Death with Dignity

In just over a year, my mother-in-law has lost both of her parents. They were wonderful people and we all miss them. My wife’s grandfather died first, last year, not long after the lockdown started. It was sudden, but not a surprise either. He’d been declining steadily over the past few years. He fell at home and just never recovered.

After he passed, my wife’s grandma moved up and lived about 20 feet away from my in-laws. She seemed to be doing very well for a little while, apart from the deep sadness of losing her husband of over 50 years.

Over the winter, though, we noticed a change in her breathing. A labor and raspiness that wasn’t there before. Early in the spring, she had a scan and her cancer was back. The doctor gave her a couple of months, even with treatment.

She chose not to pursue treatment. People choose not to receive treatment for all sorts of reasons. Some people want to pursue naturopathic methods until it’s too late1. Others don’t seek treatment out of denial. Some want death on their own terms2. But Marlene Vittitow’s reason was different. When I think about it, I can’t help feeling fortunate to have known her in this life.

She took a few days before making her decision. She preferred not to go through treatment again. She’d done that years before, and she knew just how awful it was. And it wouldn’t do anything more than delay the inevitable. So, she met with her pastor to discuss it. Her main concern wasn’t about pain avoidance or even for more time with family. She was most concerned about if she should pursue treatment, so she might have time for even one more opportunity to share the gospel.

Hers was a life so well spent that she felt no need to fight to extend it. And so, it ended peacefully at 8:03 on 16 July 2021. My wife was able to be there, gathered around with her family, as she passed on to be with her Savior.


In “The Death of Ivan Ilych” Leo Tolstoy describes the horror with which Ivan Ilych faces the realization of his impending death. He is tormented by the question of if his life was a good life.

’Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,’ it suddenly occurred to him. ‘But how could that be, when I did everything properly?’

The Death of Ivan Ilych

Grandma Vittitow’s life was, in many ways, “proper,” but not in the successful, esteemed-among-humanity sort of way. Instead, she lived a life of quiet faithfulness.

The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

George Eliot, Middlemarch

She was always the first to point attention, and thanks, back to God, where it belonged, in any and every situation. But especially so when she was the recipient of praise. Hers was a “faithful, hidden life.” But her tomb will not go unvisited.

Live-Tweeting Despair

Yesterday I watched a man live-tweet the death of his six-year-old daughter. It was horrific. Not because he was tweeting it, he was crying out in pain. It was horrific to watch it unfold.

She had cancer and he knew it was coming. He held her as she lay unconscious fighting for the last bits of life she had left. She was my daughter’s age. She died on her birthday.

I can’t stop thinking about it.