Spiritually Assisted Dying

I recently had the beautiful opportunity to walk with a family as they said goodbye to one of their dearly loved.  Amidst the moments of sadness, anger and fear, there emerged notable scenes of compassion and reconciliation.  My mind flashed back to the week before, as I listened to the handsSenate (those thought to be the wise men and women of our day) on Parliament Hill, discuss the controversial ‘physician assisted dying’ bill.  I could not help but think that my role with this family could easily be phrased ‘spiritually assisted dying,’ a meaningful role I was strangely comfortable with.  Yes, I felt at ease in assisting this family make the most of the dying experience, welcoming and encouraging the difficult topics of forgiveness, closure and the after life, all the while praying for healing, and letting God choose the time of natural death.

My comfort with death is nothing new.  Many years ago, I voluntarily trained under the Parkwood Hospital Palliative Care Team, working four hours a week for four years, supporting families and their loved ones in their final days.  It was an insightful time for me.  I witnessed the final gifts of time, care and meaningful conversations offered during the dying process.  My heart was opened to the beauty that can be found in the season of natural death.

King Solomon, (thought to be the wisest man that ever lived) wrote these words found in the book of Ecclesiastes ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…’  indicating the significance of the last season of life,  ‘a time to die.’

Most of us will experience ‘a time to die’ over days, weeks, months or even years.  The time of life in which we die, as Soloman suggests, can be embraced boldly, with meaning and purpose…….equal to life itself.

I love what authors Maggie Callahan and Patricia Kelley say in their book ‘Final Gifts’ as they describe the wonder of the dying process; ‘by listening, understanding and participating fully in the events of the dying, families and friends can gain comfort, as well as important knowledge of what the experience of dying is like and what is needed to achieve a peaceful death.’

Six years ago my mother-in-law experienced her ‘time to die’ that lasted several months.  While we prayed for healing and worked tirelessly with the medical community to find a way to stop the cancer from progressing through her body, I was well aware, that should this be her season of dying, we must embrace it fully.  Together as a family we talked of important and difficult things, we hugged, laughed, cried, forgave, scrap-booked, gave meaningful gifts and made significant memories.  In the end she passed away.  I’m grateful for her ‘time to die’ and the richness of living that came with each passing day.  It was a sacred time with no regrets.  To me that is truly spiritual.

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