"I believe that the suffering felt by my mom and aunt for their sister, as well as the suffering felt by my fading aunt, caused a sense of peace and closure for each other," Janelle Lafantaisie writes. Pixabay

Speaking out: The real dignity of dying

By  Janelle Lafantaisie, Speaking Out
  • February 16, 2018

This past fall, my mother received a call from the care home in Yorkton, Sask., where her eldest sister was a resident. My mother was informed that her sister had taken a turn in health and there likely wasn’t much time left. 

My aunt had no children or spouse to care for her. So without hesitation, my mother along with her other sister who lives here in Winnipeg took leave from their jobs and boarded the next train to Yorkton. While this is an action that isn’t possible for everyone in a circumstance like this, it is an outstanding witness to our call as Catholics to ensure that death is met with dignity. 

My mother and I texted daily. I asked for updates and checked in to make sure she herself was doing okay. She told me each day about my aunt’s decline. She had stopped eating, drinking and was hooked up to a morphine drip to relieve the pain as her organs began failing. 

I can understand how some people might favour medical assistance in dying. Why would anyone want to let the pain of their organs failing overcome them until God decides it’s time for them to go? Why would anyone want to travel hundreds of kilometres to hear the weakness in her sister’s breath? Why does a loving God let us suffer? All are fair questions. 

I believe our time on this Earth is borrowed. Jesus Christ came to this Earth and died for our sins. He carried His cross to Calvary and with His mother by His side, suffered and died so that He could overcome death and we could join Him in everlasting life and the joy that is Heaven. 

Catholic social teaching speaks to the reality that people want the option of assisted suicide because they are afraid of serious pain. We do, however, live in a world with more than one option. We are blessed with care, comprehensive support of the dying, palliative medicine and hospice care. We are blessed with the option to help dying persons and not help people to die.

My aunt suffered for five days at the end of her life, but here’s the good that I believe came out of it: My mom and aunt were able to be with their sister and hold her hand. They were able to put on Elvis music in the room (her favourite) and talk to her and be with her even if she wasn’t responsive. 

I believe that the suffering felt by my mom and aunt for their sister, as well as the suffering felt by my fading aunt, caused a sense of peace and closure for each other. I also have a firm belief that my aunt did not die in vain. She suffered so that her joy in Heaven would be that much greater. She suffered so that when Christ finally did call her home, she was ready to go. 

Death is scary, but there is also comfort for those of us awaiting the joy of Heaven. There are others who believe death is an just an everlasting sleep. However, Christ did not die for us to sleep, but to have eternal life. 

I believe all of us who suffer in this life are called to something much greater. I believe there is dignity in death and it is also an  opportunity for us to help the dying by sharing our grace, compassion, love and care.   

(Lafantaisie, 23, is a freelance photographer in Winnipeg, Man.)

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