As the ten-horned apocalyptic beast called euthanasia lies in wait at our door and we begin to reflect on how to protect our loved ones, I would like to share two life-giving and hopeful experiences.
The first teaching moment came when I was visiting the “House of Raising Prayer.” This large establishment, housing several hundred people of all ages with disabilities, mostly mental disabilities, is located in China. It had been called the House of Rising Prayer by underground priests, but this was of course not its official name. In one pavilion were housed elderly people with disabilities. We entered there at lunch time and were amazed by the serene atmosphere of love. We were touched to see that those who were less disabled took care of those who were more, feeding one another, taking care of one another. Thus an elderly person can help an even older person and a disabled person can provide for someone even more disabled. Not the food chain of predators but a chain of love, compassion and solidarity. For this loving chain to work the entire world must become a house of rising prayer.
The second life-giving experience I would like to share is a simple, common situation, one which probably many people have experienced or are experiencing right now. I wish to share it because of all the richness of the lessons contained in this experience and because the time is right…. Euthanasia is at the door… I therefore feel a certain urgency to tell you my story.
As the number of “abortion survivors” in the general population grows, so does the desire for euthanasia… As they say, “It is the only time I can control my life.” The debate on euthanasia will not be won through intellectual reflections, done by a few. Rather it will have to be, “All hands on deck!” and “Rubber hits the road”! Everyone will have to do something, be it in our own families, in our parishes and with loved ones.
I had the privilege to spend a month with my father who died four days after I returned to Canada. He was a 93 years old man who was suffering from dementia. He had fallen out of bed one night and broken his hip. After emergency surgery he never really recovered. His dementia became severe, he had a transient stroke which paralysed his right arm and hand, speech and swallowing. A month after the accident, we brought him home- a frail, bedridden, incontinent, stone deaf and legally blind, demented man who had episodes of severe agitation and violent behaviour. In a country where euthanasia is rampant (Belgium), it was clearly indicated to us by the medical experts and well-meaning friends that family should not try and deal with this sort of thing at home and that our father could live a long time and that families who tried to care for them at home generally did not do well.
Having sketched the backdrop, I would like to share the things we learned- easy and wonderful things- things which make a demented old man become the center of evangelisation, a source of fecundity at home and in a community. Taking care of the elderly has always been a mission of love, a mission which in former times was often done by religious communities. These communities understood that, not only was it a mission of love, but more importantly it was a sacred time of encounter and a time of preparation for a dying person to meet God face to face. I learned three important lessons.
The first lesson was that one had to build community- a little home church.
The government provided us with home care nurses twice a day and a person who helped by doing the cleaning or shopping (as we were home bound). We also hired two women from the local Catholic parish who were elderly and in need of a little extra money. These lovely ladies took turn coming for four hours a day to help cook and care for my mother who is totally crippled by arthritis.
The important lesson is that we needed to build a small community around my father, a small, loving and caring community. Our home became a place of joy and of caring for one another. Nobody left the house without receiving a chocolate, we helped the nurses who had a very heavy case load and they in turn helped us with advice and professional help. The ladies found that our home was a place where they could lay down their own heavy burdens. Many secrets and personal problems were shared around my father as we were caring for him. Never did a nurse or anyone else have to work alone. Every moment, every encounter was a sacred moment. Even when we felt tired and overwhelmed, we remembered that a Christian testimony is a testimony of joy…. of carrying one another’s burdens, of peace, of turning our gaze towards God from whom our help comes.
|YES, I CAN DO IT
The second important thing my father taught me was that “we can do it”. Changing a bedridden man who was developing bedsores seemed impossible at first… yet if we did not do it, my father would have been in soiled diapers for over 12 hours, awaiting the next nurse… so we learned and we taught him to help us. When he became seriously agitated we became capable of giving him his medication. We became competent in many things, fueled by our desire to serve him who represented the broken body of Christ. With this self-confidence “that we could do it”, that we didn’t have to always rely on health care professionals came peace. The times we took care of him became times of tenderness and compassion and times of great grace. It was always a time to say thank you for being allowed to minister to him. Yes, it is a gift that a dying demented person gives us!
|PREPARATION FOR THE ENCOUNTER WITH GOD
The third lesson was perhaps the most important one. As the caretaker of a dying person, one needs to always remember that one must be in awe when faced with the mystery of eternal life. Awe, not sadness. We stand in awe at the density and importance of the present moment. Every minute is precious and brings the dying closer to God. A person in a coma, who is demented is hidden from our eyes, like Moses veiled by the cloud. Therefore we approach such a person with reverence, taking our shoes off because we are approaching holy ground, a place where God and the dying person are together, but who are unseen to our eyes..
|Dying is going home to God, entering eternal life.
All the care that we can provide is little compared to the sacraments, prayer together and the visit of a priest. The importance of the priest cannot be underestimated and even a person deemed incompetent senses the presence and spiritual power of a priest. There would be much to say about this aspect, this essential part of serving the dying person.
These two very different experiences are full of hope and help us trace the route we need to take. Every parish, every home should be ready to shoulder the task, not the burden but the divine mission. As in the Chinese experience, those of us who are less elderly and in better or slightly better health will minister and care for those who older, frailer and in poorer health. Around each dying person a small Christian community needs to gather around. This community need not necessarily be people you know but can be other people who might themselves be in need of help. God provides each person with the strength and ability to take care of a loved one in need…. The person need not even be family, he or she is a brother or sister in Christ or perhaps just someone who shares our common humanity, a part of the brotherhood of man. God who is abundant in mercy provides us with the strength to help those in need. It is a grace given to those who ask for it. The most important thing is to provide spiritual help, the sacraments, reconciliations and help the dying person deal with other unfinished business.
If euthanasia becomes a reality, we have the blueprint enabling us to set up little centers of evangelisation, hope and love throughout the country. It is within our possibilities to establish these fellowships of raising prayer and little centres of light will dot the country.
Dr. Marie Peeters-Ney is a retired physician (pediatrician) who worked with Professor Lejeune until his untimely death. She is married to Canadian psychiatrist Dr Philip Ney. Together, they teach counselling to those who wish to help men. women and children deal with their abortion. Dr. Peeters-Ney has been on the board of COLF for six years and has been religious education coordinator in her parish, Our Lady of the Rosary in Langford, Victoria.