“He’s Dying Anyway”

This blog has never been a place for politics. And it still isn’t.


I must, however, weigh in on the current uproar about a White House aide making a comment about Arizona senator, former POW, John McCain.


“He’s dying anyway.”

I’ve heard sound bytes all day about this recent scandal, who said it, who is outraged, who believes its justified and I am only focused on the statement itself.

“He’s dying anyway.”

Many people, feeling people on both sides of the aisle have been offended by this insult to an American hero. People paying attention have responded with thoughts of “this person sacrificed so much for our country”... “he was a hero”... “someone I’ve admired”... “fought for our country”.  When these thoughts and feelings butted up against the statement “he’s dying anyway”, the vast majority of the national media has been shocked and offended.

Let’s be clear. It is terribly unfortunate, but based on what I’ve read and what I know from professional experience, I do believe Senator McCain is dying. Cancer is an indiscriminate evil, more powerful than a POW camp, and has chosen this man as its imminent victim. I wish the McCain family would use words like palliative care and hospice when communicating his condition, but they didn’t ask me. In my opinion, it would be an additional blessing of Senator McCain’s legacy to show the benefit of end of life care, but I am sure I don’t understand all the nuances. For the purposes of this discussion, it seems clear Senator McCain is nearing end of life as a result of his brain tumor.

So if what I perceive is true, he is dying. Why then, is it so offensive for someone to state “he’s dying anyway”?

My son started football training this week and it has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. One of the lows was his hurt feelings that another player called him “slow”. (Good luck making it in football if being called slow derails you, but that’s a different blog). My son was, more than hurt, stunned by the insult. As a Mom, I could only counsel him to say that words hurt, but we, as the recipients, control their impact. I also told him to feel sorry for the “insult giver”, because he clearly didn’t understand the big picture.

Whoever said “he’s dying anyway” didn’t understand the big picture. Because I am here to tell you what someone dying, especially someone who has a rich history and a loving family, like Senator McCain, can look like.

Dying anyway can, in its early stages, look like taking time to establish final legacies, have healing conversations and provide necessary forgivenesses. Dying, if acknowledged at the appropriate time, can allow for bucket list experiences and family preparation. Dying anyway can happen with dignity, comfort, lack of pain and family support.

Dying anyway, in fact, is an oxymoron. Dying my way, or dying this way, or dying okay are more of the things we should all work towards.

And finally, with holding political comments, I must directly address the person who dismissed Senator McCain’s opinions because he was “dying anyway”.  

Lady, I have had the privilege of working with the dying for the last 20 years. Every day I learn more than I teach and I return home stressed but blessed. I am sorry that you think dying is a capitulation and submission because I promise you that is not what I have experienced. The dying I’ve met have bravery and purpose that would humble a soldier. Their work is important and pertinent and nothing they do is irrelevant. I have seen the sickest people do incredibly strong things, finish life tasks and battle to leave a meaningful legacy.

Please remember the adage of the hospice nurse that asked the old man, “what’s it like to know you are dying?”  He replied , “what’s it like to think you are not?”

So I hope that when your time comes when you face the nearness of end of life, you understand the insult of your word ‘anyway’.