On November 1, 2014 Brittany Maynard ended her life with a lethal dose of medication prescribed to her by her doctor. She was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor, a stage 4 glioblastoma.
She is being heralded as brave for making this choice, and for publicizing it weeks in advance. But she isn’t brave.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not jumping into the fray with my opinion on whether physician-assisted suicide for terminal cases should be legal, or whether it’s ethical, or even if I agree with it. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do if I had a terminal cancer and no hope of healing.
I am only talking about bravery. And Brittany Maynard didn’t have it, because bravery doesn’t quit, and bravery never thinks of only itself. If you remember nothing else from this article remember this:
Bravery doesn’t quit.
Bravery is selfless.
Some Truly Brave Men and Women
I know a woman who left an abusive, alcoholic man after seventeen years of marriage. She left because she wanted a better life for her son, and she saw him taking after his father. She had the courage to travel 2,185.3 miles to get away from her husband, even while knowing he would probably follow her and threaten her. But she left anyway, and she didn’t go back. That woman was brave, because bravery doesn’t quit and bravery is selfless.
(Thanks Mom for being the best example of bravery I have ever seen, and inspiring me to live a courageous life).
I know a man who has bipolar disorder, and has struggled for years to find his center. He has been on multiple different medications, but none had seemed to work. During these attempts to find a good space to live in, he never hid in a corner. Instead, he shared his ups and downs, his job losses and feelings of inadequacy, with the world on his blog. He understands bravery, because he never stopped pushing to find the way to his best life. The whole time, he was motivated to give his family the best life possible, by being the best possible person he could be.
I know Colleen English. Her daughter Claire has Rett Syndrome, which means Claire is not able to walk or talk, and she has seizures regularly. Colleen could have quit. She could have decided nothing could save her daughter, because right now there is no cure. But she didn’t do that, because she understands what it means to be brave. She started Rettland Foundation, and is locking arms with families across the world to find a cure. More than that, she is fundraising to help other families afford the clinical trials. Collen shows the world what bravery looks like, because she refuses to quit or to wallow in her (legitimate) sorrow.
My wife works as a pediatric cancer nurse. Every day, she meets kindergarteners who know they have cancer, but choose to laugh anyway. She cares for teenage boys who understand they are terminal, but make it their quest in the short time they have left to inspire other cancer kids to stay strong, to stay positive, and to make the best of the time they have left. These children are pillars of bravery, because they refuse to drown in their own mortality.
I don’t know who I admire more, these kids…or the nurses who take care of them. My wife has seen “her kids” (yes, they are her kids, as much as our own children are her kids, because she cares THAT much) die. She has had to struggle with whether she has the strength to go to the funerals of these kids she loves. That is heroism. That is bravery.
And, by the way, why does physical suffering equate to bravery, while mental illnesses are still viewed as if there is something wrong with us? We don’t choose mental illness any more than Britney chose cancer.
I know men who plan their careers around being at home to care for epileptic wives. I know women with transgender children, who don’t shrink back from the social stigma that creates, but lean instead lean into their children with love and acceptance, no matter what. I know those who suffer from ME or fibromyalgia, where some days just getting downstairs is an accomplishment; yet they are parent, grandparents, wives, poets, photographers. These people, these mighty resilient wonderful people, know what it means to be brave.
Brittany Maynard knows nothing of this brand of bravery. She did not taste the organic richness of a life lived fully, of a never-quit attitude, or of a selfless life until the end. So let’s not call her brave. Instead, let’s admire and lift high the truly brave, the quietly heroic, the mighty who are hiding in plain sight.