O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

Today I finished Oonya Kempadoo’s All Decent Animals.  I was disappointed.  For the most part, I’m a “give-me-closure” type of reader.  I don’t like ambiguity or confusion at the end of a book.  What’s the point?  Now, there are times when it’s done well.  Delores Phillip’s The Darkest Child is a good example.  There were a couple of loose ends – characters you never found out what happened to, and the book ended on two of the characters about to start a new life, but to me, that was a good resolution to the book.  (Actually, the book was so dark that at times, you were praying for it to end!  It was really a good read though; pick it up if you have a chance).  But Decent Animals?  While the description of Trinidad is on point, and the dialect written perfectly (I could hear Trinis speaking in my head!!), I have no idea what happened to Phillip (I can make a guess, but I don’t want to guess; I want to know!), and didn’t understand what Ata’s problem was, and that was disappointing to me.  I’ll be interested to hear what the book club girls think about this one.  I’m giving 2 1/2 stars.

Yesterday the book inspired me to write about the ethics of letting sexual partners know if you have an STD.  Today it’s prompting me to write about how we deal with death and how sometimes we can be ridiculous about it.  In the book (spoiler alert:  if you plan to read the book,  you should stop reading this now), Fraser, who’s contracted AIDS, has decided that he doesn’t want to fight the disease; he just wants to die.  This causes all manner of confusion with his family and friends.  They are upset, horrified, sad, distressed and angry that he won’t “fight to live”.  His mother (who has her own problems) refuses to come visit him anymore.  Other friends accuse him of giving up.  Being of West Indian heritage, I know exactly how this happens.  And my reaction is “Why?”  Why if someone decides that she wants to die must the rest of us fuss about it?  We’re not dying.  We’re not the ones going to endure the pain and distress.  We’re not the ones going to wither away to nothingness.  We don’t have a terminal illness.  How can we feel justified in telling someone else what they must do about their life????  It makes no sense to me.

The other day I read an article about a piece pulled by the British newspaper, The Guardian, that questioned the ethics behind Lisa Bonchek Adams’ decision to publicly blog and tweet about her fight with cancer.  The article linked to an op-ed piece by a former New York Times editor who seemed to think that Mrs. Adams should just accept death and die quietly, like his father-in-law did.  What on earth?  If his father-in-law chose to go quietly into the sunset, and if Mrs. Adams wants to fight her cancer kicking and screaming – more power to each of them!  What right does any of us have to extend judgement about what they decided to do?

I think even close family members don’t really have the right to have too much say about the matter when it comes to death and dying.  If someone chooses to think that natural medicine will save them, and they need to fly to the jungles of Brazil to get the roots and herbs that will help them – well let them, if they can afford it (I don’t think sick and dying people should hold family members hostage to their decisions though.  If you want to go to Brazil but we have no money to fund that trip, well then we either agree on a way to raise the money, or you don’t go; we don’t spend college tuition money on the trip).  If someone chooses to rely wholly on modern medicine and they want to endure radiation, chemotherapy and anything else that will possibly extend their life – let them!!!

Fraser (back to All Decent Animals) was a grown adult who chose to have unprotected sex.  He contracted a sexually transmitted disease that had no cure.  He did all of those things while in his right mind and of his own choosing.  Why shouldn’t he be allowed, while in his right mind, to choose how he wanted to die, or how long he wanted to continue to live?  Isn’t that selfish of us to want to prolong someone’s suffering because we want them around?

This attitude especially bothers me about Christians.  This, and how some of them behave at funerals.  One of our basic doctrines is the belief in the resurrection of the dead.  We can recite 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 17 verbatim – “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout…and the dead in Christ shall rise first…”  The dead will rise again – it’s something we believe, something we are looking forward to when Jesus returns.  Why then do we have this mass confusion at West Indian funerals (funerals for people of West Indian heritage, attended mostly by people of West Indian heritage) with people wanting to throw themselves into the grave and hollering and bawling like “those who have no hope”?  In verse 13 of the same chapter, Paul counsels that he is reminding Christians about what will happen when Jesus comes so that when their loved ones die, they “…sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”  Only people who “have no hope” of ever seeing mommy or daddy again should be throwing themselves into graves.  I’m sorry – but I think we display a lack of faith in Christ when as Christians we carry on like that.

Of course, people will say that what I am doing here is wanting to tell people how to grieve, while chastising those who want to tell their loved ones when to die.  But I am not telling people not to grieve.  Of course you’re going to grieve when someone dies.  I’m not saying deny your feelings.  I’m saying that sometimes the way we behave – by either wanting people to drag out their lives to the very last second as they waste away, or by behaving as if we’ll never see our dead loved ones again – really begs the question whether we Christians believe what we say we believe.

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