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Spirituality and death

January 6, 2014

So I want to say up front that in the summer I almost died of renal failure. As it happens, this is recognized as one of the gentlest ways to die. I felt short of breath, and could only walk a few feet or stand a minute or so, without falling over. But lying down in my hospital bed with my IV in place, I felt only sleepiness and peaceful contentment. I had the perfect excuse to just lie there and not do anything. My favourite activity.

What I feel that I learned from this is that anxiety, depression, withdrawal, denial and all the other negative ways to react to dying may very well be a side effect of the way one is dying. For me, I felt only a peaceful resolution to life. But this had something to do with which chemicals are unleashed in the dying process. We should never judge the spirituality of someone who does not die well. We need to realize that it depends partly on which organ is shutting down, not on how one is walking with God.

I know – the doctors were a little baffled because my fiancé and I kept telling each other jokes, and watching Youtube and giggling and laughing, even when they told me the most dire news. They thought it was denial but it wasn’t. I’ll talk more about what I was thinking in further posts.

Here is one of the jokes I told him – he’s American, right.

ACTUAL transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. This radio conversation was released by the Chief of Naval Operations on 10-10-95.

Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”

Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”

Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

I have observed many Christians die, and it is a mixed experience. It can be very disturbing, since one’s expectations may not be fulfilled. Sometimes it is a peaceful release and other times a very stressful gasping for breath.

I have committed to writing these thoughts since I met a young woman nurse, standing in line in the airport. She shared some of her experiences, and asked me about mine, about how I felt. She seemed genuinely desiring of some kind of discussion or input, considering her own situation. She seemed very alone, very anxious but encouraged to observe me making the most of my life, come what may.

I have only really discussed dying with two or three people. So many people are afraid of the topic, or don’t have a starting place for it. Well, I have a starting place, but that’s all. However, I don’t mind talking about it.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2014 11:34 pm

    Moved I am by your story. Prayers emerging (as usual). My sister, aged 9, in 1963, died of renal failure. Long sad lines come from these early days in my life. Fearful without fear. We have spent the 12 days of Christmas with my 3 month old grandson – quite a visit. Bless you and your love in the time to come.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 7, 2014 12:03 am

    Thanks for sharing. My cousin died at 9 of leukemia. The death of a child is always utterly heart breaking to the parents, to the whole family. How sad.

    But I have read that renal failure is what many doctors say is the gentlest way to die.

    “Death from kidney failure is generally considered a gentle death. In fact, many physicians and nurses would choose to die of kidney disease rather than any other illness. Most symptoms of kidney failure can be easily managed or suppressed and pain is rarely a problem.”

    http://dying.about.com/od/thedyingprocess/f/dying_of_kidney_failure.htm

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