Saturday, November 1, 2014

An Open Letter to Brittany Maynard

Dear Brittany,
      It is November 1. Today was supposed to be your death day. I read that you have opted to postpone it. I think that is a wise decision. I have some insight to share with you so I hope that you will bear with me...
     I have faced death only once, during the birth of my child who was three months premature. They took my now-12-year-old son in an attempt to save one of us. They told me, as they wheeled me back to the operating room that the likelihood of both of us surviving was 10 percent at best. We both lived. We are both still living. My conference with death is nothing compared to what you are facing and I know that. But as I said, bear with me.
     On October 9 of this year I read your story. On October 12 of this year I called to speak with my 70-year-old mother. She couldn't get out of bed. I told her to call the ambulance. She was admitted to the hospital that day because they couldn't give her enough morphine to ease her pain without admitting her. Three days later we were told that she had stage four terminal bone cancer in 95% of her skeletal system, her spine had been destroyed by it, her liver was 100% engaged and they couldn't find the origin. They were absolutely certain that the cancer had metastasized at least three times. There was tumor the size of a tennis ball on her shoulder that you could see through her skin; she couldn't move without screaming out in pain.
     She was alive. But she was dying. But she was alive. There was life to be had out of what living was left to do. In those 10 days in the hospital, she faded away from me and faded back to me several times. She was dying. But she was alive. And every single moment with her was precious, Brittany. Even when she was laying there, fighting for every single breath, I was learning, she was teaching. There was a purpose of every single moment of it. There was horror and there was beauty and I loved all of it, because it was mine to love. There was nothing else to do with it, I chose to love it.
     She died on October 22 at 2 a.m. I wasn't with her when she passed away. And even though she didn't take a pill, I believe to the very core of who I am that she died with dignity, on her terms and in God's time.
     I'm grateful for that, Brittany. She was dying, but she was alive. She was living through her dying. She was ministering to every nurse and doctor, every person that walked in that room was blessed by the peace and strength that rolled off of her. She was dying, but she was alive.
     I don't know if anyone has ever told you this, but I know that you will understand it when I say that there is beauty in everything. You have traveled and seen the majesty and secret glory of this earth and you know what beauty is. There is beauty in everything. There is beauty in believing in the timeline given to each of us, there is beauty in allowing our own suffering to be used to change the minds and hearts of others and there is beauty in trusting in an all-knowing God. Sometimes the beauty is covered in rust, or dirt or blood or pain, but it is there. Because she was dying, but she was alive.
    You labeled yourself, Brittany. You introduced yourself to the world as someone who is "dying." You affected many lives when you did that... the scope of your reach went far beyond what you expected, I am sure. And I am sure that you felt you were doing the right thing. But you were not doing the right thing, and you did not do the right thing.
     I am rejoicing that you are still alive. I am so glad that you are still finding joy in life. But here's the thing, Brittany, joy isn't something to be FOUND, it is something to be chosen. You have to choose joy, not just when you are faced with sadness, loss, death or fear... it's a choice to made everyday. That was what my mother's death taught me. That's what it taught everyone who was near her. Her death was nothing but dignified and though I miss her physical presence, I am proud to be her daughter and I am rejoicing for her victory. It was a fight well-fought. I believe she won in the end.
     And so now, Brittany, that you know the story of my mother you need to understand that what you did, your choice to tell your story with such conviction and certainty and allow it to be held up as bravery and courage when in fact it was cowardice and fear, was wrong. And you need to apologize. You need to apologize to every young person who saw your story and now believes that suicide is just a choice to exit this life because you suffer from cancer and they suffer from depression. You need to apologize to every person who has ever fought for every single breath because they wanted their children to understand that they did everything in their power to stay with them as long as possible. You need to apologize to every single loved one who has sat beside the bed, thanked God every time the chest rose and fell, praised God for every moment with them and in the same breath begged God to take them to end their suffering. Yes, you have a choice, still. And I for one am glad that those pills are still in that little purse. But you took your choice and you made it a platform based on your convictions and now those convictions are changing, after the fact. So please, please, please explain to those who felt you were a hero, who felt you were brave, that perhaps, you spoke out of turn, perhaps you made a mistake not by choosing to end your life the way you want, but by making it such a piece of public propaganda.
     You talked about a peaceful death. There is no such thing. While it may be a foggy happening for you, slipping into the great unknown, it will still be violent for your family members. Because in the words of the poet Emily Dickinson, death is "all we know of heaven and all we need of hell." I want you to know that I pray for you, for strength for you and your family, for understanding and for peace and for the beauty to be revealed every single day. I pray that you will let them love you as they want to love you. And I pray for grace, because that is the only way to die with dignity.

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