When we believe death is a loss

Please Read These Two Articles Before Proceeding

Brittany Maynard


Lauren Hill


            I do not have cancer.  Therefore, I will not claim to have some valuable insight into making choices when a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I cannot comprehend the agony a person must feel when he or she sits at a doctor’s office receiving the horrific news.  So, the focus of this entry is not to judge or belittle the above decisions, but instead, offer personal insight as a family survivor.  Because, even though I am not terminally ill, I did witness a cancerous brain tumor steal my father’s life in a way that no person should ever go through.  But, witnessing his battle and death, was the ultimate event that saved me.

(Excerpt From Failing at Fatherhood)

            By my senior year I was throwing in the mid-eighties, but my dad would still catch me with nothing on but a glove. We would throw for hours in the yard as he would squat and be my critical catcher. This might not seem like a great feat, but he was already over fifty years of age by my senior year of high school. He was the most honest catcher I have ever worked with, but I could not be honest with him on that last day of catch.

            I could tell something was off from the beginning. I still believe the only reason he wanted to play catch was to prove to me he could overcome cancer. I started by softly tossing the ball and he quickly became angry. “Stop babying it,” he would say. After a few more minutes, I started letting the ball go, and the first true fastball I threw whistled by his ear and hit the car. He wanted to keep going. I was on the verge of tears, but I was taught that when your dad tells you to do something, you do it. He told me to throw a curve ball so he could see how my breaking stuff looked. When I threw the ball, it short-hopped him and hit him in the face. He put his glove down and looked up at me with his swollen eye. The pain I saw in his face was not a physical hurt, but the fear of a man that had been defeated. I knew at that moment that things would never be the same and I was losing my father. After that event, we talked very little, and he slowly lost a battle that I always thought he would win.

            I don’t know. During that time in my father’s life, I would have welcomed a right to death law.  The pain and suffering I watched my father endure sent me into a sea of depression.  He was my hero.  I wanted to be just like him, but in less than a year’s time, he went from receiving a cancer diagnosis to being non-existent.  A man that had beaten me in a 40-yard sprint during my sophomore year in high school, became a man that could not even control his own bowel movements.  My father digressed to an eighty-pound being that could not walk, talk, or care for himself.  Who would choose to die in that way?

            But knowing him, even if the opportunity presented itself, he would not have agreed to that choice.  Why, because he was a religious man.  He believed in a God and an afterlife.  Maybe it would be classified as a zealous belief, but that was his belief.  When our family faced a crisis, he was praying about it.  I am not like that.  I live in fear.  I cannot completely trust God with my life.  Honestly, even though it is against my beliefs, I would lean more towards Brittany’s approach. As she stated, “She wanted to choose how she died.”  I would like to choose how I die, because I could go out on my own terms. But our Christian faith is adamant that our life is not our own.  That is the ultimate question.  Who does your life belong to, you or God?

            A few years ago, I was speaking at a high school retreat and I shared an idea that startled most of the audience.  I simply stated that I believed my father’s death led to my acceptance and belief in God.  Furthermore, if my father’s death was necessary for my conversion, then I was at peace with it. 

Acts 20:24 / But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus- the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God

            This is what my father did, but he did it through death.  When my father died, I was a lost eighteen-year-old boy that only cared about himself.  When my father was diagnosed with cancer, it forced me to embrace my existence and the existence of God.

(Excerpt From Failing at Fatherhood)

            The next few weeks I watched my father die and helped my mother the best I could with preparing for that final day. Late one night, as I was smoking a joint in my car, I started thinking about what would happen to my father once he died. For my entire life, he had dragged me to church to worship this being that promised an afterlife. So I played the part and followed along with the other kids in going to Sunday school, being in Christmas pageants, and pretending to pay attention during long sermons. Suddenly I understood that in a few days my father’s “faith” would either be justified through eternity, or would become a worthless dedication to a non-existent being. My chest became very heavy at that moment and all at once, I could not breathe, it was my first panic attack. This question of God’s existence, one that meant less to me than thoughts about my next meal prior to this moment was a frightening dilemma I needed to solve. My father’s life was ending, but his eternal life would be determined in a few days when he took his final breath. Gasping for air, I swung open the car door and realized that I needed to confront the fear and find an answer before I became like my father.

            How can you understand that your life is not your own without a faith in God?  In fact, many of you are probably like me, and claim to be a Christian, but continue to live a life trying to control your own fate.  I am saddened by both of these stories.  These young vibrant ladies still had entire lives in front of them.  It disturbs me to think about the losses they will never experience and the families they are leaving behind. My father never saw me get married, graduate from college, or have children. He was not able to be present when I needed guidance as a father.  Is that fair?  Of course not.  Is it God’s fault?  I can’t answer that for you.  You must decide what you are going to believe.  The only thing I can tell you for certain is that watching my father lose a battle with cancer saved my life and more importantly my soul.  If we truly believe that the purpose of our lives is to bring people closer to God, then we need to prepare to embrace whatever that plan might be.  I still struggle and doubt every day of my life.  But now, I believe in a God of love, and His ultimate love is eternal, not earthly.  As Christians, we must understand that the security in our eternal God will always triumph our circumstances, no matter how difficult those times may be.

Please pray for comfort for both of these families.