Today my grandfather passed away. I was not particularly close to this man. In fact, his life was a string of tragedies of fleshly vices, relational strain, emotional abuse, and nagging regret. He died alone. His major fear was dying alone.
“Dying with dignity” gains a lot of air time in our society. A society that fears mortality at least hopes to control the last great challenge to our existence. Death is cheapened to a commodity that can be purchased on the marketplace. With great money, we tell ourselves, comes greater control.
We live in a world continuously asking identity questions—who am I? What’s my calling? Where do I belong? A man dying alone in a hospital bedroom reveals the nagging loneliness of identity alone. Is this man merely his condition (emotionally, physically)? We’re comfortable dying with identity. My grandfather wasn’t searching for identity. He was searching for dignity. Identity answers the question—who am I? Dignity answers the question—what am I worth? My grandfather was an abusive alcoholic with a string of relational carnage in his wake. His dignity was one worth the time to sit and help him pass from one reality to the next.
I do not agree with his identity. His life revealed the absence of a larger calling, meaning, or purpose. His dignity, by his very humanness, granted him the common decency to have a community present at his death.
I’m haunted by his death.