Thursday, July 09, 2009

Going Out with Grace and Comfort

Death has been frequently on my mind these days, thanks to the passing of my papa's mother and with my mother's parents (both in their 90s) becoming increasingly frail and absent. I was deeply touched by this article in the NY Times about a Roman Catholic convent addressing the needs of their dying sisters in a direct, yet thoughtful and caring manner.

So often folks are bent on extending the lives of their loved ones at all costs, sometimes not realizing that the treatment might be more agonizing than the peaceful passing. I've talked to my dad a bit about his time back in Connecticut with my grandmother before she died. He expressed thoughtful gratitude that her caregivers focused primarily on managing Nonie's pain; making her as comfortable as possible in her last days, rather than pressing further tests and treatment options upon the family. Given her already frail condition, it's unlikely that she would have survived aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatments and the pain would have been excruciating.

I thought this paragraph was especially illuminating:

A convent is a world apart, unduplicable. But the Sisters of St. Joseph, a congregation in this Rochester suburb, animate many factors that studies say contribute to successful aging and a gentle death — none of which require this special setting. These include a large social network, intellectual stimulation, continued engagement in life and spiritual beliefs, as well as health care guided by the less-is-more principles of palliative and hospice care — trends that are moving from the fringes to the mainstream.

Just this morning I was musing that it might be nice to join a church, for the social aspect, at the very least. Unfortunately, most churches tend the require the one thing that I cannot provide: a belief in God. Major bummer. It would be nice to believe in the afterlife too; these sisters seem so calm, collected, and ready for death, certain in their knowledge that there is something beyond this simple life.

Read the article here.