Brittany Maynard Isn’t Brave, But These People Are

Courtesy of Brittany Maynard

Courtesy of Brittany Maynard

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.

(You can tweet that)

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.

Comments

  1. This is just a thought. My uncle suffered from Hodgkins in his 60’s. He fought for years with chemo and trying other radical treatments. He went into remission, but when his cancer came back, he said, “No more, I don’t want anymore chemo or pain.” His cancer advanced quickly and he died. He was a pastor. He hung on for his family until he had to finally quit. Was he wrong or not brave to say, “No more, no more chemo, no more fighting?” He took morphine as his pain progressed. He didn’t take his life, but the morphine helped him bear it.

    • Annette, all suffering sucks. I worked at a hospice for 5 years, and saw people making choices to stop trying to treat their disease, but to die on their own terms. It’s terrible, and there are no easy answers. And, I don’t think it’s more of less remarkable, difficult, or challenging for a 29-year-old woman than it was for your uncle.

      I know there are many who are saying Brittany’s choice was wrong. I’m not among those, and honestly I could see myself making that same choice. I am not sure how the word brave, with its nuance of endurance as part of the definition, applies to this or any other “how should I die?” situation.

      • Thanks Chris, that was a very kind response. I know if people had a picture of what she looked like towards the end instead of the pretty picture they see above. Maybe they would have more compassion even if they don’t agree with her decision.
        My dad just died and I prayed that he wouldn’t have to suffer much longer. I was with him.

        • Oh my goodness Annette. Praying for the peace of Christ to cover you. I do agree – the beautiful picture is misleading; to be honest, I had a hard time finding another to use. For the record, I don’t necessarily disagree with her decision, but the label of brave.

          • Thank you for your kind words. My dad is in heaven where he will never have to suffer again. He was 91 and had Aspergers Syndrome. I wrote on my timeline about how I miss him.

            It’s only been three weeks since my dad went home (forever). I already miss his boyish puns and the way his muffled laugh and dancing eyebrows would follow that. The way his eyes would widen and his mouth would gasp in surprise when he saw my face. The way he would say, “hellooo daughter,” as if he hadn’t seen me in years. The way he would pretend sniffle when he was expressing his pretend self-pity. The way his scratchy beard would leave a reminder of his kiss on my cheek as we said goodbye. I said, “Goodbye daddy,” and stroked his forehead on October 20th at 5:20 p.m. I know he heard me. – posted on FB.

  2. Katina Vaselopulos says:

    A challenging topic and a post, Chris!

    I give you credit for sharing your points. Good for your mother and you for giving up after 17 years of marriage. My daughter is about to do it after 22 years. I cannot wait for her to move on and give her children a life of safety, love, and joy instead of disgrace and violence.

    About taking my own life if life if it gets unbearable, I know I would never do it. Not because I am weak or brave but because I trust faith, never lose hope, and always see a purpose in the long suffering, something that I will need to understand in this life and learn the lesson it offers.

    On the other hand, I never judge others for the decisions they make, especially since I haven’t walked in their shoes.Playing with words is not important; understanding and loving is.

    Definitely, bravery should be praised because unless we stand strong at the huge waves that hit us, our essence and being would not be sculpted into beautiful art like the beautiful rocks we see on seashores.

    Blessings and light, my friend!

    Katina Vaselopulos

  3. Is it brave to wait 17 years to leave an abuser? And it isn’t brave for someone to make the most of their last days, whilst they can still function and her family can lead a reasonable life instead of being slaves to her care, knowing full well nothing will improve? I think it’s very “brave” for you to have these opinions at all… As with all opinions, you’re nothing more than a man being subjective walking completely in the dark saying things about people’s experiences that none of us has lived through… I’d call that ignorance, nothing else. Very non brave sir.

  4. Whoo boy, you are brave even tackling this. I so agree with you that it is a high honor to herald the courage of those who make the choices you mention. I especially loved hearing of your wife’s work and those children. That kind of courage humbles me

  5. theshortsshow says:

    I think facing death and going on your own terms is pretty fucking brave with all things considered. But then again, quoting a junior varsity football locker room motivational poster probably applies to terminal illness debates just as easily. What a dangus.

