Death and Dying

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.”

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.”

Barbara Milligan 12-02-2014
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?

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.

Bob Smietana 10-26-2012
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."

Tom Montgomery-Fate 07-01-2011

One man searches for balance between family and solitude, nature and technology.

Ted Voelker 09-01-2010

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.”

Sabrina Falls 09-01-2010

I very much appreciated “The Art of Dying” by Lisa Sowle Cahill (June 2010).

Lisa Sowle Cahill 06-01-2010

At the end of life, how can people of faith prepare for a good death?

Rose Marie Berger 02-01-2008

Is a proper burial for World Trade Center victims a justice issue? Diane Horning's vigil for the conscience of America.

In Ceremonies of the Seasons, Jennifer Cole writes, “All calendars are founded upon a wish to organize our experience of time into manageable units—especially the year, with i

Julie Polter 08-01-2004
What is 'artificial means' and what is nonnegotiable humane care?
Danny Duncan Collum 03-01-2002
Studs Terkel reflects on life, death, and oral history.

Making caskets is fine. But who's going to clean up this mess? Inside their light, fragrant workshop, a handful of monks are hard at work. They're planing. They're ripping.

Julie Polter 09-01-2000

Bill Moyers on dying in America.

Julie Polter 05-01-2000
The power of ministering to the bereaved.
Julie Polter 05-01-2000

But does it have to COST SO MUCH!?

Julie Polter 05-01-2000

Steps to getting the funeral you want and can afford.

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