This past Monday, I received word that the 78-year-old mother of a friend of mine had died. It wasn’t a surprise; she had been terminally ill for some time. I stopped by their house to see if I could help out and to offer my condolences first hand.
While I was there, my friend let me read some of the letters, cards, and best wishes she and her mother had received from people—some of them from perfect strangers.
There were the usual get-well wishes, “we’re praying for you” wishes, etc. All of these were nice and certainly most welcomed.
However, I read six letters, two from acquaintances of the mother and four from perfect strangers. My friend has no idea how they found out about her mother’s illness in the first place.
Regardless, the themes of those letters were not only rude, but personally invasive. Here’s a bit of context for clarity.
Her mother had discovered a lump on her breast. She went to her doctor to have it checked. Between the time that she discovered it and the time she had a doctor examine it, fifteen days had passed.
This wasn’t a serious time lag, but, just the same, her doctor had offered to approve a referral had she wanted to have it checked out sooner. She declined.
Unfortunately, this lump, though small, turned out to have been a nasty, very aggressive, and rapid growth malignancy—I have the clinical name somewhere around here.
But, it’s not important. It would not have made a bit of difference how soon a doctor could have checked the lump.
By the time they were able to do a biopsy, it had already spread; involving one of her lungs and throat.
They gave her two options. She could do nothing and die—I’m paraphrasing, of course. They were much kinder, professionally clinical, and empathetic.
If she chose this option, they assured her that they could administer routine maintenance treatments to maximize her life-quality over the time she had left.
The second option was a procedure called a hemiquadrantectomy. The detail behind this procedure is extensive and very technical. So, let me describe what they do.
The surgeon begins the incision approximately an inch and a half below the ear. It follows a winding path down the side of the neck, across the chest to the other side of the torso. It then reverses direction, coming back to end just below the armpit.
The surgical team then removes everything outside the cut boundary. And, I mean EVERYTHING—arm, ribs, lung.
Would she have better odds of survival under such conditions? “Yes,” they told her. They would improve—again, I’m paraphrasing—from zilch to slightly better than slim.
This hinged, of course, on the assumption that the procedure itself or an unforeseen circumstance during a long and painful recovery period didn’t kill her first.
She chose the former option. Her family—daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—accepted her decision and supported her every step along the way.
She lived the rest of her life on her terms, enjoying shopping sprees, particularly with her great-grandchildren, putting her affairs in order, and enjoying her family as much as she could for the time she had left.
When she died, she did so peacefully, with dignity, and surrounded by people who loved her dearly.
So, what happened to upset her daughter, not to mention me? Strangers sticking their “religious” noses into other people’s business, THAT’S what.
We have no clue how six unrelated strangers found out about the decision to let nature take its course. But, somehow, six people took it upon themselves to write letters to a dying woman, expressing their concerns that she failed to put her trust in God.
The letters had a common theme. The wording of the comments, while different from letter-to-letter, carried the same messages.
”Choosing to die without a fight is not your right,” was one of the comments. “Only God can give life and only God can take it,” was another one.
I’m not even going into the rest of the garbage this woman had to put up with from these… so-called “Christians.”
I respect people of ALL religious faiths. Most of the ones I know are very kind, considerate, and intelligent. They both talk the talk and walk the walk. They manifest the very epitome of religious conviction and sincerity.
Unfortunately, though, there are those who do no such thing. They do nothing more than meddle in the personal affairs of others, using the guise of religious conviction as a convenient justification for their insipid moralizing and self-righteousness.
Dying is ALWAYS the last thing that can happen to people. Many times, however, it is not the WORST thing that can happen.
While it was difficult for her loved ones, they took great solace and much satisfaction in helping her die surrounded with love. They’ll never forget her, but time will help them learn to live without her, as it does all of us when people we love die.
We have reached a point in medical science where we can keep people alive almost indefinitely. But, sometimes we have to ask why? For what purpose and for who’s edification do we do it?
God notwithstanding, it’s time that we all learn that state of the art medical care and love are sometimes NOT the same thing.
If you are one of those who simply must preach the will of God under these circumstances, DON’T! Just send a nice religious get well or, ultimately, a religious sympathy card.
I’ll leave you now. I’ll be back next week. I have a memorial service to attend in honor of a life well lived.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.