Dignity, Death, and Divinity

by Julianna Purcell, grade 11

I was half asleep when my mother walked into my room, steadily and slowly. The worst part was that I knew what she was going to say, and I wished she wouldn’t. For me, every moment of not knowing was anxious bliss—a place in my mind where I still had her. My Aunt Anne battled breast cancer until she finally succumbed to it. Through her suffering, she mirrored Christ’s quote, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Christ’s command fosters a culture of life in that it is a call for anyone in any stage of life to give Christ whatever suffering one has. Through my aunt’s suffering, it further strengthened my view that all human beings have intrinsic dignity rooted through God and His divine plan.

Throughout my life, my aunt mirrored the joy of everyday life. Through her I was able to see the value of each day. She showed the beauty of life through ordinary living. Since we did not live in the same city, it was always with eager anticipation that I awaited visiting her. She had the unique ability to make one feel like the most important person in the room. After we saw her, there was always something that made you feel good. Though I didn’t realize it then, now more mature, I see that what I felt was Christ’s joy radiating from her. Looking back, I cannot think of my aunt without Mother Teresa’s quote, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” My godmother showed kindness in her face, in the intent way she would care during a conversation. She showed kindness in her eyes when she would wink at me from across the room. Lastly, she showed kindness in her smile, in the gift that she had of talking to children. While some adults lack the skill to effectively engage children, my aunt relished being around the smallest members of society. 

When my Aunt Anne was diagnosed with cancer, out of love, she initially did not tell her children. This must have been a difficult cross for my aunt; however, she sacrificed so that her children could have the fullest childhood without worrying about her. In the beginning stages of battling cancer, you would never know that she wasn’t completely healthy. She suffered silently, being a witness to the dignity in all life, even when suffering. Instead of looking to her own needs, she was determined to carry her cross silently. She showed me that even though her body was struggling, her true value, her soul, was very much alive in her care for those around her, to make it easier for them.

The dignity of all humans was most visible when my aunt was dying. It was very hard to see my aunt’s body rapidly decaying. During those days, my ideal of beauty changed. Prior to my aunt’s illness, I would have categorized beauty as somewhere along the lines of “looking good.” Most would say my aunt was not my former worldly view of beauty in her final stages. She no longer had control of her movement, had only use of one eye, and was unable to use half of her face. Through her illness, I was able to see God’s plan for beauty on this earth, not as something of an exterior ideal, rather as a permanent interior ideal. The greatest beauty I have seen in a person was in my aunt in her final days. For in her, I saw the perfection of pain. While her outward appearance was completely altered, everything within her was beautiful. She still tried to smile, even though her face would not let her. Her words still shone with caring love, yet she was struggling in ways I cannot even imagine. I think that my aunt’s pain brought her closer to God and beauty, because suffering was able to bring her and all around her closer to the ultimate sufferer for man—God. 

Today’s culture of death is abhorrent to me. In many channels of the world today, life is seen like goods in a grocery store: Once they begin to decay or get old, they are gotten rid of. This is a view that must be changed because human dignity is rooted in the fact that you are a human being and God has a plan for your life, no matter the length. No one has the right to meddle with God’s plan for life and death by prematurely ending it. The minute we start taking life and death into our own hands makes morality only the rule of the strongest. Our culture is increasingly being pushed toward the “culture of death,” and it began when the preborn were stripped of their rights. Now that the sick and elderly are being degraded, we must ask ourselves, what is next in the culture? The underperforming? I admit, I do not know why my aunt died at 49 years, but what I do know is that I have an infinite and all-knowing God who loves man so much that He has a divine plan for all of us, including my beloved Aunt Anne. I know that He sees a far greater image—one I can’t imagine. I trust His plan for all life, even suffering, because He knows better than I do. My aunt showed me that in suffering and in dying, her worth did not change. She was still a child of God that He had a plan for and died for. Through my aunt’s courageous example, it has only strengthened my belief that human worth rests in who we are as God’s children, not in what we can do or how long we can do it for. Through my aunt’s embrace of suffering, she was a witness to the value and dignity of every man, by trusting in God and His divine masterpiece of the timespan of our lives. 

While our culture sees death with dignity as being dying on your own terms, true death with dignity is knowing your worth in Christ and His plan for all your days, and to carry His cross and embrace suffering. 

© 2018 Julianna Purcell. Published with permission.