I don’t know about all of you, but I am just plain weary of hearing about, thinking about, talking about, contemplating death.
The world spent the past two weeks on two deathwatches, the likes of which I don’t recall ever observing before.
First, of course, there was the murder of Terri Schiavo. The world watched in stunned disbelief as Terri was dehydrated and starved against her will, against the will of her loving parents, and to the dismay of life-affirming people around the globe who had never met her, but took her into their hearts upon learning her fate.
I’m sure that, as they mourn now, it is small comfort to Bob and Mary Schindler, and their surviving children, Bobby and Suzanne, that their beloved Terri died a martyr’s death and will be remembered as the woman who woke up a nation to the insidious agenda of the death culture. My prayer for the Schindlers is that they do find peace in the years to come as Terri, through her experience, saves many other disabled persons’ lives.
For Christians around the world, the experiences of a woman named Mary Schindler, unfolding before their eyes during Holy Week, were a striking parallel to another woman named Mary who watched her beloved child murdered during that same week more than 2,000 years ago. The images of Mary Schindler being led in and out of that hospice, and publicly pleading with Michael Schiavo for her daughter’s life are forever burned into my memory. How many times during those 13 long days did you feed your own children or sit down to a meal yourself only to find yourself thinking about Terri and her family?
Easter morning was bittersweet for worshippers — including me — who gathered to celebrate the empty tomb of Jesus even as Terri still lay suffering in her hospice bed. For Catholics, Easter was also a time for concern, as the Pope was unable, for the first time since his 1978 election, to address the faithful gathered in Rome. But Christians also worshipped that day with the confidence that both Terri and the Holy Father would, like the two robbers crucified with Jesus were promised by the Lord himself, be with Him in paradise when their earthly ordeals ended.
Terri’s suffering mercifully concluded on Thursday, March 31, 2005.
How ironic that on the very same day Terri was released — indeed, just a couple of hours after her death — the spiritual leader of the largest church on earth, who had spoken out on Terri’s behalf, decrying the fate to which her estranged husband consigned her, himself suffered physical setbacks that would culminate with his own death today.
Did God use these two people who, aside from their Catholicism and deep faith, appear to have had absolutely nothing in common, to teach the world a valuable lesson about death?
If so, he first showed us a death that was untimely, unjustified, unmerciful, undignified, unwanted, prolonged.
And then, in stark contrast, he showed us a death that was timely, merciful, dignified, welcomed.
The London Times reports that Pope John Paul II knew that believers were gathered in St. Peter’s Square below his apartment windows. He told his aides, “I have looked for you. Now you have come to me, and I thank you.” They believe he was referring to the many young people who were standing vigil.
The Pope was also apprised of and understood the gravity of his condition. He knew he was dying and chose to do so in his own home, rather than a hospital. He asked for the story of Jesus’ crucifixion to be read to him and “made the sign of the cross at each text,” according to his spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls. He reportedly told those around him, “I am happy and you should be happy too. Do not weep.”
Surely, had Terri welcomed death, as Michael Schiavo insisted, she would have given up soon, rather than holding on for a full 13 days. Her father and siblings talked of her fighting for life when they visited her, responsive almost until the end, struggling for air.
In contrast, it is reported that the Pontiff lay peacefully and serenely in his bed, his breathing shallow but unlabored. From Friday evening until his death, “the Pope lay for most of the time with his eyes closed. Among the prayers that were recited at his bedside were the words, ‘Leave this world, Christian soul’ and ‘Let the angels in the heavens welcome you and accompany you to the throne of the highest’.”
The London Times concludes, “[a]t no time did the Pope show any fear of death.”
Terri died the kind of death that no rational human being would volunteer for: painful, prolonged, agonizing both for her and the people around her. The true meaning of “euthanasia” is “good death.” Terri was indisputably euthanized, even though her death was anything but “good.”
The Pope, on the other hand, died, by all accounts, a truly good death. Serene, accepted but still on his own terms (in his own apartment) and, as we are taught in Ecclesiastes, in the right season. (“To everything there is a season . . . “)
The question now is this: Will we all learn from what we have observed over the past 2 weeks from these 2 very different deaths and make sure that the mistakes that led to Terri Schiavo’s murder are never allowed to be repeated?