Both stories reminded me of my grandma. She passed away from pancreatic cancer last month. She wasn’t as young as Brittany, but she had many years left, years we hoped to spend with her. The cancer diagnosis took us by surprise in May. By August, chemo had failed, and we knew it was a matter of weeks… if we were lucky, a month… before she would pass away. But when her pastor asked her if she was frightened or angered by the looming prospect of death, she told him that she wasn’t afraid, and she wouldn’t ask “why.” She said, “All I really worry about is making sure that I die with grace and gratitude.”
Many of us care whether we die with dignity. Many of us care whether we die peacefully. Like Brittany Maynard, we’d prefer to die lovely and happy, surrounded by loved ones, without the devastating pain and indignity of body decay and deterioration. But how many of us care whether we die with grace, or with gratitude?
My grandmother’s death, when it came, was painful, and excruciating for those who watched her pass. But all through her last days, she was absolutely swarmed and surrounded with her kids and grandkids. We stayed late and came early. My sister and I would go into her room and lie on the bed with her, stroke her frail, soft hands and talk to her. Swapping memories, teasing each other. She would smile and tell us how much she loved us. The day I said goodbye to her, I could see she was feeling much worse. But she also had the most regal beauty about her: the beauty of a woman who has been refined by fire, and has not complained once. The beauty of a woman who is facing death with courage and grace, and refuses to quail before its indignities and discomforts.