You’ve probably heard of Brittany Maynard, who made national news with her quest to end her life by means of physician-assisted suicide rather than suffer with brain cancer.
In November 2014, after moving from California to Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, she succeeded in ending her life. The emotional appeal of her story is evident in the legacy she left, with her home state of California legalizing physician-assisted suicide soon after.
But you may not have heard of Lizz Lovett, another young woman from Oregon with a parallel story. Lizz was diagnosed with inoperable stage 4 kidney cancer in 2014, the same year Brittany learned of her diagnosis. But instead of hurrying death, Lizz has lived each moment since then with grace and courage. Chris Stephanik of Real Life Catholic produced a beautiful YouTube video telling her story entitled “Death with Dignity.”
In this video, Lizz tells us, “The moment we label suicide an act of dignity, we imply that people like me are undignified for not ending our lives, or worse, a costly burden for society. What a lonely, uncharitable, and fake world we live in if we think it’s somehow undignified to let people see us suffer; to love us and care for us until the end. … Cancer might take my life, but I’m going to live until I die, and I’m going to fight until I die … you see, God has the final word in my life and death, not cancer.”
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Journalist Carrie Gress, writing for the National Catholic Register last April, gave this update on Lizz’s journey, saying, “Lizz … often reminds her husband (Ryan) that there is no shame in suffering and that it too is a gift. The last two years have taught her how to make sense of her suffering by uniting it with Christ’s cross daily. Every ache, struggle, setback, heartbreak, she offers up for others, especially for priests. In this, she has found great joy in the midst of great suffering. Ryan told me that as odd as it sounds, they have come to love the very thing they wish the most had not happened.”
Lizz’s fight ended on July 2, 2016, as her family prayed the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at her bedside. With the last line of the prayer, her heart ceased to beat and her suffering came to an end.
But her story didn’t end, becoming instead part of the eternal Christian mystery of the cross. Her willingness to suffer with dignity and die in God’s time lifted the entire Church, the body of Christ, closer to heaven. St. Paul spoke of this great mystery in a letter to the Colossians, writing, “Brothers and sisters: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, the Church … .” (2 Col 1:24).
The cross, so often rejected and avoided, is the path to life. Every sacrifice we accept for love of Christ has eternal value.
Do not fear: Take up your cross and follow Jesus. He will walk with you every step of the way. The very thing that seems to be the instrument of death, the cross of Christ, is truly the gateway to eternal life.
Nancy Murray is a Catholic catechist and retreat facilitator attending Christ the King church in Richland and blogs at www.CatholicEthicsblogspot.com. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. or email firstname.lastname@example.org.