

 

gehrig

 

 

My Doubtfire face: And why social media challenges matter

I was tagged by a friend on Facebook to do the Doubtfire Face For Suicide Prevention challenge. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s simple as this: Make your face look like Mrs. Doubtfire and say hello to suicide prevention. It is helping to spread awareness about suicide prevention and mental health and then nominate your friends to do the same. Challenges like this are spreading like wildfire–the ice bucket challenge to spread awareness about finding a cure for ALS, the #IPrayWhen challenge several months ago where people posed with signs that stated the times that they go to God in prayer. People–one by by one–are taking a stand.

doubtire

After Robin Williams died I wrote the blog “In defense of Robin Williams: Suicide wasn’t his choice” and had an outpouring of stories, messages, emails, and notes from people all over who suffer from mental illness or know someone who struggles. And I realized more than ever the need to bring the issue to light, to take away the taboo nature of it all, and to do something about it.

So here it goes:

https://www.facebook.com/kaylalemmonlds

I’ve heard it said that these challenges are annoying. That they don’t do anything.

But 15 million dollars has already poured into the ALS foundation, thousands of people have decided to get help, and hundreds of thousands of people sifting through their news feeds and seeing the photos, videos, and attention of people all over the world is enough to stir a change. And YOU can be part of it. How is that annoying?

Social media has made the world small–it has taught us about each other, it has strengthened our understanding of the world and cultures and lifestyles, and it has given us the unique opportunity to be part of something that will be much more far reaching than anything we could have ever done on our own.

Robin Williams

Want to be part of it?

I sure do.

So now–I nominate YOU.

Go to my Facebook page and post your Doubtfire face with the reason why you’re spreading awareness for suicide prevention. I’ll post all of your pictures on my next blog and highlight your stories right here!

Now let’s see those faces! Ready, set, go!