Happy: A Quest for Life After Death

Sunday, April 12, 2009


While Mat was in the hospital, one of the residents came in to clarify his wishes about treatment.

"Are you a Do Not Resuscitate?" he said.

I was horrified. In the abstract, you might think a nice cardiac event could be an easy way out of a terminal illness. I might have thought that myself, before Mat's prognosis became, well, terminal. That was when Mat's cancer returned for a second time, in late August 2007.

Now, almost 20 months later, there have been a lot of really bad days, but there have been more -- not a lot more, but more -- days that were mostly good. And what if mostly good days only came along once a week? Once every two weeks? I suspect I still wouldn't want Mat to be a "Do Not Resuscitate." (I'm not completely sure how Mat feels about the once-every-two-weeks scenario, but I'm pretty sure we're on the same page about the other one.)

One of Mat's doctors told him in January that she couldn't tell him how much longer he had to live, but that it was months, not years. And furthermore, some of those months would be low quality. Even knowing that, would I want Mat's life to end months early because of a random glitch that resulted from a straightforward surgery to correct a bowel obstruction? We have two kids, ages 4 and almost 8. A few more months is a long, long time if you're four years old.

I've thought about living wills and advance directives for end-of-life care before. Mat and I both have a living will, written about fours years BC (before cancer). But I would guess that most people who think they know how they want to be taken care of near the end of their lives are wrong. I don't know if people can fully understand the implications of their directions until they've been there, or at least pretty close to there.

I've been pretty close to there, and now I know.


EmilyCC said...

I wish you and Mat didn't have to understand the implications of a DNR either, my friend.

Heather Parry said...

The way you wrote this post with such clarity and conviction both astounds me and breaks my heart. Thanks for sharing your (and Mat's)journey with us and I applaud you both for fighting for more time.

Colleen Goodsell said...

Beautifully written! Hang in there. We love you guys.

lambie-pie said...

Thank you for reminding me to treasure every moment with my loved ones and not waste precious time on the petty annoyances. I also wanted to let you know that at our house we are all in the habit of praying for Mat and the Burnett family (even the kids- we don't even have to remind them) It's standard procedure in our house now- for every prayer. I wish it would help more.
I'm glad he's back home,

Anonymous said...

In the words of the ancient prophet Moroni (Moroni 9:17-20):

"Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought? And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles. And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles."

Our entire family prays for Mat, you and the boys morning and night and many times in between. Like Moroni we have faith that God remains a God of miracles and that Mat can be cured. We love you.

lifeinredshoes said...

Wishing you moments to last a lifetime.

SLP said...

Beautiful prose.
Sending you warm hugs,

lifeinredshoes said...

Lately, whenever I click on your site I hold my breath.
Thinking of you, Life In Red Shoes

Eve! said...

Argh. I've been there done that! I even had to plan for my nonexistent baby in my will. It is tuff...but a necessary thing for one to do. I know that I approach my cancer with a practical mind when it comes to death. I know what I want and I want my docs and family to know too. Spare them the agony of having to decide to keep me alive or let me rest.