Kevorkian, Hunter Thompson, and Hitler, versus Brad Fallon, Rafael Peralta, and John Paul II. Life Worth Living.By
Of course the point he and his supporters would make is that people ought to have the choice of how and when they die if they believe their life is no longer worth living, but there is still an irony to the news that Dr. Jack Kevorkian died a natural death “after a short illness.”
Death came for Dr. Death without asking permission.
Kevorkian probably didn’t mind. After all, just last year he told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that “the single worst moment of my life…was the moment I was born.”
How terribly sad.
Acceptance of assisted suicide or euthanasia starts with the terminally ill and those in chronic pain. It tugs at our heart strings as we wish to alleviate suffering—who doesn’t wish people in excrutiating chronic pain could be relieved of it?
But it doesn’t end there, of course.
Kevorkian performed his nihilistic service for many, many people with disabilities but no terminal illness, and 5 of the more than 130 people he preyed upon were determined in autopsy to have no illness at all.
I remember when Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide. He put a .45 slug through his head while talking with his wife on the phone, as his son and grandson were elsewhere in the house. In a note written four days earlier intended for his wife he offered this rationale:
Football Season is Over
No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”
The title is likely not metaphorical: Thompson, apparently a huge NFL fan, viewed the Superbowl as the high-water mark for the year, and February was the doldrums. He killed himself on February 20, 2005.
So it was all about Hunter: not his wife, not his son, not his grandson, or even his fans, it was all about Hunter. He saw his own problems that came with advancing age and decided that the only thing to do was kill himself. Not change his expectations or find other ways to enjoy life. Not spend more time being present to his grandson, not make a conscious decision to stop being “bitchy,” not finding new ways to be joyous (if he ever was truly joyous). He expected, as some sort of inalienable right, the quality and style of life that he viewed as necessary, but clearly had never afforded him genuine joy or a genuine glimpse into the real value of life.
It’s a fatal conceit of those who think themselves masters of their own destiny, makers of their own being. They equate life with a certain status and level of comfort, and reject life when they are asked to change the way they are to live. Hitler thought this way, too.
As a counter weight to the Kevorkians, Thompsons, and Hitlers of the world, consider Brad Fallon and his family.
I maintained a blog a number of years ago which is long since off-line, but I retain the archives. A portion of a post from that site which I wrote on February 5, 2005…
A picture of serenity in the face of much suffering; a model of how to die with dignity and love; Brad Fallon succumbed last week after a 20 year battle with a terminal kidney disease that shut down three different sets of kidneys. He was 36.
But how he died is not what makes him remarkable; he lies peaceably in his grave because of how he lived and the legacy he leaves.
Brad was married with six children – five boys and their older sister. Ignatius, the youngest, has Down’s Syndrome. Mother and widow, Victoria, is pregnant with the seventh.
Last fall, a friend of mine, Emily, who knows and loves this family, emailed a large circle of friends soliciting donations of money and time for an upcoming remodeling of the Fallon home. She told us about Brad’s second transplant and that he was doing well so the family moved to a new home which was little more than a run-down cabin on a very large piece of property so the boys would grow up in a safe, outdoorsy atmosphere rather than the dangerous street with no yard they had been living on. The plan had been for Brad to fix the place up a bit once they moved in. His recovery didn’t happen; he couldn’t do the needed repairs. So Emily organized a massive effort to paint walls, carpet floors, acquire furniture, fix holes in ceilings, and generally make the place more livable. She told us about this family and how, in spite of Brad’s terminal condition, the family was happy and full of love.
Emily interviewed Brad and Victoria last summer about how they cope with the hardships God has blessed them with. I’ve excerpted portions here that tell us, in their own words, how they’ve managed to maintain patience and love.
About their handicapped son…
Victoria: Now, if we had known I was going to have a baby with Down Syndrome, of course I wouldn’t have aborted the baby, but I would have been really scared. When they told me he had Down Syndrome though, and he was there, suckling at my breast, I just thought, “This is my baby.” Down Syndrome just went out the door. I didn’t think, “Down Syndrome.” I thought, “Ignatius.”
