Death and Dying

Author Phyllis Tickle Faces Death Just as She Enjoyed Life: ‘The Dying Is My Next Career’

Photo via Karen Pulfer Focht / RNS
Phyllis Tickle looks out the window in her home in Lucy, Tenn., just outside Memphis. Photo via Karen Pulfer Focht / RNS

Her once boundless energy starts to fail by midday. She started radiation treatment on May 21, mainly in an effort to forestall the possible collapse of her spine, which would leave her helpless and in intractable pain.

“That sounds a little formidable to me,” she says.

“I was never much for suffering.”

She goes on, her words carefully chosen. “Am I grateful for this? Not exactly. But I’m not unhappy about it. And that’s very difficult for people to understand.”

For Mother’s Day, a Place to Mourn the Babies Who Never Came Home

Photo via Hans Pennink / RNS
Deacon Jim O'Rourke speaks at a memorial service at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery. Photo via Hans Pennink / RNS

None of the remains of the 26 babies — miscarried, stillborn, and short-lived — whose names are engraved on paving stones or metal butterflies at the Remembrance Garden are actually interred there. But to the families who gathered at the memorial last month, the plot is sacred ground.

“The garden says to us: You matter,” Biskup told them.

“Your baby existed. He or she matters. We remember.”

Out of the Silence

An angel holds the earth in silence. Image courtesy Danilo Sanino/shutterstock.c
An angel holds the earth in silence. Image courtesy Danilo Sanino/shutterstock.com

One summer my cousin Betty and I sneaked through the barbed-wire fence of a neighbor’s orchard and ate so many wild plums right off the tree that we almost made ourselves sick. Betty was 13 and I was 9, and I adored her. I still do.

Betty is dying right now. She might not make it till Christmas, which is really bad timing in my opinion. Yes, I talk with God about this. It’s one thing for me to lose a beloved cousin: I’m old enough to know from experience that, while the pain can feel like a raw wound that might never heal, losing those we love is a normal part of life. But I keep wondering, What kind of message is God sending to Betty’s family by jerking her away from them during this holy season of Advent? Doesn’t God care that they are already plunged into grief in anticipation of losing someone they love so much?

Yes, I talk with God about my fears, too, mostly in the form of questions from the little five-year-old kid inside me. What’s going to happen? Where are we going? What will it be like? Will it hurt? Do I have to? And, Why?

5 Things to Know About Death and Dying Debates

People Magazine cover featuring Brittany Maynard. Photo courtesy of People/RNS.

Brittany Maynard’s decision to die soon by a legal, lethal prescription, rather than let a brain tumor kill her, has provoked a national conversation and debate about end-of-life decisions.

In a new video, released Oct. 29, she says she feels herself getting sicker by the day. But since she still feels joy in living, she’ll postpone her day of death past the date originally announced — Nov. 1.

Maynard, 29, has inspired raging arguments about the values, even about the vocabulary, underlying the choices we make about our last days. Her goal, she still says, is to “influence this policy (on physician-assisted dying) for positive change.”

As ethicists, activists and religious voices square off, here are five things to know about death and dying.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Eric Brown holds his two-month-old daughter, Pearl Joy, on Oct. 1, 2012.
Eric Brown holds his two-month-old daughter, Pearl Joy, on Oct. 1, 2012.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eric and Ruth Brown believe nothing about daughter Pearl Joy's life is a mistake.

They say God gave Pearl her bright red hair and wide blue eyes, as well as the genetic disorder that created a cleft in her upper lip and caused her brain's development to stall in the first weeks in the womb.

"Things didn't go wrong," Eric Brown said. "God has designed Pearl the way he wanted, for his glory and our good."

That belief has sustained the Browns during the past six months, ever since a routine ultrasound revealed that the couple's third child has alobar holoprosencephaly, a rare genetic condition that's almost always fatal. A specialist told the Browns she would probably die in the womb and advised them to end the pregnancy early.

It's one thing to talk about God's will when life is good. It's another when a doctor is saying your baby won't live.

The Browns were forced to consider religious, medical and ethical issues most parents never will. And nobody could make their decision for them.

The Browns never considered abortion. They believe that Pearl is "fearfully and wonderfully made," as Psalm 139 puts it, and God alone should decide when she lives and when she dies.

Seeing Pearl's beating heart on the ultrasound also persuaded them to continue the pregnancy, even if the odds were stacked against her.

