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Dying with Dignity
Death does not necessarily come the way we expect, or even plan. The way we live our lives makes the difference.


Recently I watched my 90-year-old grandfather near death. He had given clear instructions that he did not want to be kept on life support. When the time came, he wanted to go. He had lived a long life and was ready to go to heaven.

The doctor told us that he would die once the support was gone. We waited. He didn't die.

When he was taken by ambulance to the hospital no one was there to speak for him and he was put on life support. My dad and grandmother decided to keep him on it until my sister and I were able to make our way to the hospital. My mom and one brother were in British Columbia at the time.

My other brother waited in the hall while the machine was turned off after my sister and I had had a chance to say our goodbyes. The doctor told us that he would die once the support was gone. We waited. He didn't die. They moved him out of the emergency ward with the warning that he could go at any moment.

Two days later my mother and brother returned from British Columbia. My mom went to the hospital to see her father-in-law. Lying in the bed with a tube in his mouth draining the liquid that had infected his lungs and led to the hospitalization, he did not resemble the man of strength and dignity that had welcomed her into his family nearly 30 years ago. His hands were withering—nothing like the rough farmer's hands that had picked her raspberries from his backyard garden. With tears my mom spoke to him. His senses were nearly gone. He wasn't able to speak or move any longer. Thanking him for his life, she released him.

Alone, in the early hours of the next morning, my grandfather passed away. Even though he had planned for it, death had not come as he had desired. It brought him to a place of humiliation. Being a very private and independent man, I know he was embarrassed to be in a gown lying before us unable even to open his eyes.

Going through this loss, I began to reflect on Jesus' death. There was no dignity there. It was messy, painful, disgraceful. And it was lonely. He had been beaten severely, nailed to planks of wood and hung between two thieves. Those He was accompanying in death heaped insults on Him (see Matthew 27:44). Even His friends had forsaken Him. They took off when He was arrested (Matthew 26:56). Although some made a spectacle of His death, Jesus wasn't feeling very supported on the cross. He even felt as though His Father in heaven had forsaken Him (see Matthew 27:46).

As Christians we know that to die is to be with the Father (see 2 Corinthians 5:8). I have never feared natural death. It's the death that comes with following Jesus that concerns me. "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (see Colossians 3:3).

Like my grandfather, I wanted to die to the world with dignity. But thinking of how Christ lost His own life, I realized just how selfish that was. I don't love my grandfather any less for having seen his weakness in the face of death. I only hope that onlookers will say the same of me as I endeavour to live a life that has been crucified. No longer afraid of dying to the world, with Jesus "I commit my spirit into your hands, Lord" (Luke 23:46). So that I can say, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

Bobbie Howden is a writer based in Hamilton, Ontario.

Originally published in Testimony, January 2005.


 

 
 
 
 

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