308 Days to Live
Photo credit -Scott Buresh
For the past week I have found myself thinking about Brittany Maynard and her announcement that she will end her life on November 1, 2014. I also gratefully read Kara Tippets’ heartfelt response begging Brittany to reconsider.
Both women are dying.
So many responses are screaming across the internet, and I confess that I get overwhelmed by all of the comments, all of the yelling and fighting, the “I’m right, you’re wrong” responses that don’t help anyone in my humble opinion. It is why I usually just read the articles, process with a few friends, and spend a lot of time praying. I carry a deep sadness as I read that both women have been vehemently attacked for their views . Kara Tippets shared that some words have been so painful that she stopped reading the comments. I have to agree with her as she writes, “Can we speak kindly to one another in our disagreement? We are talking about possibly the most tender moment in the life of another- let’s care for one another as we disagree with gentleness…This is not a Kara vs. Brittany issue. This is one broken and sick woman looking upon another and saying she matters.”
All the mean fighting tempts me to not post this and just shove it deep into the “I can’t resolve or fix this” file and write about something cute and happy. That doesn’t feel very hopeful though or very courageous.
I must confess when I look in the mirror, I see both women staring back at me.
No, I do not have terminal cancer, but if I did, I would not take a pill to end my life. I know that. But I imagine there would be days I would want to. Days when I would be too afraid to face the pain, too weak to endure it, too overwhelmed to fight. I know there would be moments when I would want to feel like I am in control, I will be the one to decide what my death will look like, it is my life and I should be able to choose. I can feel the anger that might surface if someone tried to tell me otherwise.
I know I would go through all of these emotions because I know myself. I have fled from much lesser things.
At the same time though, my heart clings to Kara Tippets’ words and knows that they are true: “Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.”
My thoughts are not filled with judgment of Brittany. Instead, I find myself thinking about the people in my life who have taught me that this quote about beauty is really true. And I think about all I might have missed, all they might have missed, if they had chosen to take a pill instead.
One person who comes to mind is a beautiful woman named Peggy Buresh. She was diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma multiform cancer and died 308 days later. Not a day passed when we didn’t pray for her healing, a day that she didn’t hope the pain and suffering would end. I know the journey was unbearable at times, not only for her, but her family and friends as they watched her suffer. Her husband Scott explained that Peggy “turned down treatment options that promised little or no hope and embraced the coming of her death while seeking to make the most of each day” she had with her family.
I did not have a front row seat to Peggy’s suffering, but I was changed by her journey. Before her illness, Peggy and I had experienced some brokenness in our friendship because of circumstances that were out of our control. When our paths crossed, we waved a friendly hello, but left it at that. I had resolved that this was just how life happened a lot of the time and it was ok.
When Peggy learned that she had a limited time to live, she prayed that God would show her who she needed to see and who needed to see her. Visits were limited because of Peggy’s health and the agonizing headaches that accompanied the cancer. The day I received a text telling me that Peggy hoped to see me is a day I won’t forget.
The thirty minutes I sat with Peggy changed me. We didn’t have long, deep discussions trying to resolve any differences or figure out what healing looks like, but we both experienced healing in a way that is difficult to describe. Because of Peggy, I experienced firsthand what reconciliation looks like. Not just the “we see each other from afar and wave a friendly hello” healing, but real restoration that has extended far beyond my friendship with Peggy. If she had taken a pill to end her suffering, I doubt we would have experienced this beauty, this healing. I am forever grateful for this gift.
In talking to Scott about this post, he also listed beautiful things he and Peggy and their daughters would have missed if she had ended her life earlier. Someone might say “Well, you just have to plan all of that before taking the pill.” But that, to me, is the mystery of beauty. It doesn’t always come when we try to plan it, but surprises us on the darkest corners, in the scariest places.
As Scott has said, “Peggy firmly believed that cancer was not her enemy or her identity. Cancer was part of her story but not her identity.” She also believed that “the events and experiences of her life were not interruptions or inconveniences. They were her life and where God would meet her.”
So I leave today, not with answers on whether Brittany or Kara is right or which mean comments have changed my mind or my opinion. I leave today thankful for the hope Peggy Buresh gave me because of her courageous willingness to endure her full story with grace, hope and love. As Scott so beautifully wrote at the end of Peggy’s journey: ““I am struck anew by the faithfulness of God to us day by day and the simplicity and courageousness of Peggy’s love and trust to embrace His goodness.”