Death is inevitable for us all. Sometimes it comes suddenly, but most of the time it is a process, an important final chapter in our lives, critical to the meaning of our entire life story.
That chapter should be completed with an exclamation point, not a question mark. We should be affirming our faith, demonstrating trust, experiencing grace and receiving and expressing love. It is our time to pass on a legacy of courage and to witness that God is present in every circumstance of life and that His grace is sufficient for every crisis.
We are all too familiar with the reality that age takes a heavy toll on faculties and functions and that many people experience a terrible loneliness as friends die, families move away and strength abates. When such people face the prospect of unrelieved physical suffering as well, they may be seized with a feeling of desperation and loneliness. Some may even express a wish to die.
When patients see themselves as “an intolerable burden” or when they see life as “not worth living,” should they have the right to enlist the support of physicians and end their lives? Besides medical, social and moral reasons, assisted suicide is inconsistent with a biblical view of life, death and suffering and accountability to God. Our role with our loved ones, when we cannot cure, is to care for and to comfort them.
Palliative care is a unique form of health care developed for the needs of people with terminal illness. As family members and friends of the dying, we need to understand that caring for such patients is a privilege. “We can foster a good death by repairing relationships, respecting wishes, helping the dying to live as fully as possible, reducing pain and allowing time and space for transcendence and for letting go,” writes Dr. Ira Byock, president of the Academy of Hospice Physicians, in Dying Well.
When family is not available, faith communities can mobilize visitors and helpers to meet emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
Let us help our dying loved ones to write the last chapter of their lives well. Thus will people experience the love of God and the grace of God and the peace of God, and have the opportunity to affirm their faith and leave a legacy of courage in the face of suffering.
With the Apostle John, we affirm, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Rev. 14:13).
Herbert C. Rader, M.D., The War Cry