The other day as I was pumping, the TV remote was out of reach (all you nursing/pumping mamas know that feeling). I wasn’t really paying attention to what was on, as I was also trying to entertain a fussy baby as I pumped, which isn’t exactly easy. The TV was just on in the background and then I heard the name “Brittany Maynard” and immediately my stomach twisted. Instantly I wanted to change the channel.
For those of you who don’t know that name, Brittany Maynard was a young woman diagnosed with brain cancer who moved from California to Oregon and chose to end her own life using Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law. Maynard ended her own life with drugs prescribed by her doctor.
So, there I sat, out of reach from the remote and unable to change the channel.
You see, this topic strikes a nerve in me that I can’t explain. First of all, I am not attacking Maynard for who she was as a person, or her personal choice. She quickly became an advocate for assisted suicide in 2014, therefore when I hear her name it brings up a lot of emotion considering my Dad died from the same brain cancer and was battling it at the same time she was.
In 2012 my Dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. It flipped all of our worlds upside down. One day life was normal, and the next it would never be the same again. For the next three and a half years my Dad battled his brain cancer heroically until June 17th, 2015. The day God chose to call him home.
There are so many thoughts that come up when this topic comes to mind. I struggle with really knowing how to express them. First, I can understand the logic behind the Death with Dignity Law, or assisted suicide. I understand that individuals with a terminal illness may not want to suffer and their family members may not want to watch them suffer. Therefore, choosing to end their life and “die with dignity”. I’ve also heard people who agree with it make the argument- until you’ve seen a loved one suffer you wouldn’t understand. Well let me tell you, I’ve seen a loved one suffer, I do understand, and I still don’t believe any different. The Lord put us on this Earth, and He will take us off this Earth in His time.
My Dad was a remarkable man. Full of life, laughter, lots of love. He was a people person and he loved entertaining, making jokes, and being with those he loved, and a he was a Man of God. When he was diagnosed with cancer he never let it slow him down, even from day one. He continued traveling, working, and made life as normal as possible for as long as he could. After his biopsy and diagnosis in 2012 we all knew what it truly meant, but I’m not sure he ever did. I remember sitting in the room with my family, before he woke up from surgery, and the doctors told us his cancer was malignant. It was inoperable, meaning they would not ever be able to remove it and eventually it would become more aggressive. I remember what they said, how they said it, how I felt, and I remember the doctor saying “you need to prepare yourselves because this is not a race, this is a marathon” and implying that he begin doing the things he wanted to do and essentially checking off his bucket list. The year 2012 was a hard one. He underwent chemo, and radiation which was incredibly difficult for him and all of us to watch. He became more fragile yet he always remained positive, joyful, and thankful. The next couple of years he did fairly well until November of 2014 when things began to decline. My Dad had heard many doctors tell him that his prognosis was a matter of months. I’m not sure he ever truly understood that this cancer was going to take his life. He would joke with doctors that he was going to live a few more years, and he would even ask them what they could do to get him to live for 5 more years. Doctors would look at him, then look at us almost in a “is he serious?” type of expression. I’ll never know if he truly felt he would beat his cancer, or if he couldn’t quite understand the reality because his tumor made it so difficult for him to understand even the simplest of things at times. My Dad was the most optimistic person I’ve ever known. It didn’t matter what the doctors would tell him, he was bound and determined to beat his cancer.
It wasn’t that he was afraid to die, I know he wasn’t. There is a difference in being afraid to die and not being ready to die. I know he wasn’t ready. Is anyone ever “ready” to die? He wasn’t ready to leave us, but mostly he wasn’t ready to leave my Mom. I remember laying with him in December 2014, holding him tight and asking him “Dad, are you scared?” and he simply replied “No. Why? Are you?” I can remember trying to hide my face where it was nestled in his chest because I didn’t want to burst into tears, and I didn’t want him to see the fear and sadness on my face. He asked me if I trusted God and I said “of course, but I don’t understand”, he said “if you trust God you have nothing to be afraid of and we don’t have to understand.” He then took my hand in his and kissed it, just as he so often did and a tear slipped down my cheek. I took a deep breath in wanting to remember that moment. Breathing him in brought me back to being 6 years old again nestled in his lap feeling safe and protected from the world. Now I felt like I needed to somehow protect him, but couldn’t.
