How does one “successfully die?” Though this is a relevant question, it is disrupting and calls us out. In the basement of Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, a small crowd gathered on Oct. 16 to hear three witnesses’ stories and thoughts on end-of-life care and inner preparation before crossing the veil of death. “Dying can become a precious and beautiful experience", evening host Luc Harvey said.
SASMAD and Its Blessings
For Christiane Lemaire, a volunteer at SASMAD (Pastoral Home Care), assisting people until the very end brought her to the realization that Christ’s death on the Cross is the first death to ponder. She told the story of Marie T. and of the beautiful light that came upon her face after receiving the last rites. Christiane often sees the ‘joy related to the final blessing’ on the face of the dying. She also talked about Gerry who ‘had prayed not to die alone.’ ‘Maybe, you will be the one,’ he said to her one day. In all her stories, one could see that receiving pastoral care and having someone at one’s side when crossing the veil are men and women greatest needs. ‘We die as we have lived,’ she added, explaining that some people reconcile with their existence during their last days. ‘Have a great death,’ she concluded, making people laugh.
The Sound of Waves
‘Pastoral care, especially in difficult cases, requires sheer inventiveness coming from the heart,’ Patrick Vinay gently said. It is to the sound of the ‘waves’ from a tambourine he played that we were introduced to the mystery of dialogue, something he discovered giving pastoral care. ‘This is when I stop talking to let the sound of waves flow in,’ he said in this emotional moment. He told wonderful stories of the people he met and the relationships he developed in palliative care, where he got greatly involved as a retired doctor and ex-dean at the University of Montreal. ‘What this person [who goes through sickness towards death] does is […] reaching to the very end of his or her own identity.’ They become who they really are, added this man, the author of several books (Ombres et lumières sur la fin de la vie and most recently À tire d’aile).
Dying the Way We Want
To conclude this evening, the Most Rev. Christian Lépine, Archbishop of the Diocese of Montreal, reflected on a passage of Jesuite François Varillon: ‘The art of dying at the heart of loving’. As he went through a Gospel passage drawn from the Gospel of John (10:18), ‘[my life] no one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord,’ Archbishop Lépine said that ‘it’s at the moment of dying that we can truly offer our life’ and added that ‘we learn to integrate our own sickness, suffering and death, in our vocation to love. A beautiful calling to love in spite of everything.
This conference took place as part of the project “PROJECTION, une semaine de dialogue,” an opportunity to “break taboos” regarding the end of life and to enhance our thoughts through various lenses, such as “philosophy, science, society, art and education,” among others. From Oct. 14–20, a whole set of events were made available to the general public in order to explore this thematic furthermore.