25www.faith Today.ca n March / April 2014 n
By Patricia Paddey
“Into the darkness we must go.
Gone, gone is the light.”
–Lyric from Steve Bell’s “Gone Is the
Light” by Gord Johnson
Whenever I hear the phrase “death with dignity” – and I’ve been hear- ing it a lot lately as our country has
debated euthanasia and assisted suicide – I
think of my father’s dying.
Dad had no medical interventions de-
signed to hasten his death. And while the
palliative drugs minimized his physical
suffering, I know he did suffer. In a different
way, so did all those who loved him as we
witnessed his life ebb. It’s the worst kind of
ache and exhaustion to provide around-the-
clock care for someone you love, knowing
they’re slipping away. There’s nothing you
can do about it, except to offer ice chips
when their mouth gets dry, cool cloths
when their forehead gets clammy, and just
enough morphine at just the right intervals
to keep them comfortable.
But it’s also an immense privilege. And
in helping to give that kind of care to my
father, I witnessed the dignity that permeated the final days of his life.
It was 14 years ago – on February 29,
2000 – that my father breathed his last. He
was 70, old enough to have lived a full life,
but not so old that he’d lived all he wanted,
or all that we wanted him to live. I felt a
little bit cheated when he died.
I also felt gratitude. Dad had a good
death, if death can ever be described that
way – in his home, in a hospital bed in the
living room, my mother at his side. She
was holding his hand.
After almost five torturous months
in hospital, battling to regain his health
and strength following surgery for colon
cancer, my dad learned his bones were
full of the disease. Knowing there was no
treatment that would make him well, he
wanted to go home to die. So my mother,
my three siblings and I became his care
team 24/7, supported by extended family,
visiting palliative care workers, VON nurs-
es and his doctor. Two weeks after being
carried home by ambulance to live out
whatever days he had left, he was gone.
Even now, heaviness settles in my chest
whenever I recall that time, a heaviness
that makes it just a little harder to breathe.
But there is also a feeling of calm assur-
ance. His dying had dignity. My family’s
care for him – and the care of the team
that supported us – helped that to happen.
“A designation of ‘palliative’ opens the
Salvation army officer Dr. Beverley Smith ministers with a patient. Throughout history the church has
been in the vanguard of caring well for people at the end of life.
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