Can Christians Support Brittany Maynard’s Decision?

Photo Credit Brittany Maynard

By now you’ve probably read about Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer.  Or you may have seen her gripping, 6-minute video.

Brittany and her husband recently moved to Oregon, a state where aid in dying is legal.  With little time remaining, Brittany has used her final months to seek adventure and connect with loved ones.  She has a contagious smile, a supportive family, and a prescription to end her life on her own terms.  She may do this on November 1st.

You may also have seen the open-letter to Brittany by Kara Tippetts, a 38-year-old mother of 4, who has terminal breast cancer. Yesterday, Christian author Ann Voskamp featured Tippetts’ letter titled, Dear Brittany: Why We Don’t Have To Be So Afraid of Dying & Suffering that We Choose Suicide, on her blog, A Holy Experience.  Since then, Kara’s letter begging Brittany “not to take that pill” has been shared nearly 800,000 times.

Unlike the women listed above, I do not have a terminal illness.  But I have decided to join this discussion for several reasons.  The first is that, as Kara’s letter states, “we are all dying.”  So I think it’s safe to say that we all have a voice in these sensitive end-of-life issues.  The second reason concerns the fact that my 4-year-old son died from a malignant brain tumor in 2012.  As his primary care-giver, I had the intimate experience of watching him die.  I want to share the perspective of one who has had to pick up the pieces after a life-shattering event like this.  And finally, as a Christ-follower, I’d like to offer an alternative to Kara’s message.  While Kara identifies as a Christian, her letter does not speak for all Christians.  And though I appreciate her sincerity and openness, I believe her letter posits at least three common, harmful misconceptions.

Misconception #1 – Death is Beautiful

Kara writes to Brittany, “You have been told a lie. A horrible lie, that your dying will not be beautiful. That the suffering will be too great.”  Then she pleads with Brittany not to take the pill that will end her life, saying, “Yes, your dying will be hard, but it will not be without beauty.  Will you please trust me with that truth?”

Nearly two years ago I watched my son die from a malignant brain tumor.  Trust me, Brittany has been told the truth.  My son’s death was not beautiful.  His suffering was great. Unfortunately for many, the dying process is quite ugly. And though most of us want to delay death at all costs, in some cases suffering exceeds even the ugliness of death.

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A Little More Free

I did this prayer-journaling thing the other day.  Miri was still asleep.  Ian was at work.  My heart was quiet, my laptop was humming softly, and the morning air was filled with the scent of creamy, steamy coffee.  I was settled on our couch, in our new apartment in Saint Paul, MN.

In the sleepy dawn of that morning, I poured out my thoughts to God and did my best to listen.  One phrase still stands out.  Here’s part of what I believe the Lord said:  I want to see your smile, filled with freedom, unguarded.  You’re my daughter.  I made you to be free. 

The pain has been so fresh for so long.  In Georgia, reminders lined every street, every park, every… everything.

But things are new here.  And I’m being brave here.  I even went to a playgroup.  Like, kids running around, squealing and crying and moms singing nursery rhymes and passing out goldfish kind of playgroup.  It was hard at first, I’m not going to lie.  Miriam is still my world, but I’ve kind of checked out of the traditional “Mommy” activities since Henry passed.  So it was a little jarring… but it was also kind-of amazing.  Several in this group had heard my testimony.  They knew my Henry.  Their arms were open.  Their smiles were so free, so unguarded, like mine used to be.

I haven’t blogged much since September.  But that’s not because I’ve run out of words.  I’ve been crafting and drafting, editing and analyzing all kinds of words in the last nine months.  They’ve been poured into a manuscript that’s now 75% complete.

Why write a book?  Because when my son died, blueprint words were waiting.

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Interview with Ellie’s Way

I had the opportunity and challenge of being interviewed by Ellie’s Way this week. Ellie’s Way is an organization named in honor of Todd and Kristen Nigro’s precious daughter, Ellie, who died in a tragic accident in January 2012.

This opportunity was a challenge because the hardest thing for me to write about is… Henry.  It’s easier to write about theology.  It’s easier to write about my pain.  But writing about Henry, and trying to capture his essence with mere words… that’s the hardest for me.  Maybe that’s why I dreaded writing this post. Maybe that’s why I’m so glad I did.

