(This post is my personal view and does not necessarily reflect the position of any organization or group).
In 1976 when I was 26 years old, I said to my younger wife “Do you know in the year 2000 I’ll be 50 years old!” We both burst into laughter. 2000 was so far away! Now it is 2020 and my body is 70 years old and it’s not so funny anymore. The years have gone by in a heartbeat.
As I get older, and because I’m suffering from a terminal disease, I realize my body, and my mind, are never going to get any better than where they are today. Not only have I all the usual onsets of the body deteriorating with its’ aches and pains, but I also have the side effects of taking 6 different drugs daily to keep cancer and other body ailments in check.
So, realizing my body and mind will only worsen from this day onward, I can see why people in my position may contemplate ending their lives. But this is not a solution to the suffering of the body. It is an option that will only cause more suffering to others and the person who kills his own body. Why?
- Taking one’s life is a very selfish activity. It affects others, our loved ones, and those left to deal with the results. And depending on the mode of suicide, it can affect those involved profoundly. Think of the train driver if it is death by train, or the policeman if it is death by police, or the car driver if it is death by car, to name just a few examples. Or it could be a young child who discovers the dead body.
- Things can get better. Things may look bleak now, but things can get better. We don’t know what lies ahead so we needn’t get caught up in what we are feeling today. Relationships may improve and medical science is making advances all the time.
- Every spiritual path decries the taking of ones’ life because spiritually speaking, suicide solves nothing, it only creates more problems, more suffering. We must have faith that we are in a temporary body and the suffering condition of the body will come to an end naturally. Every day of our lives we experience and burn off the reactions of our past good and bad deeds. If not now, we will just continue to suffer our karmic debts when we take on another body.
- Also compared with other life forms, the human form is considered extraordinarily valuable in that, in the course of life’s experiences, humans have the capacity to reflect and grow spiritually. And it is often seen that the greatest of tests and challenges can actually bring about the most wonderful changes, even transcendence.
In this blog, in various places I talk about how I am an aspiring Vaishnava. Acting like pain should be completely eliminated is a very Western idea. Vaishnavas experience pain knowing that pain is part of the cleansing process of karma. Whatever little or big debts I might owe are paid, burned off, rather than having to take on a whole new material body, and undergo the pain of birth and death again in my next life, and be faced again with my karmic debts. It is by God’s arrangement that sometimes there’s pain so that any residual stuff gets burned off. If we interfere with that by getting rid of all the pain of this body at the cost of consciousness, and the remembrance of the Supreme Person, this is unfortunate.
Though I know I am nearing the end of this life, I don’t know how much time I have left. I feel that I have well outlasted my allotted time in this body, so I’m sure my time will be up sooner rather than later – after all, I am 70 years old with advanced prostate cancer. My bodily aches and pains are something that, for now, I can withstand without pain killers, but unless I leave quickly from something like a failed heart, perhaps at some stage I’ll want some medication for pain relief.
When that time comes, I am hoping that I will have the faculties and wherewithal to monitor things so that I can avoid over medication and my mind and consciousness can remain clear. However, it is wise that decisions about any use of pain medications be made while I can still communicate, before the palliative care stage is reached. Now is a good time to consider how often, levels, type, frequency, etc. If required, pain medication generally works best administered steadily. This is why it is best to communicate your wishes to those who will make decisions if you are unable to do so in your last days.
One last point; some may have allergic reactions to different pain medications, especially morphine. So, it may be possible to try your planned medications beforehand, under your doctor’s supervision.
Caitanya das aka Charles Robinson
P.S. On re-reading this, it seems to paint a bleak picture of my condition but it is not so! I am very happy to be where I am now, and fortunate to have the knowledge to understand the dying process. I have no real evidence to think that the end of my life is imminent, other than I have a terminal disease and I am now in my 70’s. But I suspect as all of us get older and more frail, we think about the dying process and how it will be for us. This is a good thing because here is another more uplifting and attractive side to it all.
(In another post I will go into detail about some simple meditations and how Vaishnavas, at the very end of life, desire to be able to joyfully surrender themselves into the hands God).