Fifth Commandment: You Shall Not Kill/Morality/My Faith/Teen Faith

This is What Death with Dignity is Really About

As we come to halfway point of the year of mercy I need to come clean. I haven’t gone the extra mile, I haven’t picked up a new work of mercy to embark on during this time, I haven’t frequented reconciliation more or prepared better for my encounters with the Lord in that sacrament. I’ve been slacking. And mostly I’ve been slacking on the corporal works.

Most people probably find the corporal works of mercy; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, and to bury the dead easier to live out or take note of than the spiritual. However, the spiritual works; to admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries, and pray for the living and the dead are all things I can do from the comfort of my own home, and let me tell you, that sounded like a good deal.

But then, my grandma’s body began shutting down. Cancer, after four years of treatment and hospital runs and surgeries, was taking over and she could no longer fight. I had planned months before to stop and see her on my way up to graduation and thus, was able to see her for a few days before she passed. Seeing her so fragile, ill, and vulnerable was incredibly hard especially knowing that she was in pain.

However, taking care of my grandma at the end of her life was more mercy and love in action than I had ever known. It was a privilege and an honor to be present with her, to hold her hand and brush her hair, to feed her, to give her drink, and to dress her when she could no longer do those things for herself. It was precious to me to be able to visit with her and pour out love upon her and walk with her as she approached eternity. She was not a burden on my family. I didn’t resent her or feel anger about loving her in that way. Her pain and her suffering only increased my desire to love and cherish her. She didn’t lose her personality or her spark and we didn’t lose any love for her.

California, Oregon, and many other states want you to believe that “death with dignity” means taking your life if you have a terminal disease so as to not suffer or put your family through hardship. But that implies that if you have a terminal disease you don’t have dignity to begin with. It implies that because you are sick or suffering you are a burden and a hindrance on society and should simply rid the world of that burden as soon as possible and that is not for us to decide. It is not for us to control. All we can do is show others how loved they are even in the midst of sickness and death.

Death with dignity does not mean that we die in a perfect state or without any pain. It doesn’t mean that we choose how we will die and when we will die. It doesn’t mean that by controlling our time of death our families will not feel any pain. True death with dignity is filled with mercy. It is overwhelmed by love. It is sacrificial. It is true. It is good. It is beautiful.

My grandma experienced death with dignity because she is a human soul and dignity is fundamental to her human nature. She experienced mercy because she is loved and cherished by a family who knows the power of sacrificial love. I don’t think my mom slept more than three hours while we were with her. She was constantly taking care of and being attentive to my grandmother’s needs; feeding her, clothing her, making sure she had enough to eat and drink, singing to her, rubbing her feet. That is true sacrificial love, that is mercy lived out.

I couldn’t have imagined a death with more dignity than my grandmother’s. Though she was weak and couldn’t do everything for herself like she preferred, she died surrounded by her sons and daughters in law who had taken care of her until her last breath, taken in peace. She was surrounded by God’s mercy lived out and in action all around her. She died wrapped in the arms of earthly mercy preparing her for her heavenly home.

About the Author

Sarah McMahon

My life radically changed after a retreat in high school and God keeps surprising me every day. I am a youth minister in Illinois and I’ve only met one kind of candy I don’t like. I hate flying but I love new adventures so if you invent teleportation let me know @sarah_mcmahon6.

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