My name is Sister Valérie. I am a chaplain at a hospital in Toulous and substitute as a nurse.
I am struck increasingly by persons at the end of their lives. Abandoned for a long time by medicine that feels they failed to cure them, and set apart by western society that denies death, they have been supported for 15 years by the dedicated service called palliative care. My replacement nurses took me to one of their cases and my heart as a Daughter of Charity marveled to discover all that can be done for someone when there is nothing more to do!
When the days are counted, each minute is important and needs to be lived completely. Also, each one works together in his or her own way, so the person lives well during their last days or weeks. The whole team is involved, from the one who does the housekeeping and serves the meals to the doctor.
I noticed from the first day I was there; there was a man, Patrick*, whose greatest fear was to die alone. Sarah, a care aide, called me to go to him and I could see he was dying. Sarah quietly left the room and called her colleagues – an aide, case manager and doctor. Everyone was around the bed, each one holding his hand or putting a hand on his shoulder. He looked at us, smiled, and departed in great peace, surrounded as he wanted.
In this work all the dimensions of the person are regarded: body, heart, spirit, soul, social life, family life. To do this specialists are involved: physiotherapist, psychologist, speech therapist, chaplain… Care is done gently, serving the person’s quality of life and systematically relieving pain. That is why it is not, as it is in many places, that the person comply with the organization of the service but that the service is organized around the person and his or her specific needs.
For example, there was a 38 year old woman, Magalie*, suffering from the last stages of cancer. She had two children ages 7 and 9 and didn’t know how to talk with them as death approached. She felt her time was getting closer and decided to talk with them that afternoon. I had other work in the morning and around 3 pm I finally had the time to work on her dressings when I saw Magalie’s husband go into her room with the children. I decided to change plans and do her bandages in the evening. When I saw her she told me how, with her husband, they calmly explained everything to their children with carefully chosen words. The next day Magalie went to the Lord holding in her arms a drawing that her youngest son had made the night before.
The time at the end of life allows a look back and to do things important to someone. Like Maxime* who had abandoned his daughter at the age of three and now wanted to ask her pardon. We were able to find her and she saw him and accompanied him during his last weeks. This reconciliation allowed Maxime to die in peace and his daughter, as she told us later, to rebuild her life as a woman and young mother.
The time spent in this service showed me every day that this time at the end of life, which society sees as a painful, unnecessary time that should be as short as possible, can actually be a time of grace for all, the dawn of the resurrection.
*The names have been changed.
Sister Valérie, Province of France South