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Narrative: Terri Schindler-Schiavo - One Day Later

Dear Terri,

We have not met, yet I sense we know each other. Distance has a way of relenting during times of tragedy. And people find a sense of connection beyond the frailty of our times. You are now free from our confused and debilitated sense of mercy.

I am writing this letter to you because I know that, one day after your death, you will be present in it. For me, you are indeed a hero - an individual's life that is so special that it speaks to the power of spiritual compassion and human empathy. In doing so, you remain a vibrant and living model for us all. A special life we can all learn from, grow from, and invite into all of our homes. Your death is testament to the mystery of life itself...

I can only think that the circumstances of your death imposed on you by others, dearest Terri, originate in the bog of eternal confusion. Of course, those of us that watched your last moments from a distance were hopelessly immersed in the swirling wash of opinions coming forth from the news media.

I recall a medical "expert" arguing with a news reporter about the difference between starving to death and being dehydrated to death. Unfortunately, Terri, those with medical expertise often replace the value of life with the fragile and hopelessly incomplete nature of their knowledge. And this expertise is sometimes married with legal opinion, yet another system that fails to questions it's own assumptions in a meaningful way. Add to this the political drone of politicians pouring out their condolences via propaganda while creating the illusion of taking action. Here we see, yet again, the collision of media, medical science, law and politics. And in your case Terri, I believe that it is a collision that has resulted in a fatality.

I say this, Terri, not out of anger or resentment toward your husband, but as a parent myself. Opinions swirl and the chatter continues. But this really is not the issue. Perhaps you are thankful for the relief now, even though your imposed death was anything but humane. Perhaps you wished to remain alive to still enjoy the connection with the people that wanted to remain by your side. I simply don't know what you wanted. But I could sense the deep love and boundless energy of those that wished you to remain in this world with us. And these, the people responsible for giving you life in the first place. How is it we have fallen so low?

As I watched your parents I could only think of myself in their position. And what if you were one of my children? One of the deepest horrors of your circumstances for me is the obvious reality that parents can in fact lose their own children, the flesh and blood that they created, to the institutions of medical science, law and politics. When a parent somehow "loses" the right to make decisions for their own children, it is a clear symptom that the world has already gone insane, and has enough intelligence to delude itself into thinking it's not.

Terri, I am not Catholic and admittedly find a great deal of religious activity mired in hypocrisy. That is not to say, however, that religion does not have fundamental and hopeful beliefs to offer our souls. So I pay attention to all of them. I read some statements from the Vatican that captured my attention that I will share with you here. The statements were made by Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:

  • "Whoever stands idly by without trying to prevent the death of Terri Schindler Schiavo becomes an accomplice to murder."
  • The death of the severely brain-damaged woman "would represent a homicide in which it is impossible to idly stand by without becoming accomplices," he said in a March 31 interview with Vatican Radio.
  • Not allowing for the reinsertion of a feeding tube represents "an unjust death sentence of an innocent person," he said.
  • The cardinal said having Schiavo die of starvation and thirst was "one of the most inhumane and cruel" ways to die.
  • "Beyond the possible political exploitation" of the Schiavo case, her "painful, heartbreaking agony" should be enough to force humanity to prevent what will be an otherwise tragic end to her life, said the cardinal.

How I wish I could hear your thoughts on this. If we believe these comments, and admittedly I find myself nodding in agreement, then your death was a legalized and politically validated form of murder. This reminded me of a fellow who was a survivor in the vile concentration camp known as Auschwitz. His name is Victor von Frankl - perhaps you can meet him now. He wrote a wonderful book called "Man's Search For Meaning" in which he probed the question, "How was everyday life in the concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?" Here is a comment he made that, for me, speaks to the fundamental nature of hope:

"What was needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves, and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. ... Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets out for each individual. ...No man [or woman] and no destiny can be compared with any other man [or woman] or any other destiny."

I fear, dearest Terri, that we have failed to make "a fundamental change in our attitude toward life" for you. But let us hope that your life and the identity that you have inspired us toward becomes part of that change. In this way, your death does not end your life. I think a great deal of our modern corporatized world institutes a selfish and wanting approach to life. More simply, we lead lives in which we make constant demands in order to meet our own self-centered expectations instead of embracing what life expects of us. To make this even more confounding, we have institutionalized these self-serving wares and given them a legal and political stronghold over the lives of people. Corporations are not really about business, they are about material and emotional domination. We destroy the earth mercilessly in the name of progress, and shatter people's time on this planet in the name of earning a living. And, standing in direct challenge to this faceless, emotionless and unfeeling machinery of humankind were your parents.

I can't imagine, thankfully, how the process of starving and dehydrating to death might feel. Do we not believe that food and water is a basic necessity for all life? Is not the denial of food and water for any human being regardless of their condition a form of torture? A hospice is, apparently, "a manner of providing care for terminally ill patients, either in their home or in special care facilities. Hospice care allows terminally ill individuals to live their final days in as natural and comfortable a setting as possible." I struggle with the contrast between the word "care" and the obvious reality of your starvation/dehydration. Somehow the denial of food and water has become confused with the word "humane" and we are left to figure out how a consciously imposed act of starvation and dehydration even remotely reflects something called sanity. In other words, our very humanity has been victimized.

The World Health Organization pledges:

Pledge to make all efforts to eliminate before the end of this decade: a) Famine and famine-related deaths; b) Starvation and nutritional deficiency diseases in communities affected by natural and man-made disasters.

It seems that your circumstances are in fact a "man-made disaster" yet I find no mention of you on their website.

Of course, all these ideas and opinions will rage on in the foreseeable future and we can only hope that the obvious reality of it all is retrieved. More importantly, Terri, I thank-you for what you have been able to share with me. In you I see hope, humanity, courage, strength and love. And I am very much reminded of this wonderful insight from our friend Joseph Campbell:

Now, all these myths that you have heard and that resonate with you, those are the elements from round about that you are building into a form in your life. The thing worth considering is how they relate to each other in your context, not how they relate to something out there—how they were relevant on the North American prairies or in the Asian jungles hundreds of years ago, but how they are relevant now—unless by contemplating their former meaning you can begin to amplify your own understanding of the role they play in your life. -Joseph Campbell in Pathways to Bliss

Terri, you are a hero in the deepest sense of that word. Your life is mythic in proportion and it is our responsibility to figure out how it can amplify our own understanding of the role it plays in each of our lives. We could use some help.

I trust this message finds you at home and at peace. Thank-you for remaining in my life.

Kind regards,


  • The Terri Schindler-Shiavo Foundation
    • Recommended Reading
    • Getting Involved
    • Latest News
  • Blogs For Terri
  • International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
  • Not Dead Yet
  • Brooke Becker: Triumph Over Tragedy

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