A contrast of two deaths

He’s not my uncle, he’s the uncle of my dearly loved friend, Angela. He lived in Holland, and was elderly and ill, and on Friday, March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation – Feast of the Incarnation) “Uncle Theo” was propelled unnaturally into Eternity. Put to sleep like a dog or a cat.

Euthanasia sounds like such a compassionate act – take the elderly, the infirm, the incapacitated, the suffering, and just go ahead and ease them out of their misery.  “I don’t want to suffer like so-and-so,” someone will say. “I’d like to just be put out of my misery.” But we don’t really expect to be taken literally, do we?

After all, our hours and our minutes belong to the Author of Life, to God Himself, not to us. We didn’t ask to be born, and we don’t get to determine when or how we die. It’s His call.

We don’t always get to see the point. There lay my dear friend Nora, incoherent so far as we could tell, unable to eat for months because of the cancer that had ravaged her body for the past four years. But her vital signs remained strong, and when her husband tried to help her take her meds, or to perform some other service for her, she fought back.

Pain was compounded by fear.  Severe depression, depression that had required electroshock therapy more than once, had left her bereft of hope. “I’m scared,” she grabbed my arm on one of my visits. “I’m so scared.”

Father had pointed to a statue of an angel and told her to remember her Guardian Angel. “You are not alone,” he promised her. “God loves you.” But she had become unable to hold on to that hope for more than the time it took to sing the refrain of “Be Not Afraid.”

“There’s no point to this!” her husband protested during one of my visits. The lingering, with the impossibility of providing true comfort, or to see how long the ordeal would last, took a toll on everyone. It always does.

But there is a point. And I saw it in the family – in Nora’s husband as he persisted in getting pain meds down her throat for as long a time as she could swallow, in her children as they came and kept vigil with their mother. Love was perfecting them – they might not see it right away; it might take years before they can point to this time in their lives and say, as I now can after my mother’s horrific death from lung cancer, twenty years ago: “We were all made better people because of this.”

Nora died a week ago – at home in her own bed, quietly, gently, naturally. Yes, she was momentarily alone as her husband had to leave the room briefly. But she was not really alone, because her family had waited for God’s hand, for His time, to choose the moment of Homegoing.

That last afternoon, I went to visit. We didn’t know it was the last afternoon, of course. I just went, because it was a day when I could. And after I’d been there a few minutes, another of her friends arrived, and a few minutes after that, still another – and each time a new friend walked in the room, Nora’s breathing quickened and deepened: she was aware that we were there.

Sally and I prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet, sitting by the bed, and Nora became still and quiet, her breathing regular and steady. When Carole came back in, and the conversation shifted to mundane things, her breathing altered with the flow of the conversation.

Nora – who could not actively communicate, was still in our conversation. I’m chuckling to recall how a couple of times she seemed to interject her own responses into my mind. She had a low opinion of one of the people being spoken of, and I could hear her calling him by a not-very-nice word.

But we had to go home, not knowing that it was the last visit, expecting to return the next day – and that evening, while herchildren were en route from their own families and jobs, and while her husband stepped out of the room ever so briefly, she died.

Nora’s death was a victory of human spirit and the Love of God over suffering – seemingly pointless suffering that had the point of perfecting Nora and refining the hearts and characters of those of us who loved her.

What beauty of redemption was circumvented because some Dutch doctors were too impatient to let death come in God’s time? Two doctors told Theo’s daughter that euthanasia was “the only option left.” What obscenity!

And what a stark contrast between these two deaths.

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