My Dad taught me what it is like to have joy in all circumstances. I never heard him complain. There is not one single time through his battle with cancer that he ever once complained. He never complained he had to use a wheelchair because he got so weak. He didn’t complain about not being able to see because his tumor was causing vision problems and headaches. He didn’t complain about seizure after seizure, vomiting, nausea, or pain. He never once complained that God chose to give him this battle. My Dad chose to glorify God in his circumstances. They weren’t circumstances one would chose for themselves, but they were circumstances God chose for him and therefore my Dad joyfully glorified God in the midst of suffering. He always laughed through it all. He would say he was having a “great” day even when I would easily have considered it my worst. I am constantly having to remind myself of how insignificant the things I chose to complain about are on a daily basis. He made every nurse or doctor around him laugh and smile. He was always up for doing everything and anything even if it took every single ounce of energy he hardly had. God has a plan for each of us, and whatever that plan may be…hard, easy, up and down, full of heartache, trials, or suffering we choose how we embrace our circumstances. We can either glorify Him or we can abandon Him.
I know what it’s like to watch a loved one suffer. I know what it’s like to want to do anything and everything to take away that suffering. I know what it’s like to watch a parent lose all independence. I know what it’s like to take care of a parent as though they are a child again. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love lose the ability to think, comprehend, walk, and talk. I know what it is like to say goodbye for the very, very last time. I know what it’s like to plead with God to take them home because you can’t stand to watch them suffer so horribly for even one more second. I know what it is like, and I wish I didn’t.
I remember the doctors telling us what to expect as far as his suffering would go, and I can tell you it was ten times worse than what they had prepared us for. There is no preparing for that. None.
I know if my Dad was here today he would tell me that if he had the same path to walk again, he would do it all over if that meant he would be walking the path God set out for him. He trusted that God was faithful, that God had a purpose in his suffering. My Dad touched so many lives and brought Christ into the lives of so many through his journey with cancer. Not that my Dad would chose to do this again, for he is now in a far better place than we can comprehend, but he trusted that The Lord would lead him and not forsake him right up until his last breath.
So, now you can understand why this topic strikes a nerve in me. It hits close to home. I feel that my Dad’s suffering means so much more than just suffering. He displayed Christ by accepting his path, and did it joyfully. I am so proud of him and that he was my Dad. I am blown away every day that I think of how he handled his circumstances, and honored that I am blessed to have witnessed such an amazing display of Christ. Christ molds us to be more like him through suffering. So while many people call those who choose assisted suicide, “hero’s” for being brave enough to make the decision to end their lives, I see it a little (or a lot) differently. In my eyes my Dad is my hero for teaching me how to be more like Christ. I know without a doubt my Dad would never have imagined choosing Death with Dignity because it would have robbed him the ability to glorify his God up until the very end. Had my Dad chose to end his own life before God chose to end his life, we could have been robbed of so many more memories and the beauty of seeing Christ in so much of it all. Not all of them are memories that bring happy tears, many of them are sad, but that’s okay. It’s not just about the memories. It’s about God being the ultimate physician. It’s about my Dad leaving a legacy of teaching me what it means to trust Him through it all, to glorify Him, and to accept whatever God sets before me. It’s about giving it ALL to Him. My Dad’s suffering wasn’t for nothing, it taught me everything and for that, my Dad is my superhero.
I have watched a loved one suffer greatly and die from cancer. Still, I will always choose to glorify Him in all circumstances.
I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. John 17:4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. James 1:2-8