I was thinking Tuesday that it would be interesting to do a long, drawn out series on death and dying. This of course has already been done many times by reporters far more gifted and in much more prominent publications than I could hope to attain, but it would be an education and an experience that I would appreciate. In college, a course was taught on the sociology of death and dying and I regret to this day not enrolling. The religious aspects of death and dying are of course a very compelling aspect, if not the most compelling aspect, of what I would hope to explore. As a believer in Christianity, I have my own thoughts on where I believe I will go when I pass away, but what do others think and how does that affect their daily lives?
My thoughts on death and dying were prompted by this tremendously well-done radio broadcast on National Public Radio Monday titled "A Year to Live, A Year to Die" by Mary Beth Kirchner:
At age 48, Stewart Selman was told he had a malignant brain tumor. Less than 5 percent of people who are diagnosed with malignant tumors of the brain live for more than a year. To leave a record for his wife, Rebecca Peterson, and their two children, Selman began an audio diary.
Although Stewart knew his messages would be heard by a wider audience, Rebecca says she didn't have the courage to share them until now -- three years after her husband's death.
Stewart Selman started recording his audio diary on February 22, 2003. His first entry was made while he was in the hospital awaiting tests, awake and alone in his room at two in the morning. It had been two weeks since he first learned about his brain tumor.
"We only live about five minutes from where the CAT scan was done. I was kind of keeping it together," Stewart said. "This was a big deal. I drove home and my kids were downstairs playing a game. I went upstairs and I saw my wife and I just started crying ... I knew I had this brain tumor. And I knew my life was going to change forever."
"Yeah, I remember that," says Stewart's wife, Rebecca.
And thus begins an amazingly moving story of struggle, pain and suffering that only begins to scratch the surface, I believe, of the material gathered by Kirchner.
The story behind the story is equally compelling. I am curious, though, why Kirchner did not follow up on the religious aspects of the story. We find out at the end of the article that Stewart was Jewish. He shares some thoughts about where he may end up after he dies, but thatâ€™s about it.
While it's a tremendous story about grief in the face of tragedy (and not to be a spoiler, but it's also a story of tremendous hope), the entire religious aspect is ignored. Perhaps Rebecca asked for the religious angle not to be covered? It's made clear that she's not Jewish and there are a couple of references to a generic "god," but again, that is it.
I know this piece is freelance and NPR doesn't seem to exercise much editorial control over the production -- nor do I feel it needed to -- but this should put a damper on any claims that NPR interjects too much religion into its journalism.
This 20-minute story was selected for the Story of the Day podcast and is easily available in both the text version and the audio version. I recommend listening to it though because hearing the voices was a tremendously moving experience.
On a related note, former newspaper columnist Art Buchwald, 80, has been quite public that he is in his final days, and he has some interesting thoughts on God:
The big question that keeps coming up all the time when anybody, an interviewer, talks to me is: Do I believe in God? The answer is I believe in God, but I'm not too certain that the people that are telling me, "It's God's will," are the ones I want to listen to.
If faith in God is the big question people are asking Buchwald, why wasn't the question at least raised with Stewart? Failing to do so leaves me with an incomplete picture of the story.