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Death With Dignity - Now I Know What They Mean
My Catholic View
Written by Tom Curran   
Thursday, 09 July 2009 12:08
Do you remember the anxiety of last fall? That feeling of general unrest and uncertainty that hung over those weeks leading up to the election? I’m sorry to bring it up during this beautiful Seattle summer, but I was reminded recently of the source of that stomach churning unease. Death with Dignity – I- 1000, or as Tom repeatedly referred to it on his radio program, Lie 1000. Would the good people of Washington State see through the slick campaign waged by out-of-state organizers to the truth of what the bill known as I-1000 would really mean to us and our loved ones? Sadly, the answer was no. The defeat was painful, but the worst is yet to come as the law is put into practice. I was so happy to stumble upon Margaret Dore's article in the Bar News that finally laid out the disturbing truths of the dangers of the law.

Two events served to bring the issue to the forefront for me in the last week – one very private, and one very public. My family and I traveled to Idaho last week to celebrate my in-laws 60th wedding anniversary. Prior to a family dinner, we gathered for Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Grangeville - seven of the eight children of John and Blanche, along with their spouses and the majority of 25 grandchildren. Unbeknownst to my father-in-law, Blanche and my sister-in-law had arranged for the couple to renew their vows. There are two reasons it was a surprise to my father-in-law. One, he wouldn’t have liked the public display – he would have thought it superfluous and a bit “show-offy”.

A strapping 6’4” in his prime, with a loud, booming voice, my father-in-law served most of the 3200 citizens of Grangeville for over 40 years as the town’s family physician. Brilliant, humorous, deeply devout, intellectually curious, he is very no nonsense, but he is never unkind. For the 30 years I’ve known him, I have never seen him nervous, morose, negative or unfairly judgmental, nor does he allow those around him to be any of those things. He is extremely humble. So it is not surprising that he would not want a big fuss made of his anniversary.

But there is a second reason that the event was kept a surprise from him until the day of the celebration. He was diagnosed ten years ago with Parkinson’s, and the disease has advanced to a stage where often his legs give out suddenly, or they won’t work at all. There are days when his speech is incoherent and he cannot be understood. He suffers from mild depression and panic attacks, likely brought on by the medications he is taking. We worried that he could not, or would not, get to the Church or the dinner. So we kept the affair a secret.

At 4:00 there he was in the front pew with Blanche, as he had appeared all the years his children were growing up. Immediately after the homily, the priest called the pair up to the altar. My father-in-law stood shakily, leaning on his cane. We all held our breaths. He moved slowly to the altar and faced Blanche, as Father directed him. Then he was asked to repeat after Father, “I John take you Blanche”. His voice was low, quavering. But it was clear. He kept his eyes on his wife and repeated the words we had heard so often, but never like this. By the time it was my mother-in-law’s turn, there was not a dry eye in the Church. My mother-in-law’s voice caught like so many new brides. She struggled to get the words out through her tears. It was the most beautiful exchange of vows I have ever witnessed.

My children, ages 22, 20 and 18, were affected in the same way. It was such a glorious example of what “till death do us part” and “in sickness and in health” really mean! As my daughter explained, “It’s much different to hear a couple who has been married 60 years say the words meant for newlyweds. They have fully lived their vows and are a perfect model of how they should be carried out.” After we returned from Idaho, my 26 year-old nephew proposed to his girlfriend. When asked by his mother, he said he was influenced by Grammy and Granddad’s anniversary celebration, and he could see himself standing with his now-fiancée after 60 years.

My father-in-law’s quality of life is nowhere near what it was when he was in his prime. It’s nowhere near where it was five years ago, or even one year ago. I know he is ready to go meet our Lord, he often says so. Yet he is here, suffering every day, and giving his witness to the world. He lives for his children – he has said so. He believes God is keeping him around to pray for us. I believe it is because God still has work to do through him, and his very life is a witness to God’s magnificence.

On the inside of my in-laws wedding rings is an inscription. It reflects what my in-laws’ lives are about – what their marriage is about. No dates or initials. No mention of love or fidelity, although those virtues are implied in it. It reads AMDG. Simply, their lives have been lived and will be lived out to the end, for the greater glory of God. Now that’s dignity.

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