Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…

She was dying. She was also 34 years old. Her two children and her husband were by her side at Whidbey General Hospital. She was dying but she had been dying for some time; fighting cancer, hoping against hope that she could live to raise her children. She was dying, tired, weak, and worn. We stood in a circle around her bed, holding her hand, stroking her hair, listening for her labored tender words. She was awake, she was aware, she was talking to us. The doctor had told her husband to “call your pastor,” and so I was there with them. There was no hope now of recovery, it was time to decide; she could be kept alive longer, in pain, waiting to leave this world, or was it time to just let go, to stop all life prolonging measures, to remove all outside assistance, to increase the morphine that would relieve pain but render her less than conscious. I read scripture and we prayed. We do not worship life, we only worship God and we trust God in our living and in our dying. She was ready to go. There were many tears, many long embraces, last words, the final gifts of a sacred time.

The medical staff was alerted, as they entered the room, a loving husband checked one more time with his beloved, she nodded to affirm the decision. The life support was taken off, there was no immediate response or change. Slowly she lost consciousness, her breathing became more labored. I stayed for another hour or two. The next afternoon I returned to the hospital, the young mother was not surfacing anymore, the family was past exhausted, mentally and physically. The husband, a man of faith, was angry now, angry not at cancer, not angry over the decision that they had made to let her go. He was angry at God. We had entrusted her to God, there was no value in this long labor toward death. “Why would God allow her to hang on this way?” I tried to comfort him, appropriate pastoral care kept me from telling him the truth.

It was a week earlier that this mother of two had died peacefully in her own bed, in her own home. God had taken her, she had crossed over to the other side, but 911 was called, the paramedics arrived. They did their job as they were trained, they miraculously brought her back to life, loaded her in an aid car and transported her to Whidbey General Hospital. Humans playing God. It happens all the time, in this case playing God saw the exchange of a peaceful death for an agonizing week of family trauma.

We do not worship life. We only worship God. Consequently, we should not keep bodies functioning at all costs. I believe that we should have the right to death with dignity. The truth is, we have not exactly figured out how to do that. Helping someone to go is more complicated than doing all that we can to save them. Opponents of death with dignity, assisted suicide even, would say that we cannot play God, we should let nature take its course. But in reality, very few of us would be alive today without those heart bypasses, stints, blood thinners or cancer drugs. If you are a part of the medical profession or have spent time around hospitals, you know that miracles happen all the time, and I so appreciate the medical advances that have increased our lifespans and enhanced our quality of life. But there is a point when death is no longer the enemy. There is a point to simply say enough is enough. Death with dignity is not “playing God” any more than a heart transplant, or perhaps I should say that both are equally “playing God.”

I still see her family from time to time, dad remarried as she hoped he would, the children have mostly grown up, the trauma of their mother’s death will always be a part of their story. May God give us wisdom as we navigate the complicated ethics of a changing world.

One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, I am your

Pastor Jim

Contact Pastor Jim if you have questions at [email protected]