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The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come
IVP Books, 2010
192 pp., $17.00
Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death
322 pp., $25.00
Stranger in a Strange Land: Rachel Marie Stone
A Good Death
This is a guest column by Rachel Marie Stone, author of Eat with Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food (InterVarsity Press).
My grandmother wanted to die for a long, long time before her death actually came. When the news from the doctor was unpromising, she was not devastated, but relieved. Having no desire to "battle" cancer—it was in her lungs and all through her spine, having possibly metastasized from her breast—she immediately opted for palliative care. Knowing that her death would come soon was a relief to her. She was not a believing woman: her lifelong position being that if God existed, she was furious at him or her, and her only hope for the afterlife was that she wouldn't be able to feel the worms eating her. And yet, her despair and seeming contempt for her own life notwithstanding, she faced death bravely. She was chatty with fellow patients and charmed the aides, security guards, and nurses much as she always had done. When the end came, she mumbled incoherently in Yiddish (her first language) and called for her mother. And then she opened her eyes to look at my mother—her only surviving daughter—and to speak her final words:
"You are so good. You are so kind. You are so generous. You are so loving. I love you. I love you."
"Thank you," my mother whispered, stunned because her mother had rarely if ever spoken so affectionately. (When, as a child, my mother would say, "I love you, Mommy," my grandmother would reply, detachedly, "And I you, dear.") "Thank you. I love you, Mom. I love you."
And then my grandmother's heart rate slowed dramatically. Her hands and feet slowly became blue. The young aide on duty was distressed; knowing that these were the signs of the end. He wanted to do something, and called to his superiors, only to be admonished: "She's DNR! There is nothing we will do!"
For some reason or other my mother had to step out of the room. She did, and returned just before her mother took her final breath. "It was like a miracle. ...