    I think someone just trolled the google search results to get some clicks….

    Classy. Go crawl back under your rock.

    • Hey, man. You don’t know Chris, or his heart. He’s one of the bravest people I know. He has epilepsy, and yet somehow manages to provide for his family, write, make time for friends, etc. Point is: with his health problems there have been times (I’m sure) that he’s been tempted to checkout. Instead he has taken the far braver course, choosing to face his suffering with grit and dignity. That’s a far more potent example than just dying. Soldering on takes faith.

      Go troll somewhere else.

      • theshortsshow says:

        I’m sorry to hear of his disease and can understand his argument. not meant to troll but felt pretty sad about this gal’s story and didn’t think a specific quote’s context has the power to cast judgement across all terminally ill people. I’m sure you can agree there is a range of suffering and pain. Some can deal, some can’t. For me, i’m lucky to have avoided any serious illnesses to this point, so thinking of facing death this candidly seems brave. My opinion. I like turtles.

        • I didn’t intend to cast judgment across all terminally ill people. My heart breaks for the suffering and pain that so many have to deal with, day in and day out. Truth is, I know a TON of people with terribly painful chronic illnesses, in which death is imminent. My heart goes out to them.

          I definitely came off as cold in this article, and it is a popular topic, so I get why you’d initially say I was trolling for click-bait. I hope if you stick around on this site you will see that isn’t the case.

          My primary issue was really with the word brave. I believe that words and their definitions are powerful and important, and I am convinced “brave” has an element of endurance to it.

          My junior high wasn’t cool enough to have motivational statements on their walls, by the way. Just angry PE coaches. And I have always thought highly of turtles since Finding Nemo.

  6. Yes this really disturbed me.

  7. Pain is awful. I can’t fault Ms. Maynard for wanting to spare herself pain. But pain is also transformative–we don’t emerge the same. There is hope, laughter, peace even as the light of life fades. And there is God. Who knows what He could do if we but hold on? It doesn’t take even a close reading of the Scriptures to see that His special favorites seemed to have suffered the most. But they all held onto to faith. That is brave.

    • I would never wish this cancer — or any pain for that matter — on anybody. I have seen my fair share of pain with no hope of improvement in my family for a lifetime. I hope that came through in my article, or at least in the comments.

      That being said, there is a depth of character that can come from enduring these challenges. My daughter is one of the strongest people I know, and it’s being of the struggles this young lady has had in her life, every step of the way.

  8. Bravery is fighting and standing tall when everything in you wants to sit down. But this must be said—EVERY death is sad and tragic.

    We must cling to hope as it is the one thing that really makes a difference in this world. Without hope, we are nothing.

  9. Bold post, Chris. I also appreciate the thoughtful agreement, and disagreement, by your readers here. I don’t get the sense that you’re trying to judge her. In the context of the other people you highlight (and your whole web site) I see you pointing to hope, however thorny that hope may be. You’re brave.

  10. “Bravery doesn’t quit. Bravery is selfless.”
    Your first example of “bravery doesn’t quit” …
    is someone who WAS brave and DID QUIT an abusive marriage.

    And you say she did it because she thought it was best for someone she loved.
    I have watched Britney’s interview videos and what I heard
    was that she was quitting (on this cancer that would kill her anyway)
    because she thought it was best for those she loved
    (rather than them having to care for her as she suffered to the end).

    Bravery for one is to stay in a marriage.
    Bravery for another is to pack bags and leave.
    My bravery is not your bravery.
    And our bravery is not Britney’s.

    I think the lessons for us to learn through this private ordeal made public
    are incredibly deep, personal and complex.
    And openly discussing them is in and of itself very brave.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • K@ren,
      I guess I didn’t view my mom leaving my father as quitting. I viewed it as choosing not to quit on me. Though it’s a technicality, your comment bring to light something very curious, because this same perspective switch is what’s happening in the different ways we are viewing Brittany’s choice.

      Now, I mentioned this in my post, but it’s worth saying again: I’m not trying to defend or rail against the Oregon regulations that gave her this freedom. And (even though I might not have done it perfectly), this isn’t really about Brittany per se either. It’s about the definition of bravery.

