There have been numerous people praising Brittany Maynard for her strength during her battle with cancer and subsequent suicide. Brittany chose to end her life before the cancer in her body incapacitated her so that she could no longer care for her self and communicate with her loved ones. Of course the burden on those same loved ones would be a great one as they cared for Brittany and witnessed her suffering.
I’m not writing this to pass judgment on Brittany’s decision, but suicide is suicide, and it’s rooted in mental illness. It matters not if an eloquently written note accompanies one’s self-inflicted demise or in this case, a media campaign aimed at advocating for the Death with Dignity movement while documenting Brittany’s decision.
We’re given a finite number of years on this earth and we spend many years in contentment and possibly, joy, but we also spend a good deal of those years experiencing hurt, pain, frustration, sadness and dark suffering. I hate that we have to suffer; no one wants to suffer or witness another’s suffering.
My mom suffered from rheumatoid arthritis 15 years before passing away earlier this year in January. She suffered. Every. Day. New medications were tried—which were basically bandages on the situation. The medications may or may not have provided her a few more years on this earth; more years of pain and suffering and wondering why she was given this cross to bear. All she wanted to do was draw and sew, and hold her grandkids; the arthritis made this almost impossible and her heart was breaking while her sore body continued to weaken.
There was something my mom never lost though—her courage. She never said she wanted to end her life, or end her suffering when it was convenient for her or pursue self-inflicted relief from her mortal suffering. She woke up every morning, faced the pain and lived. She was not scared of suffering—it would not break her spirit. She was much too strong to give up, even as she spent her final days in a hospital bed laboriously searching for breath every few seconds, she subsisted through the suffering until her body could no longer do the same.
I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why my sweet, grace-filled mother would be stricken with something so terrible, and then have to experience further agony as she slowly faded in her last weeks.
I do know I’ve now seen the extraordinary strength that resides in us if we allow it to come to the surface. My mother set a new standard in my life for me to measure just how much suffering we can take. As each minute in that hospital room ticked by, I watched my mom slowly fading from my life and at the same time, quickly gaining my respect and admiration (even more than I had already) for her ability to face and overcome the numerous trials in her life.
She was facing death with dignity because she chose to not back down.