Monday, November 3, 2014

Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard was a beautiful young woman who was terminally ill and chose to end her own life.  Some will argue that she was endlessly courageous and some will view her decision as cowardly. I'm not here to say one way or the other....although if pushed I would lean toward courageous. It would take a certain amount of bravery to make a decision such as she made and then to actually follow through with it, leaving behind all that she knows and loves in this life. 

What I do want to talk about though is the opportunities we are given to embrace our process. I think there is a lot to be said for walking through a process, whatever it may entail, to the end result. I think that awful devastation can be used for good if we can open ourselves up to the process. We can find so much beauty there if we can accept our journey for what it is.  I have seen some beautiful things transpire at the end of life that would be missed out on altogether if we all decided to take matters into our own hands.

This is not a political post. I am not going to argue the right to choose or whether it is morally right or wrong. We could get into all sorts of grey areas....if one refuses chemotherapy because it will rob them of their quality of life are they in essence choosing to end their lives? I don't know....I know that there comes a time when each individual gets to say "enough" and allow nature to run its course. That is different than taking a deadly cocktail at the time we assume to be best though.

I have been privileged to walk with many families through to the end of the life of their loved one. I have watched families riddled with hurt and harsh words and actions, come together to care for the culprit of the hurt. I have watched that culprit soften and make amends. I have watched adult children and grand children rise to the occasion and take care of some of the most private needs of their loved ones.....and I have watched hearts change. To be the servant and to allow ones self to be served brings about healing and humility. It breaks down those hard walls that we erect to protect ourselves, it gives us an opportunity to be vulnerable, unprotected, and real. There is something so profoundly beautiful about walking with someone as they journey to the other side. If we can open our eyes and *see* the process for the gift it is.

I think that just as we walk through our journey's here with our adult children, we are taught to let go, to trust, to have faith in a power greater than ourselves and to embrace the process, whatever the outcome may be. We all have circumstances that are difficult and challenging and painful... but often good comes from the bad, when we can step back and allow it to unfold. We just don't know what changes, what awareness's and awakenings, could have happened in Brittany's parent's hearts, in her husband's heart, iin her own heart, because she took the opportunity away.

When one grasps at control, there is almost always fear. She took control and did it her own way. And that was certainly her right....but its counter to what we all work so hard at learning here on our journey's.....let go and let God. Surrender our will. Acceptance. It seems she usurped God's power and will in her life and took matters into her own hands, despite whatever plans He may have had for she and her family. When we choose to assert our will, God steps aside and allows us that freedom. I believe that His grace is sufficient for us....but just like the times I jump into action and use my best thinking and try to figure out the best solution....I end up robbing myself of God's perfect plan that would affect the bigger and more far reaching picture. My thinking is limited. Its finite, and when I am in control/figure-out mode, I am almost always afraid. Fear is not a good captain of my ship.

About a year ago I watched the documentary, "How to Die in Oregon." I can certainly understand *why* some would choose this and with my work it really made me think about how our care might be different if this was an option here in Ca. I have had many terminal patients, including my own mother, who had moments of wishing for a quick end, but those moments passed and they were able to be kept comfortable, and loved, and cared for until their end came naturally. Their deaths followed a natural rhythm until finally their lives had ended.

Below is a video of a family, Deidrea and T.K. Laux who found out at 20 weeks in utero that their son had trisomy 13....a genetic abnormality. They chose to allow the pregnancy to continue until its natural end and allow their son to live until his natural time of death. Its a beautiful yet heartbreaking tribute to acceptance of what we are given and walking courageously through to the end.

I know spiritually what I believe would be right for me. I know in my gut, which is how I make a lot of my big decisions, what would feel right for me. I am not judging Brittany's decision. For her it may have felt like it was the absolute right thing to do. I think that there is a lot to consider here though. Its taking control at the deepest and the very basic of levels.

This is just me processing this recent and very sad passing of a beautiful and intelligent young woman who obviously gave a lot of thought to her decision.



Anonymous said...

I have lost three siblings to cancer - horrific painful days and hours that haunt me. Deaths that were violent and soul searing. There was nothing beautful in letting it play out - not for me or any of my family members. I know you are not judging - but my life experience tells me a different story. She was brave beyond words - as are those who loved her.

Anonymous said...


Before my mom died I believed with all my heart that we cannot choose when to die. That changed for me when I watched her suffer beyond anything I could ever describe. She suffered terribly and it ripped my heart out. It has been three years and I am in counselling to deal with the trauma. She was throwing up and couldn't stop because her stomach was blocked. (They put a tube down her throat to drain her stomach.) She had feces coming out of her vagina because of tumors. It was so awful. She begged me to let her die. It was only that last week. That last week I wish I could have given her what she wanted.
That said, I struggle. I want to do what is right but sometimes it is hard to know.

Tori said...

I read a few days ago that she said she was going to see how she felt that day and if she was in a lot of pain she was going to go through with it.

She was courageous at least that is what I think. It is such a sad story.

SoberMomWrites said...

I don't know why, but this young woman's journey has sucker punched me in the gut. My heart clenches everytime I hear her name and I cried when I heard the news of her death, especially since just days before I rejoiced when she decided to postpone the event.

This is really none of my business and yet it haunts me. I keep imaging her husband having to say goodbye. I put myself in the place of her mother who watched as she took her first breath and then had to watch her take her last - definitely not the natural order of things.

And, like you Annette, I believe in miracles. The miracle of healed hearts, or brains in this case, or just the miracle of time - if not for the dying then for the living. If, as you say, the patient can be made comfortable then, selfishly, I want them around as long as God wants them here.

I would never presume to judge this young woman and her decision. I also have no idea what I would do if it were me. I just know that this one has hit me particularly hard.

Fortnately I believe that no matter how she died, God was there to welcome her beautiful soul into His waiting arms.


Annette said...

Anonymous and Ditching the Dog, I am so sorry that you both went through such heart rending experiences. I can certainly understand why you would feel that being allowed to choose when to leave this earth would be a good option. Personally, I have NEVER in all of my years tended to a death like either of you described. I have taken care of people dying from all sorts of cancers and none have suffered the way you describe. Naively I guess, I assumed that in this age of modern medicine we can make everyone comfortable during their last days. That has been my experience... again, I am so sorry that you had to watch loved ones suffer so. I know taking care of my own mom was so much more difficult and different than taking care of a client....I can only imagine if she had suffered. <3

Anonymous said...

After seeing the horrendous suffering my mom in law went through, I can understand why Brittany Maynard chose to end her life on her own terms. It must take immeasurable courage to make that decision when the will to live is so strong. But I also wonder if part of her decision was for her family. Being a caregiver takes such a tremendous toll and I know I would not want to place that kind of burden on my loved ones...maybe she felt that, too. Perhaps, in her mind, this was the last gift she felt she could give them? Bless her heart and the loved ones she left behind.

I watched the video...oh mercy, that's so sad! Even knowing the outcome, I'd want to spend every second with my baby, too.

Anonymous said...

Annette, you are truly a beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing your point of view.
Before we make any decisions on the way we are headed on the right to die issue we all need to sit and listen to both sides of the story. We all need to ask question and be willing to listen to the answers.

Dad and Mom said...

I find it strange that in a land of freedom so many of us lose that freedom at the end of our lives.

We should be allowed to choose the most basic of all decisions. No decision fits all circumstances but regardless of all religions and beliefs this is a choice that should e left to individuals and families.