Anastasia Bowles, right, LifeCanada’s director of operations and outreach, with Ivanka Galadza, LifeCanada office assistant, at a pro-life reception in Ottawa last month. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Dying Healed aims for a ‘beautiful death’

  • May 24, 2019

Most people don’t associate death with beauty, but a pro-life organization is trying to change that.

“People can be prepared to die well,” says Natalie Sonnen, executive director of LifeCanada. “There is such a thing as beautiful death and most of us can hope and pray for a beautiful death, one where you’re surrounded by your loved ones, you’re reconciled to your past, you’re freed of your sin and the guilt of sin.”

To that end — and in the wake of legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide — LifeCanada developed workshops called Dying Healed, which trains volunteers to reach out to the sick and the dying.

Since the launch in the summer of 2017, over 700 volunteers across 30 communities have gone through the workshops involve a 55-page manual, 45-page workbook and five sessions that held over a series of three evenings or on a weekend.

“It’s taken off,” said Sonnen.  “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.” 

About 50 facilitators have been trained to lead Dying Healed programs.

“We’ve come to realize through developing and running this program how vital it is for people to be engaged and to be spending time with the vulnerable,” Sonnen said. “That could be people who are lonely and disabled, not necessarily people at end of life who are terminally ill.”

The lonely can be especially vulnerable, she said.

“When they are socially isolated they tend not to see meaning in their own lives and become very vulnerable to things like assisted suicide and euthanasia,” she said.

Dying Healed informs volunteers about the ethics of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and describes what palliative care is “so we’re all on the same page,” said Sonnen.

But the heart of the program is how it addresses human suffering — why human beings suffer, what the purpose is and why suffering has meaning, she said.

The program explains “why understanding the meaning in our suffering helps us to live better when we’re suffering and even when we’re not suffering,” said Sonnen. 

For Catholics, she said, a “beautiful” death would mean “you’ve had access to the last sacraments and you’ve made your peace with God, and that physically your pain and discomfort is managed appropriately through proper use of palliative care.”

“So that’s where the words ‘Dying Healed’ came from,” Sonnen said. “You’re not healed physically, but healed emotionally, psychologically and spiritually and you’re prepared to go from this life to the next.”

“We felt that one of the big missing pieces in the whole debate on euthanasia was a proper understanding of human suffering,” she said. “Though we don’t want to suffer and want to mitigate our suffering as much as possible, there has to be an acceptance of suffering as part of our journey in life and in death.”

Anastasia Bowles, LifeCanada’s director of operations and outreach, has been volunteering at an Ottawa inner-city palliative care hospital. “I can honestly say the experience has been life-changing,” Bowles said.

“It’s a beautiful and profoundly important ministry,” she said. “Catholics refer to this ‘visiting the sick’ as a corporal work of mercy.

“What I didn’t expect was how much it would also affirm me as a volunteer,” Bowles said. “Volunteers commonly say they receive much more than they give, and it is so true. Our volunteers are given as much a sense of meaning and purpose as those they are visiting.” 

Bowles said they know of at least one situation where someone who had taken the Dying Healed workshop was able to help a relative who was in the process of applying for assisted suicide to reverse the decision, and instead obtain help from a Catholic physician and a priest.

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