Molly Marsh 04-01-2015

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande 

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

Brittany Maynard chose to die Nov. 1, but on what would have been her 30th birthday Nov. 19, her voice in support of the Right to Die movement rang loud.

Maynard, who had an aggressive brain tumor, was the face of Compassion & Choices, the advocacy group campaigning to legalize physician-assisted dying in all 50 states. She still is.

On her birthday, the group released a “call to action” video with passages and narration drawn from prerecorded videos with Maynard (pronounced MayNARD) and other advocates explaining why the right to die by legal prescription is important to them. It is now legal in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico.

In the video, Maynard concludes: “If there’s one message to come away from everything that I’ve been through, it is no matter what life kind of presents you with, is never be afraid to use your own voice. And even if you are uncertain, even if your voice is shaking, ask the questions you want to ask, speak up for yourself. Advocate.”

Belinda Acosta 04-03-2014

In a death-denying culture, how do we learn to accompany the dying and the grieving?

Christian Piatt 04-01-2014
Virtual life concept, agsandrew / Shutterstock.com

Virtual life concept, agsandrew / Shutterstock.com

Religion has, for centuries, been fairly obsessed with the afterlife. For some, what awaits us after our physical death is fairly central to their faith. But thanks to the Internet, many of us end up having a sort of life after death, whether we intended to or not.

In a recent article published in the New Yorker magazine, Pia Farrenkopf experienced the sort of digital life after death that some might find appealing, while others would consider it rather horrifying. Pia traveled frequently for work, so it was not unusual for her neighbors not to see her for long stretches at a time. They would mow her lawn when the grass got long and kept an eye on the place during her long stints out of town.

As such, she lacked many close ties near home, and like many of us, all of her monthly finances were automated and tied directly to her bank account. So although she died in early 2009 while sitting in her car in the garage, it was not until very recently that anyone actually discovered she was dead.

It took that long for her checking account reserves to run out, which led to utility shut offs and a visit from the bank to issue an eviction notice due to missed payments. So although her body had set partially mummified in the garage for nearly five years, as far as the outside world was concerned, she was still alive.

In his book, The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil speaks of a not-so-far-off point in our future when the ability of computers to process information and replicate human thought and behavior will get to the point that we will question what it means to be conscious, and to be a person.

It seems like the stuff of science fiction, to consider the possibility of people uploading the entirety of their life experience, or even some iteration of what we understand to be their consciousness, to a network of computers. But the fact is that we already are wrestling with these sorts of ethical implications, even today.


Resources for living well in the midst of death and grief.

Phil Haslanger 06-05-2013
Phil Haslanger (l), and his friend Mike. Photo courtesy Phil Haslanger

Phil Haslanger (l), and his friend Mike. Photo courtesy Phil Haslanger

My friend Mike died last week.

We were the same age. We grew up together in Marinette in northeast Wisconsin. Worked our way through Boy Scouts together. Played at each other’s houses. Studied in the same classrooms. And then, over time, we drifted apart. Until this past year. That’s when I learned that Mike was dying of cancer.

In less than 12 months, we re-established a friendship and Mike and his wife, Nancy, taught me amazing lessons about living with the prospect of dying.

In our initial contacts, Nancy wrote of Mike: 

“He is doing well with his treatments. I am amazed, each day, how well he handles this journey we are on. Never once have we asked ‘why us?’ We feel so blessed that we have each day to love each other and enjoy our retirement one day at a time. Not everyone is so lucky to have a long goodbye with the one they love.“

Colin Mathewson 07-26-2011

There's something special about the bookends of our lifetimes. I became a first-time father seven months ago and a hospice chaplain just one month past. Growing up and growing old, especially the first and last months of our lives, can be surprisingly similar experiences.

I fed my daughter sweet potatoes for the first time last night. Introducing her to solid foods has been a treat. While we're trying our best to teach her the sign language words for "food", "more", and " all done", Robin still finds closed-mouth grumble-whines to be the best way to let us know she thinks sweet potatoes aren't all that hot. Another subtly nuanced whine might instead wonder, "You don't happen to have any more mashed banana or applesauce around, would you?" My attempt to turn the filled spoon into an acrobatic and roaring airplane met with scant success.

Timothy King 05-04-2011
If I had been in a baseball stadium on Sunday night, I would have been chanting "USA!
Patty Whitney 04-18-2011
For three months last year the Gulf Coast oil spill was the major topic of news reports all over the world. From the explosion on April 20, 2010, until the capping of the gushing well on July 15, 2010, the headlines were consumed with images and dialogue about the tragedy unfolding before our very eyes. Shortly after the news of the capping, the government reported that “most” of the oil was gone, and that things were getting back to normal. The camera crews packed up. The reporters turned in their hotel room keys and gathered their deductible tax receipts. And they all left. Kumbaya, the oil was gone, and the world was normal again. The world could move on to other, more pressing interests. That is … the rest of the world could move on to other, more pressing interests.
Nadia Bolz-Weber 09-16-2010

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then, there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.

Eugene Cho 08-12-2010
Several years ago, I spent several hours/week doing research (and meeting with other pastors) about pastoral health and vitality for my denomination.
Debra Dean Murphy 07-26-2010

I've been reading Paul Harding's debut novel, Tinkers, which was this year's surprise Pulitzer Prize winner. It's a modest tome -- slim of build, light in the hand.

Rose Marie Berger 07-19-2010

Conservationist John L. Wathen a.k.a.

Jim Wallis 07-01-2010
After his unanimous approval by the Senate Armed Services Committee as the new Afghan war commander, General David Petraeus was pictured in The Washington Post with a broad smile and thu
Nadia Bolz-Weber 06-09-2010
Hans Peterson, a good friend of mine, died two months ago in a work-related accident.
Becky Garrison 05-21-2010
When I got a press release announcing that Spike Jonze was the executive producer of The Lazarus Effect,
Allen Johnson 04-15-2010
The heart-chilling news flashed through West Virginia's Coal River valley, a darkening pall on the blue sky afternoon of April 5, 2010, one day after Easter's hope-filled celebration of resurrectio
Christine Sine 04-13-2010
I have never been as conscious of the incredible hope of the Easter message as I have been this last Easter.
Julie Clawson 03-26-2010
I grew up in the water world. My dad worked for the water department in Dallas and served as director of Austin water and wastewater.
LaVonne Neff 03-19-2010

Soon, they tell us, Congress will or will not pass a health-care bill. Detractors think universal health care will raise health-care costs, lower health-care outcomes, and dangerously increase the power of the federal government.