Jo-Ann Paquette CCN photo

Journeying with a friend on the path to death can be life-giving

By  Lasha Morningstar, Canadian Catholic News
  • March 1, 2015

EDMONTON - Jo-Anne Paquette’s three-month journey with Martha Shephard as she died from a brain tumour was both physically draining and a spiritual gift for Paquette.

“Martha lived in a house in Ottawa, and I really grew to respect her, thought of her as a mentor,” said Paquette.

“When I was dropped into the pool of caring for her and journeying with her, it was a sudden thing. It felt like a whole lifetime to me.”

Both women were members of the Madonna House Apostolate, based in Combermere, Ont.

Paquette, who now lives at Edmonton’s Marian Centre, described her journey with Shephard as intense and consuming.

Doctors discovered Shephard had a tumour on the right side of her brain, it was pushing and she was quite ill. Shephard had surgery and the physicians gave her three months to two years to live.

But this was a woman who lived in hope and was full of spirit. When three months came and went, Paquette said, “She said, ‘Look at me. It is three months. We should have a party.’ She made fun of those kinds of things.”

Shephard had a fall when Paquette was alone with her. A slow decline followed.  

“As she became more ill I could see her walking towards eternity. I thought we should go back to Combermere (the motherhouse).”

They did and two weeks later, Shepard died — Oct. 15, 2012.

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith sees euthanasia and assisted suicide creeping into our society because of the “the growth of radical individualism.”

“People live as though there is no tomorrow, live for the moment, with no thought to a higher power, that this life is leading somewhere, that we will be facing death and we need to prepare for it properly.”

The result? “A self-centred world that develops a fear of death,” said Smith.

One of the main problems is the lack of clarity around important terms.

“The terms ‘euthanasia,’ ‘assisted suicide,’ are used quite broadly, often with varying understandings,” said Smith.

So be prepared. Let those around you and an agent know what you want done medically when you cannot speak or think for yourself.

To create a good death, explained the archbishop, “means facing it, facing hope, facing faith, facing it with understanding and making all the appropriate decisions to be ready.”

Karen Macmillan, senior operating officer of acute services at the Grey Nuns Hospital, said, “Any health care professional should be able to give good palliative care.”

Macmillan clarified that palliative care is comfort care — not necessarily care only when you are dying. It relieves one of symptoms such as nausea and pain. Euthanasia, in contrast, is someone doing something to hasten someone’s death.

Macmillan underlined Smith’s advice to let others know your wishes while you are hale and hearty.

“Do your loved ones know what you want?” she asked. “What would you want if you could not speak for yourself?”

(Western Catholic Reporter)

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