Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Death on a Blog? Engage with Grace NOW

When I think of the end of my life tears immediately spring to my eyes. I am completely in love with life and the thought of leaving it behind with all its glories is sorrowful.
Nevertheless, today, Thanksgiving morning, I am inspired to join the "blog rally" and to speak of death in the spirit of the grace of this holiday. I invite my readers to join the Engage with Grace ( project, begin conversations with friends, family, at a book club or online about how to end your life with the same purpose and love with which you have lived it—no, it's not about Dr. Kevorkian or the Hemlock society.
I read the front page story, "Talking Turkey about Death" in the Boston Globe, November 26.2008. Rosaria at 32 was dying of a malignant brain tumor. As she lay motionless, unconscious in her hospital bed, at home her beloved two year old daughter languished without Mommy. The child was afraid to touch her mother in the hospital setting. (I've been a hospital chaplain and I understand that fear.) Rosaria's medical team strongly advised the family to leave her in the hospital where she would be well cared for. They defied this authority and took Rosaria home to her own bedroom and bed. For the first time in a week Rosaria opened her eyes as her daughter snuggled in beside her mother. She died the next night at home.
Did this courageous family make the right decision? It seems so but they had to do it by guesswork. They had never talked about dying wishes. Have you?
I have a living will, health care proxy and other written directives, but at 70 I have never talked face to face with myself, my children or even my spouse about my feelings. We are a pretty open family. I guess it's felt almost tabu. Why introduce such an uncomfortable topic? Leave well enough alone.
As a priest I have sat with many a family engaged in agony and argument over what a loved one would want or not want. They care but they don't know! Believe me the discomfort of that struggle is far worse than any discomfort one may feel talking about all this NOW. And this isn't a one way conversation: from the old to the young. We all need to think, talk, and love each other into and out of ignorance. Rosaria was only 32!
Rosaria's sister-in-law Alexandra Drane started the Engage with Grace initiative and the word has spread throughout the healthcare community and beyond thanks to the internet. The website suggests ways to engage yourself and others in such conversations. Begin by asking yourself: On a scale of 1 to 5 where do you fall on this continuum, 1 being let me die in my own bed without medical intervention and 5:Don't give up on me no matter what. Try any proven or unproven intervention possible. I'm on the cusp of 2.5/3. (Other questions, links, resources and more information can be found on the site.) I invite you to check this out and spread the word.
Spiritually, is this taking your life in your own hands? Is it hubris, trying to control too much, not letting go, taking over for the divine will? I say, none of the above. A loving creator has given us minds, hearts, bodies and souls with which to discern how best to love ourselves and others right up to the final intake of breath. This effort is all about fulfilling the essential word of all the world's major religions: do to and for others what you would want done to and for yourself.

I love life enough to talk about its end with gratitude, grace and tears. Death may just be one of those spiritual lemons that you think is too sour to taste, but it could deepen your relationships right NOW, as well as in your last hours. So pucker up!