Last Sunday, as I sat by my grandmother’s bedside only an hour before she died, it was difficult watching her labored gasps and listening to her moans as she went through the death process. To me, she looked as if she were suffering terribly, though the nursing home attendants assured me otherwise (how do they know?). Not knowing how long this “birthing canal” would last, the mercy instinct arose in my heart, wishing I could “help” along the process and put her out of her misery. As you can imagine, this led to quite a conversation in my head…
But let me back up for a sec. My grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Browall, age 97.5, often expressed a desire to “go home,” having lost her husband, two of three sons, and most of her friends in death. But then she’d smile and say to me from her reclining position on her bed, “My work is not finished here yet or the Lord would take me. But all I can really do now is pray for people.”
My grandmother had a profound influence on my life in many ways, and I feel that she is almost as responsible for shaping me as my own mother. She lived across the street while I was growing up, and I spent many days in her ever-cheerful company while my parents were at work and older siblings were involved in activities. She always made me feel truly valued and welcomed in her home, and trusted me with responsibilities that parents often don’t have the patience for. She taught me things like how to sew, iron, bake, and more than that she had a significant impact on me spiritually because she was the only member of our family who read her Bible every day (and lived it). Though I didn’t realize it at the time, her faithful example became a profound legacy for me in my own spiritual journey as an adult.
There were other ways she shaped me through her love and care for others. Grandmother often took me to the local nursing home—incidentally the same one she lived out the last five years of her life—to visit with and read to the residents. I found it to be a full circle event that many wonderful women from our community would do the same for her.
So that brings us back to her death and how I wished her process did not have to take so long. It got me thinking once again about that ever controversial subject…
Mercy killing. I honestly can’t say where I stand on this topic for those who are suffering so terribly that they seek out the Jack Kevorkians to put them out of their misery. What if it were me—would I want a choice? What if one of my suffering, terminal relatives wanted to go that route? I go through the imaginary conversation with the opponents.
“You would be playing God.”
“That may be true, but aren’t we also playing God by keeping all these people alive on prescription drugs? What if “their time” was long ago but we played God and kept them alive in twenty extra years of misery?
“You would be guilty of murder.”
“So then, why did you put your suffering pet to sleep and call it merciful, but a suffering terminal patient, you call it murder?”
“Thou shalt not kill.”
“Love trumps Law. Jesus defended His disciples’ picking of grain on the Sabbath because He always put the needs and well-being of people (and animals) above the Law. I am not speaking for Jesus, but what if it was more loving to put people out of their misery than to let them suffer? What would Jesus do then (usually He healed them)? Death is temporary anyhow.”
In the case of doctor assisted suicide: “Suicide an unforgiveable sin.”
“Where does the Bible say that again?”
My point here is not to dogmatically say one way is right or wrong, but to respectfully share with you my honest thoughts as I have watched beloved relatives struggle through the death process. Until you go through it with people you love, you may not understand my heart.
And just for the record, I did not kill my grandmother.