This week, the world lost two brilliant people. Both were colleagues and friends. Derek Cunnold, a friend through our church, died unexpectedly of a heart attack while playing tennis. Michael Strugatsky, a work colleague, died after a 2 year battle with cancer. I could write pages on the merits of both extraordinary men: one an immigrant from the UK who came to the US as a welcome addition to the academic community, the other an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who came to the US as a persecuted minority. However, rather than spend time memorializing these men that most of you never had the opportunity to know, I have a question.
Which would you rather experience, a sudden and unexpected death or a lingering death over many months? Which would you rather your loved ones experience?
I used to think that this was an easy question to answer. Who would ever want to linger and suffer when the alternative is quick and so seemingly simple? The answer gets more complicated as you get older and start a family.
Michael's family had to watch him suffer and waste away to a shadow of his former self. Every day was a reminder of the disease that was killing him. It was in the room with the family, a pall over each interaction. But Michael's family got to say goodbye. They were able to prepare for the inevitable. Everything was put in order, so that by the time the end came, it was merely a matter of putting the plan into motion. The funeral was terribly sad, but not shocking.
Derek was alive, well, and healthy one moment and gone the next with absolutely no warning. His family could not be found, so others knew of his passing hours before his wife knew. His family members will spend the next weeks remembering last words, regretting things not said, constantly reminded of the vibrant life that was suddenly removed from their world. The funeral will be numbing.
Friends who have lost loved ones to debilitating diseases almost universally say that they wish that the end could have come faster. Today, I am not so sure. I desperately want to see my kids grow up. I am terrified of leaving my family unprepared. Although you hear the phrase "live each day as if it were your last," the reality is that no one truly lives that way. It would be too crushing emotionally if every parting from your loved ones was treated like the last.
While I would never want to see anyone in my family suffer, I would be angry beyond measure if I did not have a chance to make my peace with them before they are taken away forever. I hope that there is an afterlife where I can see them all again, but I'm human enough to worry and be terribly frightened that there isn't. So I want to be sure to get everything said in this world.
Then again, I don't want to make my family destitute or ruin their ability to get on with their lives. I don't want them to be tied to a withering body and all that entails.
So that's my question. I don't know the answer. I would appreciate your opinions, whatever they may be.