“I Want to Die”The comment surprised me, and actually made me a bit angry. The 84-year-old Mr. M. certainly had a number of medical issues that required constant vigilance and treatment, but it wasn’t as though he was suffering from intractable pain due to a progressive illness. He drove to the appointment in my office and was accompanied by his wife, so he wasn’t bed-bound and alone.
I must confess, I was not too kind on that morning. I told him that if his wish was to die, he came to the wrong place. It was my job to enhance his health and prolong his life, not to listen while he openly wished for just the opposite. When he told me how he lived quite long enough, I pointed to his wife and asked, “And what about her? Do you not care that if you die, your wife will be alone?”
When he told me that it was God’s will that he should die very soon, I told him not to pretend to know god’s will. That was not within his knowledge or grasp. “God will decide when you have lived long enough,” I told him. God has given us medicine and caregivers in order to make us healthy and whole. Who are we to reject all of that? In the Bible, God tells us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). “So let’s not play God here, deciding for ourselves that God wants us to reject the blessings and gifts that have been bestowed to us.” I added that once he died, he will be dead for a very long time, but only while he is alive does he have the opportunity to be God’s helper here on earth. Why be in a hurry to have that end?
I spend much of my day helping people cope emotionally with their illnesses, often diagnosing and treating depression. This encounter presented a patient who did not seem depressed to me, but rather one who was overwhelmed by all that life and illness required of him, and who (hopefully) will respond to a reality check and a counterargument to his point of view.
If you have a comment or question about this blog entry, email Dr. Roffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Joel Roffman has spoken to many church, synagogue and support groups. His book, Coping with Adversity: Judaism’s response to illness and other life struggles is enjoyable, uplifting and informative. It is meant for people of all faiths and can be viewed at www.copingwithadversity.com. It is available at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon.com.