"If there is a chance, you say yes to that chance," Eric Brown said. "The only thing I know about parenting is that you say yes."

So far, Pearl has beaten the odds.

Few babies with Pearl's disorder make it to term, and of those who do, only 3 percent survive birth, according to the Dallas-based Carter Centers for Brain Research in Holoprosencephaly and Related Malformations. Pearl has a particularly severe form of the condition, which means her brain never divided into two hemispheres.

She turned 11 weeks old Oct. 12, a milestone that the Browns celebrated by lighting 11 candles and singing "Happy Birthday."

The Art of Dying

I have been dead for a long time when I finally catch the delicate scent of my carnation -- just a trace, just for a second. A pigeon coos as it struts along the edge of my sheet. Then a little girl -- one of the children of the temporarily dead -- starts giggling about something. Her clicking shoes skip through the odd labyrinth of flower-adorned bodies.I' m not sure why I came to this demonstration. I need to go grocery shopping and I have stacks of papers to grade. What motivated me? Guilt? Yes, partly. The belief I'm making a difference? No. I don't think so. The hope that this theater of the absurd will help alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people? No, not really. It’s less noble, less clear. I'm just trying to learn how to believe in something, how to see in the dark.From Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father's Search for the Wild, by Tom Montgomery Fate. Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Read the Full Article

July 2011 Sojourners
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Acceptable in God’s sight?

In her generally fine article, Lisa Sowle Cahill states, “euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is not an acceptable answer to the stress of human death.”

However, many other people can respect a loving, considered, and supportive position for those who choose, in their God-given freedom, to end their own lives on their own terms. The choice of solving the mystery of what it means to live (after physical death) without pain or frailty and with God should not be denied by any politician or church official.

Rev. Ted Voelker
New York, New York

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine September/October 2010
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

For Further Reading

I very much appreciated “The Art of Dying” by Lisa Sowle Cahill (June 2010). As a harpist and certified music practitioner trained to play therapeutic music at the bedside of sick or dying persons, I have dedicated much of my life and ministry to enabling a “good death.” In my own experience, being with my cancer-stricken 58-year-old father in the last week of his life, as he died in his home under the care of hospice, was an eye-opening, powerful, and blessed experience for our family.

My only criticism of the article is the disappointing lack of citations. Cahill repeatedly points out that the approaches to care of the dying in her article are called for by “God’s plan,” “Christian wisdom,” and the Christian “bioethical perspective,” but without pointing us toward the specific sources. Those who may disagree could easily argue that this “Christian wisdom” is simply Cahill’s wisdom.

Sabrina Falls
Indianapolis, Indiana

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine September/October 2010
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

The Art of Dying

Death is a human reality that eventually catches up with all of us. Scripture and Christian tradition remind us that we are living with death from the moment we are born. Through the Christian tradition of ars moriendi, or the art of dying, we are taught to die well by trusting in God, repenting for our failings, forgiving others, and having compassion for those whose needs exceed our own.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine June 2010
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

At the Hour of Our Death

It was a clear May day on Staten Island in New York, clouds high and wispy against the cerulean sky. A slight Atlantic breeze bent the scrub grass along the highway. Then the wind direction changed, and I inhaled the sickly sweet smell of decomposition. I had arrived at the Fresh Kills Landfill run by the New York City Department of Sanitation—the mass grave for hundreds of victims of 9/11.

“It’s a pretty formidable place,” Diane Horning told me as we looked across nearly 2,200 acres of prettied-up garbage dump, approximately 40 acres of which holds refuse from the World Trade Center. “You can’t bring the elderly. You can’t bring young children. There’s no place to put flowers.”

Diane and her husband, Kurt, had met me at the landfill to talk about the World Trade Center Families for a Proper Burial.

The Horning’s 26-year-old son, Matthew, was killed on Sept. 11. He worked for the Marsh & McLennan insurance company on the 95th floor of the north tower at the World Trade Center. O f the 295 Marsh & McLennan employees killed that day, many have had no remains found. Of the 2,749 people killed at the Trade Center, more than 40 percent lack any identified remains.

In 2003, Diane Horning founded World Trade Center Families for a Proper Burial with Arlene and Arthur Russo, whose son Wayne had also died. The organization’s express purpose is to retrieve the remains of the 9/11 victims in the Fresh Kills Landfill and give them a proper burial. They represent about 1,000 families.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine February 2008
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe