Brittany was terminally ill with brain cancer. The cancer brought terrible pain and sometimes prevented her from speaking or recognizing her own family. There was no hope of a cure. Doctors had removed as much of the tumor as they could. Two months later it grew back. There was only the promise that it would get worse and she would eventually die. She and her husband moved to Portland, Oregon. Once there she took a drug that enabled her, in her words, to die on her own terms. Brittany was 29.
She said, “My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that’s out of my control. I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”
Then this, “For people to argue against this choice for sick people really seems evil to me. They try to mix it up with suicide and that’s really unfair, because there’s not a single part of me that wants to die. But I am dying.”
I have sat at the bedside of lovely people who embraced life, but who had come to a place where death looked to be a friend. My father came to that place. In my last conversation with him, he said, all I want to do is go to sleep and not wake up. I believe Brittany came to that place.
The article relating Brittany’s story includes comments from a Wyoming woman who serves on a legislative committee that handles health issues in her state. “My sense is Wyoming would reject it (doctor-assisted suicide), ... it would just be a flat ‘no,’ ... That’s my personal values as well: we don’t get to pick. The big guy upstairs chooses when we go and when we stay.”
I am not a big fan of addressing God as the “big guy upstairs,” but more than that, I would argue that if one has never been in that place where living offers no hope, no joy, no pleasure, but only pain and loss and eventual death, then one should speak slowly or perhaps not at all.
This too. Does God go about choosing “when we go and when we stay,” as the woman from Wyoming states? Does God choose death for us?
When someone dies, especially someone young, we hear words like, “God must have needed another little angel.” Or, “God chooses only the very best.” Or, “God decided it was her time.”
I suggest to you, dear reader, another way of faith.
The Apostle Paul, in a letter to the congregation at Corinth, writes “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” I Corinthians 15:26
Is it possible there is a battle going on? A battle between God and the enemy?
When his good friend, Lazarus, died, Jesus did not comment, “Well, it was his time to go. God’s will. Because we all know, the big guy upstairs chooses when we go and when we stay.”
No. When his good friend died, Jesus wept. God cried. And we do too.
But more. God and God’s people do battle against the forces of death: poverty, racism, prejudice, injustice, hunger, cancer, heart disease, diabetes . ... all that strive to take life away.
Death is the enemy.
A decisive battle took place a long time ago, on a day we now call Good Friday. A young Jewish Rabbi, named Jesus, was put to death. His body was taken down from a cross and laid in a tomb. It seemed once again that the enemy had won.
But when some women come to the tomb early Sunday morning, he is not to be found. Some, who had been his students, his followers, later said they saw him, talked with him, ate with him, were both surprised and glad at his appearing. They told others. The news has traveled down through the centuries, so we too have heard the tale and are free to tell it.
That long ago Sunday morning changed everything. That Sunday morning is a promise that the enemy will not have the final word. That Sunday morning is a glimpse into our future.
The raising up of Lazarus was a prelude to that Sunday morning. In the resurrection of Jesus from death to life, we are promised that we too will be raised up. We will be set back on our feet again in another part of God’s kingdom, no less beautiful than this place. God’s promise. Our hope.
Brittany wanted to live, but what she woke up to each morning was not life. The enemy had already won. She just surrendered early. I will not judge her. Neither should anyone else.
And what about God? God weeps.
One day I will die. As will you. I don’t much care for the idea. But it will not be God who takes my life. Death is the enemy. In the end, God will have the final word. Life. The last enemy will be defeated.
It is of faith for sure. But I am glad to have such faith, glad to have such hope.