Yesterday, Brittany Maynard took her life. Two and a half months ago, Robin Williams took his life. Brittany would say their choices to end their lives were very different. Many would call the death of Robin Williams a tragedy while many of those same people would point to Brittany as a hero.
Brittany believed that her choice to decide her own last breath was not the same as suicide because she was going to die anyway from the cancer in her brain.
She wanted to avoid the pain and the vulnerability her death by cancer would cause. So, with the help of a little pill, she made up her mind to avoid it.
The truth is, we are all dying. Every single one of us. And the majority of us will face the vulnerability and in varying degrees, the pain that death brings. Robin Williams was not physically ill. But, emotionally, he was in agony. Would that emotional agony have ended his life? No, probably not. But did it steal from him the quality of life he desired? I would dare say, yes. Did it make him vulnerable? Absolutely.
My grandmother passed away two weeks ago. She died of a tired body…old age. She was in pain for years as her body slowed. And her failing joints, hearing, organs, made her vulnerable. The quality of her life was affected by the process of aging.
Brittany, Robin, Betty Jo…they all faced the same reality. These bodies are broken and temporary.
Brittany wanted a choice. I understand. And, I don’t blame her. Who among us wouldn’t want another option if the only one facing us was an excruciating, humiliating*, lonely battle with death? I would. I would want a way out. I would beg for a way out. Any other way.
Having faced a brief battle of deep depression and many smaller ones, I would venture to say that Mr. Williams had begged for a way out of the pit he found himself in. He wanted to find an option that was less painful. So he ended his life.
My grandmother fought. For years she battled one life-threatening ailment after another. Years before that she battled circumstances that threatened to steal her joy. But she didn’t take another way. She walked through the pain.
My aunt lost her battle with cancer a few years ago. She too chose the long, hard road. She walked through it. Suffered through it. Rejoiced through it.
The truth is many will idolize Brittany for her decision. And sadly, many will crucify her. She made a choice that if we are honest, we all make on a smaller scale often. Avoid the longer, harder road. Avoid the pain. Spare ourselves and the ones we love the mess.
Maybe it isn’t about your physical death. Perhaps you are looking for an easy way around a dying marriage. Or it could be that the job that once was a dream job turned out to be full of heartache. Maybe it was easier to cut yourself off from emotion than to deal with the pain left by parents who abandoned you.
I don’t know what has threatened to leave you weak and helpless. I can’t see from here what has stolen the quality of life that you so desperately want. But, I’m sure, as I have, you have begged for an easier way. I’m sure, as I have, you have taken matters into your own hands and even caused yourself a deep “temporary” pain in order to avoid the longer, harder road.
I believe there is purpose in our pain. I believe that God does not let our pain go to waste. He is in the business of reconciliation.
I don’t think Jesus would be angry with Brittany. I think He would tell her He understands. He wanted a choice too. He wanted another option when the only one facing Him was an excruciating, humiliating, lonely battle with death. He wanted a way out. He begged for a way out. Any other way.
But ultimately, He trusted His Father. He believed that, even if there was no other way, even if the only option was to face death on a cross, His Father would not let Him suffer without reason and His Father would not stop loving Him.
Psalm 23 says, “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.”
I don’t blame Brittany for wanting a choice, but I wish she had chosen differently.** I want to be a woman that chooses the longer, harder road…the one that leads through the valley of the shadow of death…if that is the road God has written into my story. It’s not because I’m brave. I’m not. But I believe that He walks with me. I believe He is still using our pain to bring reconciliation. Everyday pains and “last days” pains… He walked that road when He could have walked away. That gives me courage. That gives me hope.
*I use humiliating here not to belittle the cause of death but to highlight the weakened and helpless state that death itself brings.
**My prayers are with Brittany’s family as they grieve. The loss of one you love is heartbreaking, regardless of how they left this world. My prayers are also with others who are seeking ways to avoid the pain they are facing. There is hope even in the pain. Ask for help. Ask God to show up. I am confident that He will hear you.