Betty Duffy

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On Being Finished

July 3, 2009

Our family is at the lake.

Driving north last night was such a relief from our last road trip heading south through the plains of Middle America. At night, the road to Michigan is a tunnel through pine trees punctuated by northern smells of sand and fish and evergreen. It makes me feel hopeful, where the shrubby trees and concrete horizon of Oklahoma City and Dallas fill me with dread, more so knowing that at the end of our trip I will live a life encapsulated in air conditioning rather than in the dry winds coming off Lake Michigan. Road signs heading North advertise orchards and berries, where the southern billboards hock adult entertainment and amusement parks. I know there’s beauty to be had in the South, just not on the tollway from Indiana to Texas. And it’s a problem of road trips with kids, that we want to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time, so we see only what is offered as the crow flies.

It’s hard not to be consumed with want when we come to the Lake. Someday I will sell a book and make millions, and I will buy my writer’s retreat, come up and spend the summers here with the kids. I want to foresee a time when the kids will be grown, when I may even be done having kids, will pack up the baby gear, and gawk at other people’s infants. But it is at times a thorn of my Catholicity that I am unable to say, “I’m finished” with any certainty.

A friend of mine sent me an article recently written by a cancer patient who is dying. She discussed giving birth to her children over the years, and how her impending death would be the last labor of her life. While I appreciate the beauty of the metaphor if the labor is a coming to terms or surrender, in a literal sense, it seems that death doesn’t care what we do to prepare for it. It can happen suddenly in an accident, or when we are anesthetized or asleep. We think of a “good death” steeped in Christ and holy offering, but it is staggering how few of us will be in our senses at the end of life to achieve such a death.

In Grandma’s case, her health dwindles so much, we think, if she continues at this rate, she will not last through the week. We make the preparations, we wait, and then she plateaus, life stabilizes and we continue with our lives for a time. The only constant in death, as in the bringing forth of new life, is that we seem to have no control over it. Or at least, for Catholics, we cede control. We could arm ourselves with the illusory controls of assisted suicide and contraceptives. But even still, the moment of death and the moment of life’s inception would not be our labor. I have many friends who conceived while on the pill, or who did not conceive while “trying.” And death, well, it’s not something I have to balls to commandeer. I think you would have to be an atheist to steal the reigns from God in your final hours.

I listened to an interview on NPR a few months ago with Dr. Philip Mitchke. He’s an Australian Doctor who travels around giving seminars to the over 50 crowd supplying practical advice on the drugs and equipment necessary to end their lives when they deem the time has come. He believes that people have a right to the information that allows them to say “I’m finished” in the most humane way. After a certain age, it becomes a conscientious examination: Just as I might examine the evidence of a certain month and ask myself, “Is now the time to have a baby?” the over fifty crowd should ask themselves, “Is now the time to end my life?” It’s odd.


Pentimento said...

B, did you happen to see this article? Excellent:

Betty Duffy said...

P, Thanks for sending this article. I loved what the sisters said about dying at home. I've been having a lot of similar thoughts lately, on the virtues of dying a "natural" death.