Today I received a text message from my dear friend, Julie*, to inform me that her sister, Teresa was dying. Teresa is probably in her late 60’s, but I don’t know her exact age. I’ve never met her.
Julie had told me that Teresa had some difficulty recovering from a surgery last week and was re-admitted to the hospital on Monday. Surgeons operated again today to do a procedure that would prevent one of her lungs from filling with fluid. The surgery was successful, but while doing this procedure, doctors discovered that the lung cancer she is battling had taken over. While recovering from the surgery this afternoon, Teresa took a very sudden turn for the worse when her other lung began filling with fluids. She is not expected to recover.
While I had planned to spend the duration of the day with Julie and her family, I was only there for a couple of hours. I had dressed to go out this evening and was too far from home to change clothes before I arrived. They knew I was going out and insisted that I do exactly that. I felt badly about that until I sat with them for a while.
They were in the hospital cafeteria when I arrived and had just purchased their meals. After a blessing over their food, the conversation turned to their daughter and sister, Teresa. But it wasn’t what I expected. There were tears and crying, but there was much more laughter, joy, and peace. They told stories about how Teresa loved to play cards, how she never cheated, but she always won! Everyone else admitted to cheating in an attempt to beat her, but they never did. They laughed and laughed over this and so did I! They decided that once she was gone, Julie’s husband would be the new king of the card throne.
Julie shared that anytime a nurse, doctor, or therapist walked in the door of her room, Teresa would grab their hands and pray for them. She asked for God to bless their day and the work they would do. Remember, Teresa knows she is dying, but she is ministering to these medical professionals.
Over the last month, Teresa has gone from being a vibrant and energetic woman to one who works hard just to catch her breath. She has shared with Julie and their mother how she would like the end to be for her. They’ve determined which funeral home will handle the details, where she will be buried, which of her children are to inherit valuables, and even the songs to be sung at her funeral service. Teresa is ready to pass from this life and into the next.
Teresa has asked not to be put on life support of any kind and she does not want to be resuscitated. No one has advised doctors to “do everything possible” to keep her alive. This afternoon, Teresa called four friends who live some distance away and cannot be here. She told them they would not see one another again, but that she would meet them in Heaven. Teresa is just waiting to go there herself.
I returned to the hospital this evening and saw Julie and her husband again for a few minutes. When I gave her a hug, she broke down and sobbed in my arms and I cried with her and for her. It must be so hard to watch someone you love in so much pain. Waiting really is the hardest part, but this family is resting knowing that God will take Teresa in His timing, not theirs.
I hope I never have to feel the way Teresa does now or endure what she is enduring. But after watching this family today, it is clear that this is the most dignified way that a person can die. All of the necessary decisions have been made, Teresa has told people that she loves them and not to worry over her, and she is even blessing those who are working to keep her comfortable by praying for them. Teresa is not, nor is she being treated as, a burden to her family. Instead she is being a blessing to them and others. How can this be anything less than dignified?
I wish I could ask Teresa what she thinks of physician assisted suicide, but I already know what her answer would be. Teresa is a part of a strong, tightly-knit family. Over the last month she has told them what her last wishes are, including who would become the new card champ. She is so prepared for her death that she is blessing those who work to serve her needs. Whether she passes away tonight or lasts five more years, Teresa will be ready to go whenever she is called home.
*The names have been changed in order to protect the privacy of this very incredible family during this most difficult time.