Should I Let Them Go?

One of the toughest decisions we may have to make is to stop medical interventions and to let a loved one die.  We are eventually going to die no what we do.  We know that.  But somehow it seems right to pull out all the stops, no matter the cost in money and suffering, and to try to extend life–even if it is not right.  The medical profession is geared to do the same thing.   Even living wills often cannot stop efforts of relatives to keep life going.

It really doesn’t have to be that agonizing.  I put the biggest part of the blame on the person who is dying.  All of us should have detailed living wills, or at least candid discussions about death, even when we are in perfect health.  One never knows when things can turn for the worst.  Just look at those taken unprepared by the corona virus.  When I say detailed, I mean have the will cover some common medical scenarios.  For instance, if I have dementia, chronic pain, severe neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, “irreversible coma”, and the like; what do you want people to do if you are going to die with intervention?  Name it. By intervention, I mean administer such things as intubation, restart a stopped heart, have major surgery,  insert a feeding tube or even give antibiotics for sepsis.  No one has to do such things.

More important than your desire or willingness to go through painful procedures that may not give you quality of life, is your understanding of what comes next.  Your loved ones should know clearly your understanding.  Of course, your understanding doesn’t make it so.  But if you are closing in on death with no certainty, then you need to talk to people about what is known or believed and face the issue of death.  Too many people have coped with death by ignoring it all their lives.  That is very scary(and really foolish) at the end.  I have tried to minister to plenty of people, often relatives of our congregation members, who have found themselves in that predicament.

This entire blog has been dedicated toward explaining the Biblical revelation about life after death and how it correlates with other experiences like Near Death Experiences.What Should We Think of Near Death Experiences?  If someone is connected to Christ through faith and baptism, then they are ready.  Death alone doesn’t transport us to a “better place”.  Culturally, we just tell ourselves that to comfort us in our loss.  Jesus himself says that a majority don’t go to a better place, and he is the one who gives insight into eternity with proof.  He also is the only way to that “better place”.

Let me assume that you are ready.  You may not have a seamless faith in Jesus, that’s okay.  You are saved by a connection formed by God to Jesus and his death and resurrection.  You are not saved by believing hard enough.  You may have fear.  Few don’t.  Most people are afraid of the unknown.  If you or your loved one is ready, then why go through the physical suffering that medical science now affords us?  Say your good-byes.  Say what you have to say. If forgiving or asking for forgiveness is appropriate, definitely do that.  Medicine can make you comfortable through the death process.  Know that eternal life in Christ is not only better, it is much better.

Should you continue to extend the life of someone who is clearly not connected to Christ?  If you are a believer but your loved one is not, this is the time to pull out all the stops.  I would do it even if they were unconscious.  Tell them how you love them.  Tell them why you are explaining the Gospel.Why Everyone Needs Jesus Don’t accept denial at this point.  If they ask for baptism, baptize them.  Pray like crazy, because only God can create a saving faith, if anyone can.  Then, if it is their wish, let them go.  You will not know the result until you arrive in Heaven yourself.  Some pretty important stuff can happen at the final hour.

Earlier I said I primarily blame the dying person for not getting their loved ones ready for death.  If we are the “loved ones”, we bear some responsibility as well.  We should love each other, enjoy each other, talk frankly with each other about heavy subjects like death and life after death.  But do not create a relationship so dependent on anyone that we cannot conceive of life without them.  We put that level of dependence on God alone. Not everyone gets to die first.  Grieving cannot and should not be completely avoided.  Life and death decisions should be determined by the needs of the dying person, not their grieving family.  The family needs to be strong and prepared.  Again, denial about the reality of death is a lousy coping mechanism.

Covid-19 forced many people to die alone.  This is very sad.  Actually, I have found that some people prefer to be alone.  They will let the people holding vigil at their bedside leave, and then they will sneak out.  Most would like the comfort of someone nearby, even if it isn’t a relative.  Again preparedness is important.  I would love to die surrounded by my living family and friends, but I know that I am never alone if I belong to Christ.  If you have the same faith, make sure your family knows it.

I am not afraid to die, even alone.  In fact, I look forward to that day.  I am here to do the work of God, enjoy the unique aspects of this life, enjoy my family and friends, and then to meet you on the other side.

O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.    1 Corinthians 15:55-57

 

 

Author: tdwenig

Tom is the Senior Pastor of the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Evansville, IN. He has served his congregation since 2000. He has a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO

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