Tag Archives: My Sister’s Keeper

What Do You Say To A Dying Person?

Abraham Lincon's deathbed
Abraham Lincon's deathbed

Just finished watching “My Sister’s Keeper” with my wife and promised her, if she ever became like the mom, Sara, I’d tell her a thing or two and not let her get away with it.

What I pondered most about the movie, though, was not the selfishness of the mother, the hole she was digging for herself primarily with her own inability to solve the problem she so desperately wanted to solve and the inevitable self-destruction that would escalate severely after her daughter died. It was the scene towards the end when all the family are hanging together around Kate’s bedside and they’re telling her to think about her body killing the cancer cells, think of getting strong and healthy again and picturing a happy, healthy, and long life alive on this earth. The family kept telling her to promise them she’d think about becoming healthy.

Being positive is a positive thing. But is being realistic, or even negative, a negative thing?

Oooh, a conundrum! And elitists the world over like to call Conservative Christians so very black and white in their small minds.

Well, this small mind is fairly crackling over the profundities of that conundrum.

Looking at Sara, the mother, we see an unhealthily positive woman. She was so very certain her daughter would live. She’d been driving her entire life and her family’s life, and anybody else she could get to orbit around her with this singular focus for 14 years. Her steadfast focus was a good thing in the beginning. It is important when beginning a fight to have hope and a high aim driving us. But as the fight wears on, even the wise become careful in their aims.

When Aragorn, after the battle of Pellenor Fields, considers the necessity of a distracting engagement at the very Black Gates of Mordor, he has no false hope of the potential success of this expedition. In a story characterized by great and lofty hope, the scene is singularly grim. Their doom is certain. The hearty heroes knew each of their own lives were secondary to the survival of the race of men free of Sauron’s bile, and then entertained no vain assumptions of their own longevity. In that last desperate moment the driving force was necessity and gritty determination rather hope for success.

Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book out about the perils of positive thinking. Emily Wilson, on AlterNet explains an important difference:

Positive thinking is different, she says, from being cheerful or good-natured — it’s believing that the world is shaped by our wants and desires and that by focusing on the good, the bad ceases to exist.

Focusing on the unattainable, when we know it is unattainable, is unhealthy. Focusing on the realistic future and making the best of it is very healthy. If that future is dire, go to it with a song and a good friend.

But I don’t want to just critique the destructive and desperate mother and her dangerous desires, I want to talk about those awkward relatives in the hospital room trying to make light of these few fleeting and final hours.

I have not expertise in this matter. Only a few close friends of mine have died, but I was not at any of their bedsides. Grandparents have passed on, but, unfortunately, in each case I wasn’t really close to them at the time of death and I was not at any of their bedsides either.

But it seems to me that, were I dying and it was obvious the end was soon, I’d prefer people to be honest about it, not dwelling on that fact, but not avoiding it awkwardly.

Obviously, the religious beliefs of the involved people would have a significant impact on the available subjects. If I were the one dying, I’d appreciate people being hopeful in the Christian sense. Appreciating a life lived for God and speculating on what I’d see after I’d shuffled off this mortal coil. If at the bedside of a dying Christian, I’d want to exude that hope as an encouragement to others in the room.

If I were at the bedside of an unsaved person dying, I’d want to capitalize on those last few moments to ensure they were aware, so far as I was able, of the true nature of life, it’s purpose, and the true God.

In all cases I’d want to make memories and recall old memories. The dying do not need new memories, they are for the living. There will be plenty of time for crying after the dying are gone, they’ve probably already shed their tears and would probably be happy for a pleasant escape. Save the funeral until after they’re gone.

As a Christian I have a powerful hope that carries me through (not above) any struggle. I know the worst that can occur is that I lose this paltry, meager, and short life here on this earth. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and good riddance. I want heaven and real, true, immediate fellowship with my God and Savior and all those who have gone before. Matt Kelly still has to teach me how to shave with a straight blade.

So death for me is just a doorway, a passage. Like the passage around Cape Horn it is difficult and often fraught with pain and heartache. And like the passage around Cape Horn it is soon over.

So what would I say to a dying person?

I don’t know. I feel all I have here is a list of do’s and don’ts. Guidelines, more like.

One thing’s for sure, I won’t be talking about how the human mind can will the body to health. Medicine does that, and God does.

So what would you say to a dying person? Or even better, what have you said to a dying person?