About Brad’s sickness…
Victoria: Just having gone through all these things [Ignatius’ DS, Brad’s terminal disease and all the hospitalizations, etc.] – Brad’s suffering aside – it’s been the best thing that could happen to me for my own sanctity. Not that I’m doing it great, but I’m a much better person that I was 12 years ago as far as having compassion and not realizing that if you can’t do something, that’s okay. Brad doesn’t have to do anything. He can be much more “productive” for our family now than he would if he worked, because he prays for everybody so much. He’s so there, and the kids get to see that. There’s just more to it than money and things. And I didn’t always realize that. Those things are not important. The most important things are heavenly things.
But, for me personally, it took a lot of stripping to come to terms with those things. Brad knows, because he’s had to go through it all. But I do think I am a much better person. And I was much better at handling a baby with DS, at realizing that just because your baby doesn’t walk when other babies walk, just because your baby doesn’t talk when other babies talk, and just because your maybe isn’t going to be “just like everybody else” that there still can be something extremely beautiful about him. Those things don’t crush you.
Brad: Our sight is weak. And something has to happen in our life to get us to see past the visible, past the material, past the superficial veil that covers things over after sin. Something has got to happen to strengthen our eyes to see past that or else we live superficially.
I’ve really discovered the usefulness of sickness. First of all, it’s fitting. Our soul is sick; there is a defect in our soul. But we don’t come into contact with our soul. All our knowledge comes through our senses. What we know, the most real things, come through our senses. But we can’t sense our souls, just our bodies. Thankfully, there is a parallel between our souls and our bodies. As the Holy Father says, our bodies are meant to express our souls, so if our souls are sick it’s very fitting for the body to reflect that sickness and it’s very helpful for us because we can come into direct contact with that sickness and experience the imperfection in our bodies and through that experience, come to know the weakness and imperfection of our souls. That opens us up to receiving grace and salvation. To the degree we experience that is the degree to which we can receive the grace of salvation. So sickness is a blessing.
Read that again. We all need to have such a perspective. Here a man is looking death in the eye and smiling. Rather than fear, he has joy.
Then the clincher, and the one that brought the tear to my eye…
Victoria: We don’t suffer as much as many, many other people. And we only suffer a little bit more than some. You’re just scraping the very tip of a family suffering when you talk to us, because there are so many other people out there suffering more.
Brad: We are happy. And we get to teach our children something that other families don’t have the opportunity to. When you home school, part of the value is that when you open the grammar book you walk through it yourself and learn side by side with your child. And that imprints on your child not only the knowledge itself, but also the idea that the knowledge is something worth striving for. It’s fun, interesting, and important. And we get to do this everyday with this cross, this suffering. We get to walk through a difficult life with our children and show them how to do it while learning right alongside them how to do it.
Again, on Ignatius, but a commentary that helps give an idea of how to view the question of dealing with adversity in general…
Brad: The root of sin is in the intellect, with pride, and when that’s suppressed there’s a purity that comes out that doesn’t come out with the rest of us. So I tend not to think of Down Syndrome as a handicap, but rather as a benefit, because it depends on where your priorities are. If you think of production as the be all and end all, than Down Syndrome s a handicap. But if you think purity of heart is the be all and end all than Down Syndrome is a leg up.
Victoria: That’s right. It’s not something to be looked down on. That’s where [Peter] Singer is coming from. It’s productivity. People try to make you feel better by saying, “These people can get jobs you know.” But for us, Ignatius doesn’t have to work; he doesn’t have to read; he doesn’t have to do anything. He just has to be Ignatius.
… The Fallons are living what I’ve only conceptualized. They see the big picture. They embrace suffering, seeing in it an opportunity to grow closer to Our Lord as He willingly hangs on His Cross.
In the email Emily sent out to alert people of Brad’s death, she said of the Fallons…
Over the past few days, as I’ve talked with Brad’s family and friends, all of them, again and again, told me how much the work we did on his house meant to him, how much joy it gave him these last few months, and what a difference it has made for the family. They asked me to pass this on to all of you who have worked so hard or given so much to make that transformation possible. I want to thank you guys as well. Brad, Victoria, and their children mean a great, great deal to me. Being able to serve them during these last few months of Brad’s life was one of the greatest blessings I have ever received, and I will treasure the days I spent out at their place, planning, painting and measuring. They always welcomed me as part of their family and taught me so much by their quiet and joy-filled faith. Others might have seen the shadow of death hanging over their house, but inside their home, inside their world, life filled every corner, leaving no room for even death’s shadow. They’re one of the happiest families I have ever known and even with Brad’s passing, I doubt that will change. Anyhow, so much of my time there was made possible by your generosity, and for that I will always be grateful.
