Monday, June 16, 2014

Say it.

Dying. Dead. Death. 
 Dying. Dead. Death.
Say it. All of you say it.

I entered this past week of school hating death. Despising it. We have immortal souls. Yes, we have a beginning...but we have no end. We were made to live forever. Death is the last attempt of the Devil to destroy the good God has made. It's the final result of the sin we were born into. God is the life-giver...death the end result of that agonizing, horrific thing called sin that stands between us. 

But then I was reminded of some things I had learned earlier this year (some of you have seen this part before :), particularly on Good Friday.
 As Christians we skip over the crucifixion just a bit. Yes, we have many songs about the old rugged cross...we wear cross necklaces...but really, isn't it all preparation for the glory of the Resurrection? The emphasis all on the fact that there is no one still on that cross?
We all want to get to the awesomeness that is Easter when Good Wins and Evil is forever defeated and glory reigns supreme...
but His death is actually the main part. 
He said It is Finished...and the victory was there, in the darkness and the sorrow and the agony of the cross. 
That was where everything changed and we were given life.

But we don't picture victory like that. It's all about the morning and the beauty in the garden and finding out He's actually alive and the overwhelming joy.
But that's not when He said it was done. He won 3 days earlier as the earth itself shuddered and those He had walked with for 3 years hid in horror.

One of my favorite quotes as a young reader was from one of Deborah Alcock's gorgeous historical fiction tales - Those who can die can not be compelled. I'm not sure if I can explain why...except that there was such love and faith in the stories of those martyrs who triumphed through death. Death was no defeat...they could not be forced, could not be destroyed, because they were able to die.

O death, where is thy sting...O grave, where is thy victory...we quote those words like they are rhetorical questions, as if we can fling them in death's face and by saying them make death and the grave meaningless. 
But the Bible follows those words up with an actual answer. 
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law
There is a sting in death. There is a terrifying finality about the ending of choice. I do not believe God "gives up" on anyone until that point...but once you are dead, it's over. Now is the day of salvation. Death is the point of no return - because it is given unto man only once to die and after that the judgement. 

But at some point, probably when I was 16 and first saw dying..dead...death...first watched the bitter struggle between a soul going to eternity and a body that was made to live for oh, so much longer than a sin-filled world would allow it to...first heard the death rattle...first saw a family gather and clash and sorrow and ache as their eldest was slowly pulled away from them...I turned death into the enemy. 

How big a role that played in my willingness to step through the door marked Medicine, I don't know...but I wanted to fight for life. I wanted to make life better. The opposite of death. Our Savior came that we might have life and might have it more abundantly...I wanted to mirror Him in doing that.

So, for me, a week on death and dying was like getting kicked in the face over and over again. I don't know that I've ever cried so many times in a single day as I did last Monday. (I DEFINITELY cry more easily the older I get. What on earth. :P) But every story, every time someone mentioned those they loved who had died, I cried again. Of course, I was not the only one - at one point I went in the bathroom to blow my nose, and there were around a 1/3 of the women in my class crowded in the tiny room, crying hard

And our lecturers knew it. And they acknowledged that physicians are terrible at meeting death. That most cannot say the words I began this post with. (Which is why they made us say them aloud, multiple times.) 

I know I'm nowhere near accepting of death. I know when my patients die, I will be devastated. I know when my patients cry, I'm very extremely likely to cry with them. I know when those I love die, I will again hurt like I've only hurt once before, though I hope that the next time it happens I will have a better response to the pain. 

But death is not the final enemy. There are some defeats more triumphant than victories...and while death may seem a defeat, to die in the Lord is triumphant. More triumphant than any life without Him could ever pretend to be.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Even when death comes, our work for Christ is not vain. He was triumphant in death...we can be also. 

I think I was surprised by how many layers there is to many little we can do at times and how much we try and yet how little we really know...Also, I realized that if I cannot accept death, I will burn out really fast as a healthcare provider. Because everyone dies. And though I may still see my role as fighting death, I'm not always going to win. Depending on what I focus on, I may never win. (Hospice care comes to mind.) But death is the side effect...sin is the enemy. Understanding that death may not have been the original intent for us, but at this point death is but a part of life...I might not be there yet, but at some point I will probably get there. 

I've never forgotten hanging out with my great-grandma, and listening as she asked a nurse about another resident at the nursing home she was staying at. "...She passed on," the nurse said gently, softly. "She died?" my grandma repeated bluntly. It struck me then how we tiptoe around the subject as young people, while my grandma, in her 90's, said the word we struggle to say in such situations without a second thought. She often mentioned which of her clothes she wanted to wear at her funeral, or some other subject related to death, without blinking, while the rest of us hesitated to mention anything near it. Perhaps it was her very livingness of life and careless regard for death that made her own death cut so close that even now it makes me hurt.

If you can't tell by now, I have many and conflicted feelings about death. I've learned a lot this week about myself, much that I don't especially like, but at least I've seen it now and so can begin to change. Part of that change may include coming to accept death and understand the role it plays in all our lives. 

However, I do believe we live in a culture that holds up death as a good thing, even as a desirable thing...and this week I've also seen how dangerous that view can be. I think I've focused here on the triumph that can be in death because for so long I've refused to see any good at all coming from such pain. But I'm curious. Talk to me.

How do you see death? 

At what point do you think care becomes futile?

At what cost would you continue living?
If your life would put your family into debt they would never be able to pay back, would you still want to live?  

One could say that martyrs commit suicide - they're choosing to die. But there are things more sacred than life. 
What are those things? 

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