I almost lost my grandmother earlier this week.
She was admitted to the hospital this weekend with a pretty severe case of pneumonia. She grew weaker and weaker. I talked to her on Monday, and she sounded terrible.
Then Tuesday about 3:45 p.m. I received a phone call from my dad, "If you want to see your grandma before she dies, you'd better get down here." Dad was crying. I knew it was bad. Dad never cries.
I told my wife I needed to go. Thankfully she handled the kids' homework and dinner. It was a three and a half hour trip to Corpus. There was plenty of time to think.
As I drove, my thoughts centered on my grandmother--this often happens when a loved one is near death. We think about all our interactions with them. We think of specific times and instances which shaped our relationship. We think of particular quirks, sayings, habits, and the like. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed by all the memories to the point where we have trouble recalling all of them. In those moments of blankness, you sometimes think--how is it that I've known this person for so long but cannot think of a single thing right now?
And so you think of other things for a moment.
One of those other things did not settle well with me. The terminology I have heard used in hospitals recently regarding death. I dreaded hearing, should my grandmother die, the words, "The patient has expired."
Oh, I know the term is an archaic usage which means death. I am also aware it means to come to an end or to the exhaling one's breath (of which a final expiration is a sign of death).
But what is so hard about saying someone has died?
Is it more sensitive to say that someone has expired?
I mean, really, when I hear the word expire, I immediately think about the stores of food I have in my pantry. What's the expiration date? When is that moment when something becomes unusable? Worthless? Unsafe to digest our use because it might bring harm?
Maybe expiration date wasn't the best of choices of words to use when talking about food items because this is now the main usage of the word, I believe. It's certainly how I use the word most often, and I don't like talking about death in terms of expiration.
I mean, if my grandmother "expires" does she suddenly become worthless?
Is she suddenly "unusable" as if we humans were meant to be used for something?
Is she suddenly "unsafe" or a threat to harm someone in some fashion?
No. She would simply be dead--a state all of us will eventually enter into.
And I know my visceral reaction to this term when applied to death comes from my adherence to the Christian faith. Death is not an expiration date. It's a transition. It's a threshold.
"For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain." So said St. Paul in Philippians chapter 1. For Paul, death meant a reunion with Christ--a joyous occasion when the temporal became eternal. For Paul, death was a transition, not an end--not a termination--not an expiration.
Christians believe we do not have an expiration date. The body may die, but we will be raised again to a new life. And because of the eternal nature of the self, Christians believe we all have value--we are not simply useful creatures; we are not simply here for another person's pleasure or the pleasure of the state, capitalism, our family, or what have you. We are here, made in the image of God, as creatures of immense worth--even in our brokenness.
In my opinion, using the term expired--particularly in the context of our culture and society today--cheapens the value of human life. And as a Christian, the term is simply not true at all. :-)