Brad leaves behind a strong, happy, holy family. What better legacy could anyone ask for? Brad did not accomplish anything great by modern society’s measure. He did not sacrifice his life to save others, as my other example did, he did not write any books, invent any earth-changing devices or medicines, he did nothing that most would consider “great.” Yet, I doubt anyone would say Brad Fallon wasted his life or failed as a person. He gave everything he could; everything he was allowed to give. He did it all with Faith, Hope, and Love.
His chair will be empty now, the children no longer have their father nearby to talk to, Victoria no longer has her partner around for support… but yes they do. I have little doubt that Brad Fallon is in a much better position to do what he has been doing right along anyhow: praying for his family, begging God to look with favor upon his loved ones. (I’m typing this with my eyes closed, I can’t see through the tears, so please excuse any misspellings.)
I never met Brad Fallon, but he was certainly busy living when death came for him. He is an inspiration to anyone who thinks they have it bad.
In that same post I also wrote about the simple life and heroics of US Marine sergeant Rafael Peralta, who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross but who, in my opinion, ought to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor…
Rafael Peralta was a Mexican who came – legally – to the United States, got a Green Card, and joined the Marine Corps the very next day. He became an American citizen while in the Marines and brought great honor to himself, his family, his Corps, and all proud Americans during the assault on Fallujah when, after being shot in the face and lying mortally wounded, he grabbed a grenade that had been tossed into the room where he lay, where other Marines were engaging those who had just shot him from, he grabbed that grenade tossed by the enemy and pulled it under his own belly so that his body would take the worst of the blast and his brother Marines would be spared.
The Danz Family tells us…
Peralta was proud to serve his adopted country. In his parent’s home, on his bedroom walls hung only three items – a copy of the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and his boot camp graduation certificate. Before he set out for Fallujah, he wrote to his 14-year old brother, “be proud of me, bro…and be proud of being an American.”
Peralta did not have a family that he leaves behind. Like Brad Fallon, he did not leave behind a volume of work or a significant contribution in any material sense. But what he left is more valuable: his example. He was an ordinary man who wanted to contribute, he wanted to help, he wanted a better life. He died in a fiery blast so that others might have that opportunity instead.
Rafael Peralta lived a brief 25 years, but they were years of meaning and purpose. Peralta was busy living. He now lies in his grave with distinction and honor, the gratitude of particular Marines, the Corps, and his countrymen. “Be proud of me. And be proud of being an American,” he exhorted his brother. I believe he says that to all of us who are blessed to live in this country. We should all be proud that we live in a country that produces such young men.
Of course, the most striking recent example of a suffering man embracing his cross and living the life he had rather than the life he may have preferred is the late John Paul II. Hunter Thompson bitched about a bum hip and bad knee, the football season being over, and who knows what else (loss of prestige?). John Paul II, a former athlete and actor, could no longer stand upright. Eventually he couldn’t even stand all that well, then couldn’t speak well, then couldn’t speak at all. And his deterioration happened, humiliatingly, in the glare of the global spotlight. There was no escape for him, hoping that people would only remember him in the full vigor of youth rather than as a bent-over, drooling old man with an uncontrollably shaky hand due to Parkinsons.
The contrast could not be more stark. In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton says,
A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying. And it has held up ever since above the European lances the banner of the mystery of chivalry: the Christian courage, which is a disdain of death; not the Chinese courage, which is a disdain of life.
Just so. The Fallons, Peraltas, and Wojtylas of the world embraced life and all that it brings, including the reality that death would eventually come. Death interrupted their vigorous living of life, lived with an indifference toward death. For the small ones turned in on themselves and their own misery like the Kevorkians, the Thompsons, and Hitlers of the world, death was pursued—others’ deaths before their own, in the cases of Kevorkian and Hitler–and life was something to be rejected; life was an unfortunate condition of their self-assertion that had to be abandoned once their self-assertion was no longer possible to their own satisfaction.
We are within the octave of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven, an event in world history which speaks so powerfully and eloquently to the true dignity of humanity–our physical nature and the God-given life which animates it. God gave to us our humanity, an endless array of gifts and surprises, and ceaselessly gives us the ability through grace to live life with joy, in spite of the worst suffering life can bring. It is our privilege to seek that joy and embrace the crosses along the way.
Let’s get busy living.