      To me, life is always brave, and it’s black & white. I hear you saying that it’s not so static for you. Or to put it differently, I chose to look at Brittany as an individual, while you were (perhaps more accurately) seeing the whole family. My experiences have led me to the steadfast conviction that more time with a loved one is better, even with cancer. I, perhaps unfairly, put that conviction on another person.

      And K@ren, thank you for staying open to disagree with dignity.

  11. I respectfully disagree with your stating she is not brave. Who are we to decide what is and isn’t brave? We were not in her shoes, we do not know every single thought she had leading up to this decision so why say she is not brave because she’s not one of the types of people you listed?

    Side note: Her name is spelled Brittany.

    • Kim,
      You’re right (about the spelling too). I don’t know what her thoughts were. It was presumptuous for me to compare her to others whose hearts and minds I know better.

      Nuances in words are very important to me, and this comes into play with the word ‘brave’. This word has the nuance of enduring, while some of its synonyms don’t — bold, fearless and audacious come to mind. She was without a doubt bold fearless & audacious.

  12. You may disagree with her choice (as I did) but I feel like criticizing the dead is in poor taste. You don’t know all the details. Calling her a person who thought only of herself is an uninformed judgment without all the facts. I do not agree with her choice and I appreciate the heart behind this writing but I don’t feel like a real comparison can legitimately be made.

  13. Wow, Chris! This is powerful. Praying it goes viral and people hear this truth!

  14. You are judging her.

    And you haven’t walked in her shoes.

    Maybe the onus here is directed against the crowd that is too eager to affix the “brave” label.

    But your categorial denunciation strikes me a bit shrill.

  15. Chris thanks for being brave and sharing not only your story but that of others whose lives are affected by terminal and mental illness but don’t quit.

  16. Chris, what you’ve done here certainly classifies as bravery. Anytime we bring our true selves into the light and share the beauty of our glory to the world around us, we’re operating on a level few dare tread. Bravery indeed is transferable, and by you showing up, showing me, what that looks like, I’m better for it. Thanks you for leading us so well. May the kindness you show here, lead us all to the deeper waters of life.

    • I hesitate to call this post brave. After all, one could say I am hiding behind a computer screen and an internet firewall. I believe is honest communication though, and sometimes that’s not popular. This is clearly one of those times, right?

      • I would say it is but possibly for other reasons besides the obvious ones someone might immediately think of. I have the benefit and luxury of the context of a relationship with you beyond logos, qualifiers and profiles. That affords me something others may not know and also feeds into why I support you offering your glory here. Honest communication is not always warm and fuzzy. Sometimes as a matter of fact it hurts. Try to imagine how Peter felt when he was being grilled by Christ with the same question: do you love me? Sometimes truth in love is quite painful after all, but I’m learning that literally everything I go through is given to me, if I’m brave enough to interpret it this way, in order that I might know the Father more and live in greater proximity to him.

  17. Excellent post- something I’m sure many people would have been pondering – you’ve been brave enough to post on it. I’ve stayed well clear of this story for now!

    • I appreciate the encouragement. I’m hoping to open dialogue about topics like this on my site, but it can be difficult to set the conversation up appropriately sometimes, especially with such an emotional topic. So many of us have been caretakers, or have had loved ones taken from us too quickly. These moments impact our hearts, and the way we view topics like bravery and illness.

  18. I agree. What’s more I think she was cynically used as a political prop by people who embrace suicide as a solution to suffering, and who are probably by extension atheists.

  19. I
    think as a society we have preconceived ideas about what is/isn’t
    brave. And we assume that it’s about “selflessness” when its more about
    making the hard choices in the face of adversity.

    You
    know how people say “art is in the eye of the beholder” ? I think
    something similar is true for bravery. Like you said, you and I haven’t
    faced a terminal illness, so we really can’t be the judges here about
    her actions.

    • That’s a fair point Devani. And I was really trying to stay away from judging her (apparently not perfectly well) and talk more about the media’s push to call her brave.

  20. Good article, Chris. As usual.

  21. Bravo Chris.
    Well said.

    • I admire so many people for the bravery they display in their everyday life, so it aggravates me to no end that people hold her up as the end-all of bravery. You are among those I admire. Thanks for the encouraging words.

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