Dying With Dignity

“DYING WITH DIGNITY”  was the front page headline on OSHAWA THIS WEEK when I got home from the funeral of Zak Taylor last week. I understand the argument people with terminal illnesses make, that they deserve the right to die with dignity. But this argument could also have been made by Robin Williams or Zak Taylor. Robin wanted to be in control of his life. I don’t know if Robin had a terminal illness, or was simply wanting to opt out of the “dis-ease” of aging and forced retirement (or whatever).  And young Zak had had such a losing battle with “mental illness” and “addiction”,   I suspect he also reserved the right to go out on his own terms.

But as I sat in Zak’s funeral and heard the frequent reference to the fact that depression is a mental illness and addiction is a disease, I wondered if any of us are ever going to be able to die with dignity in a society which misdiagnoses the obvious universal experience of being human, and the obvious weaknesses of human nature, as mental illness. Read that famous soliloquy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and you’ll see that the same problems which  vexed people 500 years ago are still driving us to depression and despair in our day. Was Hamlet suffering from mental illness when he contemplated suicide?

Come off it!  The shocks of life and the helplessness with which most of us have to deal with them are the cause of depression, and our preoccupation with pleasure (to ward off the shocks), combined with our fallen human nature is the cause of addiction. Because we all have our noses rubbed constantly in the need to strive to survive, and in the constant reminder of death as our  inevitable end (in the news, in the movies, in our personal lives) our human nature drives us to crave stuff— whether sleep, sex, drugs, food, drink, or whatever else“turns us on”— and of course “our personal demons” (which was mentioned several times  at the funeral) have been relegated as only metaphors,  instead of the actual, factual entities the Bible tells us about.

Jordan Anderson, from the Renascent Foundation,  who officiated at the funeral, asked those who’ve overcome “mental illness” or “drug addiction” to stand. I stood up with a handful of others.  This was not the time to speak of my own struggles, but from personal experience I can testify to the fact that living a lie is the cause of most of our problems. The biggest lies in our culture is that there’s no God, that we can live any way we want to live, and that this life is all there is— and when it’s over, it’s over. There’s no afterlife. So there’s no need to fear death. Those are a lies.

The Bible says that “it’s appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) This means that we will ALL stand before God and have to account for the way we lived. This is a forgotten, SUPPRESSED truth in our culture. It was suppressed by a generation of Zoomers  and Boomers who invented this lie to cover up for their lack of respect for God. It’s been inherited by the younger generation who actually believe there’s not going to be a judgment after death. (That’s why they are increasingly willing to take their own lives.) If there’s no afterlife, and no judgment, why not have a good time and end it all when you get bored?

But is it even possible to determine FOR SURE that there is an afterlife?

Absolutely! We have a 2000-year-old book which tells us unequivocally that almighty God has made a way for every person on Earth to be adequately prepared for the afterlife. There are many passages from the Bible which are so clear, I wonder why no one ever quotes them in public any more. Passages like, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand,” (John 10:28)  and  “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:   And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”  (John 11:25,26),   “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16),  “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved [from death]” (Romans 10:13),  “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1John 5:11-13)

These were all written so that men can be SURE of an afterlife, so that they can confidently pass on these truths to their children and grandchildren. So why don’t we hear these truths any more?

I think of J.R.R.Tolkien’s remark in THE LORD OF THE RINGS— “much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” I suspect that all our dignified English Literature professors, and History professors,  and philosophy professors,  have all forgotten the whole POINT of written words. Stories, poems, books, were all originally  written down  to preserve essential truths. And what could be more essential than the truths which lead us to deal properly with our condition as mortal, vulnerable, finite human beings?

     I realize I need to end here with a full explanation  of Hamlet’s soliloquy.  I’m afraid people may have forgotten what Hamlet was talking about.  Shakespeare was simply using Hamlet to express a universal truth. In fact, I personally think that this is the best summary of our actual condition as human beings ever written in the English language:        

       To be or not to be, that is the question:

      Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

      The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

      Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

      And  by opposing end them: to die, to sleep,

      No more: and by a sleep we say we end

      The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks

      That flesh is heir to? Tis a consummation

       Devoutly to be wished.   To die, to sleep,

       To sleep, perchance to dream; aye, there’s the rub,

       For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?

        William Shakespeare, Hamlet. Act III, Scene 1


What exactly was he saying? Hamlet was expressing what every young man or woman eventually comes to realize. That life is full of trouble. That things get thrown at us which we are often ill-equipped to handle— “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Why are we so ill-equipped? Because “flesh is heir to a thousand NATURAL SHOCKS”. We are shocked by the experience of pain, and suffering, of want, of war, famine, disease, of aging and of death. Why do we even need to die? And what will happen after death? Will we cease to exist? What if we don’t cease? What if we continue to be conscious after death? Will we enter pleasant dreams, or horrible nightmares? Oh, if only we had assurance that when this life ends, there is a better world to come! Then one could die with dignity! Isn’t dignity supposed to mean “the quality of character or ability that wins respect and high opinion of others; worth, nobleness? ” What would be worth more in life than to pass on the secret of immortality before you die?

As for dying with dignity— I saw a very dignified gentleman step over the rail of a sinking ship into what he thought was a lifeboat, who missed his step and fell overboard and drowned. If you’re going to go out with dignity, check out the FACTS, make SURE you know absolutely where you’re going before  you die, before you “check out” — and before you encourage others to follow your example.


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Go To Part Two