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Dying in PublicDying in Public

Dying in Public

I haven't gone to a better place, or a worse one. I haven't gone anyplace, because Derek doesn't exist anymore. As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism to a corpse, like a flower or a mouse that didn't make it through a particularly frosty night. The evidence is clear that once I died, it was over.

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Topics: Culture, Cultural Renewal
Dying in Public May 11, 2011  |  By Ray Pennings
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Much is being made of the final blog post of a 41-year-old Vancouver blogger. In it, he very honestly and poignantly describes his battle with cancer, his love for his wife and family, and his confidence that there is nothing beyond the grave.

I haven't gone to a better place, or a worse one. I haven't gone anyplace, because Derek doesn't exist anymore. As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism to a corpse, like a flower or a mouse that didn't make it through a particularly frosty night. The evidence is clear that once I died, it was over.

I don't doubt Derek was a decent caring neighbour who loved life. He died a man of faith. "Live life to the fullest; it is short" is all his naturalism gave him. The only point of life was to live. The fact that he is here no longer is of no real consequence, except for the loss his loved ones will feel. They too, whether at 31 or 91, will die, the only difference being the number of opportunities and disappointments they need to be ready for.

In less than a week, more than 8 million have viewed this blog entry. Why? Is it simply the unusual courage and directness with which this man confronted his mortality? Humans generally fear dying; when someone goes boldly, it attracts attention. Perhaps this is even a hopeful sign that our culture is getting over the social avoidance of death that makes us ill-equipped to really live.

Many online comments sympathetic to Derek Miller, admiring his courage, nonetheless defy his naturalism and express sentiments of hope that they will meet him someday or that he will "rest in peace." Although usually presented without any basis for hope, these speak to the created realities that we feel deep in our souls that life has a purpose, that there is meaning (and hence justice, love, and hope) in the world. The grave cannot be the end. It is not my musings that make it so, and neither do Derek Miller's musings make it not so. Our lives, individually and how we live together in society, require a more reliable basis than individual opinion.

Scanning the online comments regarding a man who chose to make his death public, one can find insensitive polemics from both atheistic and theistic believers. Much of it is both distasteful and unhelpful. What I find instructive is the irony of so many who feel compelled to comment without any appeals to a belief system, but nonetheless give expression to the basic human longings for life and meaning.

It is hardly the point Derek Miller was intending in penning his last post. Yet, the commentary regarding the death of a man who carried his faith in naturalism to the grave, demonstrates how something more is necessary for us to both live and die.

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