I still need a lot of time to go from my head to my heart. In my head are thoughts that frighten but in my heart dwells the righteous God.
‘Go when called’
It is a statement by Leo Fijen. Ever since he uttered these five words during one of the meetings I had with him, I have kept these words close to me. He pronounces them when he talks about the time he took to say goodbye to his own parents. First his mother. Later his father. After burying his head in the sand for a long time, his sister kept knocking on his door, shaking him awake. “There’s always someone calling you around dying,” he told me. “When you are called, you must go, you must be there for the sick and dying, unconditionally.”
And so I was called recently. By Louise, caregiver in a residential care center, for one of its residents. I went. Life taught me to understand that call. Often that call is just a whisper. A silent hint that you can all too easily pass by. I also learned not to ignore that whisper. Understanding and going through this, sometimes through all the resistance, brings you where you need to be; just at the right time. It puts you in the flow of service to life.
An existential struggle
I visit him in the private, stately care center. I shake his hand and sit down. Louise had warned me: ‘Don’t be alarmed, sir has Parkinson’s and sometimes some saliva runs down his mouth. I look at him, my eyes soften, and as he tells me he’s a little nervous, I see his nervousness ebbing on the spot.
“There is one thought I believe in and that is that God gives life and God takes life,” it sounds laboriously but firmly. ‘I want euthanasia but I’m afraid because the judgment of my end of life is His.’ The day before, Louise told me on the phone that Mr. has been plagued by severe nightmares for several weeks. However, there is no doubt about his desire for death or his choice of euthanasia.
Afraid of one’s own conscience
I relax in my chair opposite him as I listen to his story. Everything went well until he was twenty-five. He passed the gymnasium effortlessly and went to study. He had friends and girlfriends. Life smiled at him. But after his twenty-fifth birthday, he develops psychological problems. The diagnosis was manic depressive. And now, at eighty, it’s been enough. He knows for sure: euthanasia.
It is immediately clear to me. I am dealing with not only a very intelligent man but also an extremely sensitive man who has a highly developed conscience. It is not the dogmas of the Christian faith that frighten him, it is his own conscience.
From the head to the heart
Two weeks later I meet him again. Again I sit in my chair opposite him. “I trust you,” is the first thing he says. And he continues: ‘Euthanasia, it is not yet possible. I still need a lot of time to go from my head to my heart. In my head are thoughts that frighten but in my heart dwells the righteous God. The God who is love. In my heart I am one with God, there is no judgment. I want to die in love.’ I suspect that sir needs less time than he thinks. And I am impressed and deeply revered for this man when I quietly leave him.
A peaceful goodbye
A month and a half later I am for the third, and as it soon turns out, the last time in the stately building. Louise lets me in and in the hall of the care center, she tells me that sir passed away this morning. “His heart just stopped,” she adds softly. We look at each other in amazement. And before I fully realize it, an immense joy washes through me; this special man has died, and over his suffering. He did not have to choose euthanasia but only had to hear the cry. And he went. Thus, when he was ready, he received death in accordance with his high and clear conscience.