Below is a snippet and you can read the entire post here:

I’d like people to remember two things about Henry – the first is his laugh. I lived for that laugh. When Henry laughed, every cell in his body participated. He’d throw his head back, burst into a massive smile, and cackle from his gut. Waves of joy would emanate from his delighted little self and flood the atmosphere. His laugh was positively magnetic. It captured the attention of everyone around him, family and strangers alike. Hundreds of people laughed with Henry over the years, including strangers in line at the Post Office and passing shoppers at the grocery store. His laugh spread joy everywhere we went. No one could be sad around little Henry’s mighty laugh.

A Blessing from Ukraine

The Salzmann Family

“Hi Jessica.  So, now you are online in Russian! With a funny male voice though! :)”

That news recently came from Erich Salzmann, my new Swiss friend who lives in Ukraine.  I heard from Erich for the first time last October.  He is the leader of a house-church that was birthed from a gathering of six families.  They were urging Erich to share more than just snippets of the Woodland Hills podcasts that were deeply impacting his life.  So he gave into the friendly pressure and began translating full sermons from English into Russian.  This is remarkable because Erich is a native German speaker, so he translates the sermons from one foreign language into another.

When Erich first emailed me, he explained that his house church wanted to study the topic of suffering.  He had already translated Greg Boyd’s sermon titled “Held” from 2008.  He wanted to add Greg’s sermon “A Letter to Henry” and my sermon “Triumph by Testimony.”  He was writing to ask if I was okay with this.

Um… I think I responded professionally, but inside I was doing cartwheels!   How big is our God???  To know that our story of Henry’s loss, and the picture of God that radically impacted our suffering was going to reach beyond English-speaking boundaries brought unspeakable joy!

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Full Disclosure


How have you been, Jess?

I hear this from time to time.  It’s been 14 months since my 4-year-old son, Henry, died from a brain tumor.

14 months.

Over a year.

I remember right after Henry’s death someone told me about another grieving mother.  That mother was having a very difficult time.  Her child had died roughly a year prior.

I remember thinking, Why is she still having a rough time?  Surely I’ll be doing waaaaaaaay better in a year.

After all, death is an event, right?  In Henry’s case, it was a horrible, unexpected, unplanned event… but it was an event.  An occurrence.  An experience.  Something we all survived.  We knew we’d see him again, eventually.  And in the meantime, surely time would ease the pain.

That was 14 months ago.

How have you been, Jess?

This video helps me explain…

Sometimes when I look at this baboon, I see myself.  Edgy and bewildered, protectively swatting away flies, padding through dry grass with a limp carcass in my teeth.

How have you been, Jess?

How do I answer?  How can I answer?

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Where His Stocking Should Be

Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

***Edit: 2/17/14 – This post was originally published as a guest post for my friend, Tyler Tully as part of his 2013 Advent Series at The Jesus Event.  For archiving purposes, the entire post is now also located below.***

It was Christmas, but not in our house. There were no stockings on the mantle. The artificial tree was lying in cold, dark fragments, disassembled and abandoned. We had tried to put it away, but lacked the strength to finish.

 Our house was still. Our daughter was asleep. Our son was gone.  He’d died the week before.

During that Advent season, multitudes had prayed for our four-year-old.  They prayed for a miracle.  They prayed he’d have one last Christmas.  Instead we mourned him. Sunk deep into our couch, surrounded by Manheim Steamroller and candlelight, sipping merlot and shedding a thousand weary tears, we mourned him.

Yet despite our anguish, the holidays blazed around us.  Those who had prayed for our son gathered with their families.

They celebrated the coming of Immanuel, God with us.

 And I wondered… how many of those, who celebrated the God-child, believed that our child died according to God’s perfect plan?

Did they think the humble one, who once lay in a manger, inflicted our son with brain cancer?

Those who had lifted us in prayer, did they believe this silent night… was a holy night? Was this despondent Christmas the one he’d planned for us?

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The Face of God

CliffMuller via Compfight

Few posts have brought me as much joy as this post by Pastor Mark Moore.  It speaks to the message that blazes within my heart and pulses through this blog – our picture of God. Below is an excerpt.  I pray you’ll read the entire post and let its truth fill you with joy.  God bless, friends!

From Mark’s Post:

These days I have one presupposition about God–He is just like Jesus.

Rather than thinking about God’s character from above, we need to think about it from below. Rather than thinking of God in the clouds, we need to think of God on wood–the wood of the manger and the wood of the cross. This way of thinking about God situates him among us (which was his choice) and renders him comprehensible (this too was his choice). I’m going to call this the John 1 way of thinking about God.

…and the John 14 way of thinking about God

…and the Hebrews 1 way of thinking about God

…let’s just call this the Jesus way of thinking about God

…as a matter of fact, let’s just call this the right way of thinking about God.