The Last Word - September 2019

The Journey from Life through Death:  Grace and Hope Abound

When it comes to politics, I must confess that I am very cynical. I do, however, pay close attention to legislation that our elected officials pass. I must live by these laws, so I want to know what they are. Some legislation can immediately be a benefit to society. For instance, the new law banning handheld cell phone use while driving will reduce the number of accidents on our roads. Other legislation just does not seem to make sense to me.

 In April 2017, I had the honor and privilege of holding my mother’s hand as she died. Because of her faith, it was not completely a sad moment. Mom had always said she was ready to be with her best friend, Jesus. She also said, more than once, that she was not afraid to die; she just did not want it to hurt. And so, with the help of her caretakers, with the compassion of hospice nurses and doctors, my mother left this world without pain and with great dignity. It was not a happy moment, but it was indeed a joyful and hope-filled one.

It is because of this experience, and the many like it that priesthood allows me to be a part of, that I cannot understand why we need a physician-assisted suicide law. I cannot understand a law that ends life but does nothing to ease pain or suffering. Let me explain. Suffering is a part of life. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, each of us will experience physical, emotional, and/or spiritual suffering. We will look for ways around it, but no matter what we try, suffering, like our shadow, will always be near. We need only look at the opioid crisis to see proof of this.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we look to the cross, and we see suffering as salvation. We see suffering as redemptive. In one of the most mysterious paradoxes of our faith, we see suffering as our way to the fullness of life where there is no suffering. So, hard as it may be, we embrace the aches and pains that come from aging. We embrace the illness that comes our way. We embrace the diagnosis of a terminal disease because we know that just as the cross of Christ was not the end of the story, neither will our suffering be the end of our story. We embrace suffering because it is the part of life that leads us to share in eternal life.

It is not easy to watch someone suffer. When the nurse asked what I wanted from hospice, I said, ‘I want to hold my mother’s hand, and I do not want it to hurt her.’ My mother gave me the gift of faith. She gave me my sense of humor, and she taught me how to live. She also taught me how to die with grace and dignity.

 I am sure others could speak of the grace of journeying to the end of life with a loved one with tears in their eyes and joy in their heart. I am sure more than a few people who are reading this are suffering or caring for someone who is suffering. For these reasons, we must do all in our power to repeal the assisted-suicide law. We must embrace our crosses. We must hold the hands of our loved ones. We must ease their pain and calm their anxiety. We must ensure that the end of their life is truly a moment of dignity, a moment of joy, and a moment of hope, not simply the moment they died.