Facing life and facing death with an equal level of acceptance has been a goal of mine since last December, when all of this cancer stuff started. Part of being able to do that has been trying to understand how to take the power away from the things I fear. It seems like almost all of what I’m afraid of involves an unknown. Some unknowns can be demystified, taking away the fear and replacing it with factual information. Two unknowns that I've struggled with over the last eleven months have been dying and Heaven. Not knowing what to expect from either has been a source of fear.
So, I’ve been doing some research on dying and Heaven.
I know that for me as God’s child, death is an instant transition from being alive on this earth, to being more fully alive than I’ve ever been, in Heaven. The part that continues to be a potential source of fear is dying. What will it be like to die? How intense will the suffering be? How horrible will the pain be? How long will it take? What will my body do during that process? Finding the answers to some of these questions has been very, very helpful.
Here is some of the helpful information I found on dying:
The Last Weeks:
Most cancers affect the body’s ability to use the food that we eat to make energy. This can make you feel exhausted and weak, and no longer able to fight. The cancer cells can prevent the body from working normally, and may cause a change in the chemical balance in the body and sometimes a build up of waste chemicals.
These chemical changes can make people begin to lose weight, no matter how much they eat. Your appetite for food will gradually reduce. Your appearance may change and you may also start to look older. Once a person stops eating they usually only live for a couple of weeks.
As you become weaker and less able to do things, just trying to carry out ordinary daily activities such as getting up and dressing can make you feel exhausted. Your muscles may waste away. You will feel gradually more and more tired and will need to rest or sleep more during the day.
Loss of interest
During this time, it is common for people to lose interest in things that were previously important to them. It is sometimes as though people need to withdraw their attention from the world in order to prepare for death.
Care and support
People may need quite a lot of physical help and support during this time as they get weaker and less able to do things. However, a lot of the time they may just want to lie still and may want other people to just sit with them, without necessarily having to talk.
Occasionally, a dying person stays aware and able to talk right up until very close to the end, and can have a meaningful conversation with people around them. However, this is the exception rather than the rule, and it is important to say all the things that you want to at an early stage
The Last Few Days
As all these changes continue, there comes a time when people feel very weak and are not able to get out of bed at all. From needing to sleep and rest a lot, people move into a phase where their sleep becomes deeper and they spend time drifting in and out of consciousness.
At times you may become confused, and not recognise your family or friends. You may also hear or see things which are not there (hallucinations). You may have thoughts or experiences which are like dreams, in which you are not sure whether things that you experience are real or not.
The drowsiness and confusion can be due to the chemical changes that are happening in the body and the build up of waste chemicals (toxins). They may sometimes be partly due to the medicines that you need to keep you comfortable. Sometimes, to the people around you, you may appear distressed and restless.
Your feet and hands may feel cold, or your skin may feel very sensitive to any touch. People looking after you may need to be very gentle when moving or touching you.
The drowsiness and sleepiness usually gradually develops into a phase where people become unconscious and can’t respond at all to anything around them. You may seem to be peacefully asleep or may move, twitch or grimace occasionally as though you are dreaming. Although you will not be able to respond to the people around you at this time it is likely that you will be aware that they are there. It is likely that you will be able to hear them if they talk to you. This phase may last only a few hours or can continue for a few days.
At this stage, food and drink are not necessary as your body is no longer able to absorb or use them. Moistening your lips or mouth are all that is needed. Once a person stops drinking they usually only live for a few days.
If a person is not moving around, the fluid normally produced by their lungs is not able to drain away and may collect in the air passages, so that when they breathe they make a slight groaning (rattling) noise. This can be upsetting for the people around, but does not seem to be uncomfortable for the dying person themselves. Their breathing may also become irregular, with long gaps between the breaths.
Final Moments of Life
For most people, the final moments of life are very peaceful, with their breathing becoming gradually slower and more irregular, before stopping. With some people this seems to take a long time, while for others it happens over a few minutes.
It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of death. Often the person’s body will relax completely and their face will look very peaceful. People often say that they can sense when the person’s consciousness has gone from the body.
All of the above information on dying from cancer is from: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Endoflife/Dyingwithcancer/Attheendoflife.aspx
It’s also true that the process of pain and suffering and dying can’t last forever, it has an ending point. From the perspective of eternity, the time involved in dying will be just a minute pinpoint in time.
Learning about Heaven has been a source of encouragement and excitement. Reading Heaven, by Randy Alcorn, has been thrilling. It has taken away a lot of the ambiguity I felt about what Heaven will really be like. I knew Heaven had to be better than earth but that was about all I knew before I started reading...
Here is a tiny bit about Heaven, from Heaven, by Randy Alcorn. I'll post more as I read more of the book...:
Earth leads directly into Heaven or directly into Hell, affording a choice between the two. The best of life on Earth is a glimpse of Heaven; the worst of life is a glimpse of Hell. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to heaven. (p. 28)
The present Heaven and the eternal Heaven are not the same. We can be assured that there will be no more sorrow on the New Earth, our eternal home. But though the present Heaven is a far happier place than Earth under the Curse, Scripture doesn’t state that there can be no sorrow there. At the same time, people in Heaven are not frail beings whose joy can only be preserved by shielding them from what’s really going on in the universe. Happiness in Heaven is not based on ignorance but on perspective. Those who live in the presence of Christ find great joy in worshiping God and living as righteous beings in rich fellowship in a sinless environment. And because God is continuously at work on Earth, the saints watching from Heaven have a great deal to praise him for, including God’s drawing people on Earth to himself (Luke 15:17, 10). But those in the present Heaven are also looking forward to Christ’s return, their bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the fashioning of the New Earth from the ruins of the old. Only then and there, in our eternal home, will all evil and suffering and sorrow be washed away by the hand of God. Only then and there will we experience the fullness of joy intended by God and purchased for us by Christ at and an unfathomable cost. (p. 73)
I’ve found that developing a response to recurring fears makes a huge difference in maintaining some level of mental/emotional/ psychological/spiritual equilibrium. Dying will not be _________ because _________. Heaven will be _________ and I know this because ________.
Romans 8:38-39 sums up the bottom line on life and death:
For I am convinced
that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.