Making peace with your past is part of the healing process.
Recently I wrote a book review from Leming and Dickinson’s (2011) book, Understanding Dying, Death, & Bereavement as part of a class assignment. My opening lines were this: Most people fear death; therefore, they avoid talking about it. However, by not talking about it leaves a deficiency in understanding death-related issues. Then, when the issues come up in individuals lives, they feel inadequate to deal with them and lack comfort asking for help.
In this assignment we were asked to share a personal or professional experience we could apply to what we learned. Here is mine. It is a true story about Sue, a shut-in. I left out the more personal and confidential parts of the story and changed names.
I wish I had read this book several years ago, so I would have had a better understanding of terminal illness and the choices a person can make with how they want to die. Shortly after I was saved (2015), I showed an interest in sharing what I was learning about my new faith with other people. My pastor, Jack, introduced me to Sue a shut-in (a person who does not get out much due to age or disability). Jack asked if I would be interested in doing a home Bible study with Sue. I met with Sue, and a friendship developed. Sue was about the same age as my husband (early fifties) and in poor health. We started meeting for home Bible studies. Sue began to have more health problems. She passed out one day and was not found until several hours later. I knocked on her door that day, but there was no answer… Guilt and regret of the “what if I had done this or that,” have a way of ruling over logic in a person’s mind for a long time.
A few days later, I found out she was in a coma in the hospital. My relationship shifted to include her mother and sisters. Time went by, and Sue recovered enough for her to return home. Her health deteriorated more, and she was placed on kidney dialysis. Pain medication was prescribed. Sue tried several times to overdose, but each time she was sent to the hospital. A day came when Sue’s doctor told her she had six months to a year to live. Sue started missing kidney dialysis or not completing full dialysis at some appointments. Hospice care was started with Sue in her home.
One day the hospice nurse found Sue passed out from an overdose, she got Sue coherent, and asked the question, “do you want to die?” Leming and Dickinson (2011, p. 309) state, “suicide gesture that mistakenly end in death are classified as intentional suicides, and unsuccessful suicide attempts are considered suicide gestures.” The hospice nurse in this story saw the quality of life over quantity of life, as mention in Leming and Dickson’s (2011) book. I was ill-equipped with the understanding of passive euthanasia and was not even sure if my Christian faith and worldviews would be able to accept it. I did not know about Sue’s attempts of suicide with drug overdoses until she chose to go into a hospice facility where passive euthanasia is practiced, “the withholding of treatment, which hastens death and allows the individual to die naturally” (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 303). I was in the room with her family when the doctor came to talk to her about her choice to die. It was a very emotional time.
Sue was able to make peace with her family and set things in order before her death. She was able to see her children and grandchildren. They were able to have peace with her death. I also was able to say, “goodbye.” Sue died within a week, without fear, without pain, and surrounded by her family almost two years ago. I can remember Sue without associating her death with suicide.
After Sue’s death, I questioned her salvation. Mostly I felt betrayed, anger of being used, then guilt. In my emotional pain, I yelled at God. Later, I realized it is not up to me to judge Sue’s eternal life or any one’s for that matter. That is God’s job… Although I thought her actions spoke differently, she claimed to be a Christian. Therefore, I could carry some hope for seeing her again
Some may wonder where Jack, my pastor, was in this story. He was there at hospice with Sue, her family, and me. However, no one mentioned Sue’s drug problem around him. I thought he might had known but it was confidential. I found out recently he didn’t know. I realize now he could had helped me understand better.
While reading this book, I kept thinking of the deaths I have experienced since becoming a follower of Christ and how my view of dying, death, and bereavement is different. For a Christian, there only two options; eternity in heaven or eternity in hell. The book reminded me that other cultures and individuals could have different views of life after death. I thought about when doing crisis intervention, I might have to come along someone who’s beliefs of dying, death, bereavement may go against what I believe or may seem strange to me. I realize knowing a little about how other people and cultures see dying, death, and bereavement is important. The challenge for me is the lack of experience in the field of dying. Other things that came to my mind were questions such as how do I respond to someone who is asking about dying or death? How do I bring comfort and peace to someone who is dying? Is it my place to bring up the issues of dying with family members? I want to read the remainder of the book.
What actions or changes are you going to make in your life as a result of your learning?
One of the things I like to do is ask my pastor some questions about Christian beliefs and practices in helping people understand dying and death. Another thing I would like to do is share this book with my cousin, who has become the caregiver for my terminally ill elderly aunt. Now that I understand bereavement better, I am working on putting to rest the guilt and regret I have about Sue and another person. I am going to honor their memory by throwing a wreath in the river. Finally, I am going to try to open my heart again to visiting the terminally ill and elderly.
Again, I left out the more personal and confidential parts. The first attempt at putting the wreath in the river was a failure… Isn’t that just how it goes when we are trying to let go of emotional pain?…
It was getting late in the day as I stood by the bank of the river where there was a rocky incline. I threw the wreath. It landed on the rocks and got camouflage in the weeds… Just like guilt and regret… Fear of getting hurt and lack of time stopped me from climbing down the incline. Besides, I thought, the next time it rained, and the river rose, the water would wash the wreath away. As I was walking away, I looked back thinking can I let this go…
I couldn’t sleep that night. The events of the day kept running through my mind. I knew I needed to find my wreath and finish what I started. I arrive at the riverbank, put my cell phone in my pocket (I might need to call for help), and started looking down the incline for the wreath… The wreath was made with branches from an evergreen tree and rotten twine. (I didn’t want to pollute the water with plastic.) It was different from the other plants around the bank but still a shade of green. I knew I would have a hard time finding it.
After walking around where my fumble attempt was the day before, I realized I would have a better chance of seeing the wreath if I climbed down and looked up the incline. I saw what looked like a safe way. Then, I carefully tested my steps on the rocks as I made my way down. I started looking up the incline for my camouflaged wreath by looking for an evergreen that didn’t belong… Guilt and regret may be in our lives, but they need to be dealt with. They don’t belong… I spotted the wreath and slowly started climbing up the rocky incline looking for the next safe step… Sometimes slow, baby steps that feel safe need to be taken to deal with emotional pain.
A few inches on the ground by my wreath was a penny. Instantly I saw the dramatic irony with a thought, “a penny for your thoughts.” “Really, Lord.” I picked up the penny and my wreath. I looked downwards and knew going down the way I came up was not an option. I was going to have to finish climbing up then back down again on the safer path. As I started up, I noticed white flowers growing on the bank. I thought I could add some of them to my wreath then it would not be so camouflaged… Emotional pain is easier to deal with when it is recognized… I made it up the rocky incline with the wreath, the flowers, and the penny. Then I went back down again on the safer path. Threw the wreath in the river, set down on a rock, and started watching my white-flowered wreath flow away.
Final thought: Things of value and worth, takes time and great effort on our part.
Later that evening, not knowing what to read in the Bible but wanting to read it, there was a whispered thought, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”
I read and meditated on the chapter of love, 1st Corinthians 13.
Peace and love my friend
Leming, M. & Dickinson, G. (2011). Understanding dying, death, & bereavement. (8th Ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.