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Lindsey's Death

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

Lindsey died last night. Her death was not unexpected, as she had been diagnosed with bone cancer about a year ago. She was 12 years old. She was a cousin to my ex-wife and best friend, so I knew her from several family gatherings. Actually, my ex took the x-ray that first showed the cancer.

Lindsey was born in China, of Chinese parents, and adopted by American parents when she was about 3 years old. It is believed by her adoptive parents that she was either abducted from, or abandoned by, her birth parents and brought to a Christian orphanage in a Chinese city. Lindsey had told them she thought she had had an older sister in her birth family, in China. Lindsey got to see China again a couple years ago when her adoptive parents took her there for a vacation.

Of course, Lindsey was given chemotherapy and radiation treatments over many months. When it became apparent that the cancer was continuing to spread despite the treatments, perhaps a month ago, the treatments were discontinued.

Twelve days ago, along with a couple hundred or more other friends and relatives, I attended a Celebration of Life party arranged for Lindsey by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Lindsey lay on a couch at the edge of the dance floor, attached to her oxygen bottle. Many, many guests paid brief visits to share a few words with her during the evening. I am a bit ashamed that I did not. I tried for some time to think of something to say to a child I hardly knew, who was dying before our very eyes, but I failed.

At the party, a combination slide show/film featuring Lindsey in better days was run continuously throughout the evening. Perhaps my mind is playing tricks, but I could not help thinking as I watched it that Lindsey appeared to always wear the biggest smile and be the most animated of all the people in the film. This child clearly knew immense joy in life.

The guests were instructed to take a gift bag with them when they left the party. Every bag contained a coffee mug with a picture of Lindsey laughing on one side, and these words on the other:

Lindsey (the rest of her name)
The energy of a toddler,
The wisdom of a grandmother,
And courage beyond understanding

I don’t know who wrote the words.

The cancer spread to her brain and, about a week ago, she lost her sight, one eye at a time. And last night, it was over.

Now, there are those who would try to tell us that Lindsey’s slow, painful and frightening death was part of god’s plan. They like to believe that there is a powerful and benevolent god, so there is a reason for everything that happens. To my mind, to argue that there is a powerful, loving god who cares what happens to humans is a fool’s errand. Such a story can only be believed by someone who has allowed the emotions of religion to override his eyes and his reason.

The world is absolutely filled with contrary evidence, far too plentiful to list. As just a few examples of this point, consider the Holocaust, the Asian tsunami, the Haitian earthquake, the deaths, maimings and other sufferings in all the wars of history, the 20,000 children under 5 who die each day of malnutrition and easily curable or treatable diseases, the baby who died of heat exhaustion recently when its pastor father left it in the closed car while he went to church.

Some would say Lindsey’s death is a lesson for us, but for which of us, and what exactly is the lesson? Is it that we shouldn’t adopt children from other countries? Or that we shouldn’t have children, period, because they might die young, of slow, painful, frightening deaths? No human teacher would teach without telling her students what they were expected to learn. Such a lesson would be wasted. We could search forever for a lesson when none was intended, for all we know.

Some would say that god works in mysterious ways, and we shouldn’t expect to understand a child’s death. I say that’s a hell of a way to get people to believe in you, by acting in ways no one can understand, and in ways that are indistinguishable from what we would expect of blind, unfeeling, unconscious nature. The faithful sometimes remind me that for a believer, death is not the end, so it is not really a bad thing. Maybe, but a slow, excruciatingly painful and frightening death IS a bad thing, no matter how you try to spin it.

Try as I may, I can see only one lesson in Lindsey’s death: There is no god who cares.