Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dehumanizing The Dying

I just scrolled through a pictorial of famous people who have died in 2011. There were many I recognized - Harry Morgan from MASH, Andy Rooney the sardonic commentator, singer Amy Winehouse, and Elizabeth Taylor were among them. As I read their cause of death, I wondered what they looked like in the last months . . . how unrecognizable they might have been to the public because of the illnesses they suffered.

I met Judy (not her real name) about three years ago. She was a hospice patient, and I her hospice chaplain. Several months after her death, I happened upon the program they produced for her memorial service. Her picture was on the front, but I did not recognize her. I thought I did not know the woman pictured until I opened the folded piece of paper and recognized her from the names and information from her family. I had only known her when she was sick.

I wonder if there is not a tendency for us to think that when people are sick, gaunt from cancer, swollen from liver failure, emaciated from some long-term lung disease . . . I wonder if there is not a tendency for us to treat them, or at the least think of them as less than the people they are?

The Bible tells us that by the time Jesus was crucified, he had been beaten so badly that he no longer appeared human. Yet, He was still fully Himself, fully God and fully man. It is so easy for us to accept what our eyes tell us, and not look beyond. The next time you see someone in a hospital bed, or in a nursing home, or some chemotherapy patient suffering from the poison of their medicine, remember that the illness has not diminished who they are. They are still a human being who God loved with the life of His Son.