What Medicine has Taught me About Death Part II


In the Name of Allah, the extremely Merciful at this very moment, and the extremely Merciful at all times.

With the Name of Allah, the extremely Merciful at this very moment, and the extremely Merciful at all times

Part I

Allah (swt) says in Surah An-Nisa Chapter 4 verse 78:

“Wherever you may be, death will overtake you, even if you should be within towers of lofty construction. But if good comes to them, they say, “This is from Allah “; and if evil befalls them, they say, “This is from you.” Say, “All [things] are from Allah .” So what is [the matter] with those people that they can hardly understand any statement?”

In medicine, as blasphemous as it sounds, some people may have a chance to choose the way they will die.   A man diagnosed with terminal (not curable) cancer may choose to spend his final days within the confines of the hospital and have all life supporting measures in place because he hangs on to the hope of returning home and having one last meal with his family.  Another may choose hospice and take all measures to pass comfortably in his home.  And others will have no say in the matter, instead the family will need to come together to make that difficult decision to stop the ventilator and let nature take its course.

I’ve been in on a couple of those difficult conversations as a student.  While speaking with one patient’s family, our Attending explained that the memory of the patient’s final days should be taken into consideration.  If they stayed in the hospital and had all life support measures be undertaken in the hopes of curing an un-curable disease, then they ran the risk of their loved one passing away in the lonely confines of the intensive care unit in the middle of the night with tubes and wires passing all over him.  The other option would be to transfer care to hospice and have them take care of the patient until the inevitable, within sight of his loved ones in the comfort of his own home.

Of course, this physician was trying to make the point that hospice offered an approach to remember the patient in the best possible way in his final days.  Because one could argue either way as the better solution, these decisions are always left to the patient or healthcare proxy.

As you read that scenario, you might think it’s an easy decision, but I would argue it’s quite difficult.  It’s understandable that some families continue to hang on to the hope that medication may reverse and bring their loved one back to “normal.”  After all, who would want to “pull the plug” on their family member?  It’s even more dramatic if they didn’t have the chance to say goodbye before their loved ones were rushed to the hospital.  It’s even worse if the last conversation they had with them was an argument.

Yet in both scenarios, each will die when their term has been fulfilled, not a moment more, not a moment less.

Putting ourselves in the shoes of the family in these situations gives us greater insight as to the difficulty associated with death.  In other words, the pains of death are not only hard on the person dying, but also on their families.

***

Patient’s may “choose” the way they die, but more importantly, this choice is a function of how they will be remembered.  Even if they “choose” the way they want to die, many may never reach hospice and many may stay in hospice for longer than the doctor had predicted.

However, it is not important how one died- rather, it is important how one lived.  This is exemplified even on the movie screen- most notably in the final scene of “The Last Samurai.” (WATCH).

When we are hit with a calamity or loss in our family, we should take the time and focus on the values that our loved one left behind, the examples they set, their good habits, their triumphs, their happy moments, and the best times in their life.  Granted it is sometimes useful to reflect on the death of a loved one, but this should not be the focus.  The Prophet’s (saw) death as a reminder can be a powerful  and heart softening topic- but it should not overshadow what he had achieved during his lifetime: the change instilled in the disunited Arabs, the men of purpose he developed, the manners he perfected, the success he achieved.

Unfortunately, many in the Muslim world- those who are led down the path of violence- fixate on the way they will die in the hopes of becoming a martyr for Islam.  However, the truth of the matter is that living a life of purpose is much more honorable and closer to Islam than throwing oneself in the middle of an innocent crowd of civilians with a bomb attached to themselves in the false hope of achieving martyrdom.*

Rather than fixate on death and trying to choose the way they want to go, one of the best goals a Muslim can strive toward is to live a life of purpose and in constant pursuit of Allah’s Pleasure.  There may be bumps in the road, but life is always changing and we are constantly adapting.  While pursuing this steady course, we hope that the legacy we leave behind is beautiful and beneficial to all people- no matter the way in which Allah chooses to take our soul.

Perhaps that would leave a legacy well remembered; in this world, and the hereafter.

***

*To be clear, this act of violence is not supported in Islam at all.

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