Even though it had been a part of and possibility in my life at the beginning, I don’t think I was consciously aware of the concepts of pain and my own death until I was nearly 8. And the brief moments that taught me this I cannot ever forget.
It was in the last week of 1984 and I was still in the hospital recovering from my first surgery on my ankles. We didn’t have an entire room to ourselves. I remember the door to our room being open, letting in a little light and giving room for the nurses to peek in on their young patients. There were 4 or 6 beds in the room, each granted privacy only by some hanging curtains.
And those curtains were not enough to keep me from hearing what kept me awake that night. I remember lying awake in my bed. Whether I was woke by what comes next or was already awake, I don’t remember. But what I remember so clearly still sends chills up my spine and confusion to my soul.
“I want you to just shoot me, Mom! I want to die! It hurts too much! It isn’t working! Just get a gun and shoot me, Mom!”
This came from a boy across the room and to the right of me. He was a few years older than me, perhaps 10. He was suffering from brain cancer. The treatments and chemotherapy had not brought the desired relief. Despite all efforts, they just had not worked. The doctors were asking his parents to consider one more round.
Those details may be fuzzy, but I do remember so clearly his words and the pain and anguish I heard in his voice. I remember also the heaviness of heart and confusion of soul that I felt as I lay there awake thinking about what I had heard. Twenty-seven years later, I still feel his words.
In that time, I have had my share of physical pain. And, perhaps I have not come so close to the face of death as my young friend, but at times I have felt his gaze.
Maybe it’s a difference between youth and experience. Or the degree of physical pain felt all at once. But my physical pain alone has not brought me to the agony of soul that this young boy felt, enough to plead for my death.
But, in truth, I have found myself exclaiming and expressing the desire that he said so clearly. Wouldn’t it be better if my mortal journey ended? Wouldn’t the pain of body and soul finally be over? Could this not quickly come?
But what brought me here, to express such pain? The story of Alma the Younger in the Book of Mormon is one of the clearest expressions of the emotional side of this pain that I know of. He and his friends had actively been working against the work of the church. As they were going about this, an angel of God appeared to them. When the angel commanded them to cease what they were doing, Alma woke up to the reality of the things that he had been doing. He finally saw how his actions had harmed others. He saw how his actions would keep him from God. He began to feel great pain and shame in his heart over these things. He looked forward to the future, and having to deal with the consequences of these actions. He wished to be “banished both body and soul” so he wouldn’t have to feel that pain now or the pain to come.
As I have dealt with the pains of surgery and disease, I also have walked a road in which I found myself made starkly aware of my own mistakes. I have seen the ways in which they have hurt other people. My weakness, in body and soul, has become so clear.
And at times, the combined pain of body and soul I felt has been overwhelming. The dark robes of death seemed to loom over me at times. I, too, have laid in a hospital bed at night, pleading with a Parent to just let it end. I wanted to just be released from the pain that I felt. I have looked forward, just as Alma, to the road I will have to take.
And, on that road, I only see more pain. Just as the young cancer patient was frustrated and tired, agonizing that his treatments were not working, I have seen the same. I can only see dialysis and another transplant in the eventual future on my road ahead. My physiology and the immunosuppressants I take make it nigh impossible to be without infection. And that infection continues to take its toll. And, with another transplant, it will likely take its toll there as well. It may not happen this month or this year, but I know I will one day be faced with this question, sooner than many.
Will another round of my treatment help? Or will it just prolong things? With the pain I continue to feel over my weakness and the consequences of my mistakes added upon, I wonder — do I continue? Do I have the strength in body and soul and mind to continue this road? Have I fulfilled my purpose here on earth?
I don’t know what happened to my fellow patient. Perhaps he soon passed and received the relief of body and soul he sought so desperately in the night. But the feeling and consequence of his words continue with me to this day, and connect me to my own questions, as I ask, “do I want to try again?” I’m just glad I was not faced with those questions back when I was nearly 8. The weight of just hearing another ask them was soul-searing enough.