An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Dying’

Final Faith

What do you say to a friend who calls to tell you good-bye because she’s just refused treatment to prolong her life? I knew Anna has not been doing well since she took a fall last year which complicated other health problems and resulted in her being confined to a wheelchair in an assisted living center—in constant pain, unable to use her computer or to enjoy talking with friends for more than a few minutes . Still, I was not prepared to hear her state forthrightly that she is calling it quits.

Her voice trembled with the effort to control her emotions. I asked how her children felt about her decision. “They’re fine with it,” she said. That was good. Urging Anna to undergo further pain and suffering would be neither kind nor loving.

I told her I understood her decision. George and I have discussed end-of-life issues and whether he will undergo further treatment if his cancer returns. Anna said she made her decision carefully and prayerfully and suggested we take our decision to the temple. I’m no longer a devout believer, but that’s not something I brought up with Anna. Obviously, her faith sustains her at this difficult time.

I talked about good experiences we’ve enjoyed together. I said, “I love you. Say hello to Jack (her deceased husband) for me when you see him again.”

I hung up, hoping I’d said the right things. I do hope for a heaven where Jack waits to greet Anna. It’s a comforting thought as the end-of-life approaches.

Low Expectations: Key to Happiness

When asked the secret of their working marriage, our daughter Lolly and her husband, Doc, reply, “Low expectations.” Most couples marry with the expectation that they have chosen the one and only who will make them happy. Lolly and Doc went into marriage knowing that while it is possible for other people to cause misery, happiness is basically a personal responsibility.

Like marriage, nearly everyone enters parenthood with the expectation, or at least the hope, of doing better than their parents. Our youngest son, Techie, and his wife, Techie II, are currently surrounding their first-born with a natural environment of cloth diapers, breast milk, no pacifiers. Since I played Bach and read Yeats to Wort as soon as we got him home from the hospital, I sneer not. I know that by the time the Techies get their second child, all they’ll really hope for is a large bladder and a dry nose. And for subsequent kids, they’ll be satisfied if all the essential body parts are included.

Low expectations are especially helpful near the end of life. I suspect hope for a perfect world beyond this imperfect one accounts for much of the anxiety religious believers experience as they approach death. Religious people generally have faith that loved ones pass on to a better place. But the friends and relatives I’ve seen approaching their own deaths entertain doubts—about the existence of another world and about their own qualifications for entry.

Here’s where I think the low expectations of an agnostic relieve anxiety. Not believing in heaven relieves the worry that it may not exist or that the entry fee may be too steep. As the old saying goes, “Expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.”

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