THE BLOG
08/15/2011 10:18 am ET | Updated Oct 15, 2011

We Don't Talk About How We Are Going to Die

Dudley Clendinen is dying. While we are all going to die at some point even if we don't know when or how, Dudley knows he is dying because he has ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's Disease), which is a fatal disease. And, he has decided when and how he will ensure that he dies a dignified death. He is choosing not to use the "... human, medical technological and loving support" he will start to need within a few months when his disease eventually renders him a "conscious but motionless, mute, withered, incontinent mummy of my former self."

How do I know this? I read the opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times that appeared on July 9. In that piece, Dudley writes about his life and what he has appreciated about it. And, he writes about his life-long struggles as well, including staying sober and dealing with his being gay. Through therapy and 12-step programs he learned how to be "sober and sane," how to be himself, and to realize that life wasn't just about him but also about those he loved and who loved him. And he has learned to live one day at a time.

Dudley feels it important to claim what he wants for the end of his life. He writes:

"We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don't talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren't one of life's greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is."

What would you do were you in Dudley Clendinen's situation? I am not asking you to judge what he has decided is right for him. I am asking you to consider what you would want were you to find yourself in Dudley's situation. Would you want to die the way he describes his mother, cousin and his aunts did, "... all of whom would have died of natural causes years earlier if not for medical technology, well-meaning systems and loving, caring hands"? Or would you prefer what Dudley has decided? Or something else?

Also, thinking about the prospect of only having several months to live (although death could occur for any of us at any time -- whether it be while walking down the street, eating a meal or sleeping), I wonder how many of us could do what Dudley is doing while he is dying -- living one day at a time? For those of us who have not done a 12-step program, are we able to live today and focus only on this day? Can we appreciate what we have before us right now? "Consider the birds in the fields" (Matt 6:26) "Behold the lilies of the field" (Matt 6:28) -- Can we just "be still, and know" (Ps 46:10) -- Can we see the "goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?" (Ps 27:13)

What do you think that God expects of us as we live this life -- and await our time to die? And, then, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time for everything ... "A time to be born and a time to die ..." (Eccl 3:1-2) We know that we will one day die. And, what do you think that God expects of us as we are dying?