Holding On & Letting Go

4th August 2022

A reflection by Revd Paul Bradish

I’ve been thinking about and praying for Archie Battersbee and his family this week.  As I write this his parents are lodging a last ditch appeal to the Supreme Court to see if they can stop or at least delay the switching off the life support system that doctors say is the only thing that is keeping him alive. It took me back to York District Hospital in November 1987 as my family and I had to make the self-same decision in relation to my Mum. These decisions are not easy or trivial things – they raise profound issues of what is life, when life comes to an end and when we can say with certainty that someone has died.

I feel deeply for the Battersbee family – clearly something went wrong at the very start of all this and they are struggling to come to terms with unexplained events that now mean their precious son will no longer have the life that they had hoped and dreamed for him. I have pondered the question that the judges have had to consider and how death could be in Archie’s best interest? On the other hand we know that the doctors and medical profession sometimes have to say things that we do not want to hear and that is hard for them to do, and harder still for us to accept. There are no easy answers. We often don’t have the answers, but our Christian faith does, I believe, allow us to live with the questions.

Lis Chase’s brother, John Wyatt, a distinguished medical professor and committed Christian has written two books reflecting on all these issues* which help ordinary people like us consider it all the more deeply. 

For me I’ve been drawn to think about this situation is terms of holding on and letting go and maybe that can help us in some way. The post resurrection Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene in John 20 and the joy of her recognising who it was means she reaches out and clings on or holds onto Jesus. Having lost him once, it appears she doesn’t want to let it happen again. But Jesus says, ‘Do not cling on (or hold onto) me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.’ She is then instructed to go to the disciples and says, ‘I have seen the Lord.’

If we’re honest we all like to hold on to things and don’t want to let go. The truth we face in life is that as we grow older, we inevitably have to let things go. However, for us as Christians, that letting go isn’t into nothingness, emptiness or oblivion. We let go but are always held by the love of God which is the love that ‘never ends’ as the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth (1Corinthians 13 v 8a).

I hope and pray that the Battersbee family will have a sense of God holding them, and ultimately Archie as they face the pain and grief of letting him go. As you hear their story in the coming days, be still and offer a prayer up for them at what must be the most heart-breaking moment any parent or family can go through. 

God bless you and keep you, Revd Paul.

*John Wyatt has written 2 books Right to Die? Euthanasia, assisted suicide and the end of life care’(2015) and ‘Matters of Life and Death – human dilemmas in the light of the Christian faith’ (2009)