I’ve been given the opportunity to spend time visiting the terminally ill at home as part of the Special Ministry in our parish, and have seen and experienced quite a few things in the past 25 years of doing so with regard to the sick and dying.
This email came late one afternoon from an ex-colleague of mine. It was like a bolt out of the blue:
“Guess you have never been asked this before (…). I know I have no right to ask this of you but I am searching my conscience and really need help for an answer. I have been asked to escort ‘someone’ to Switzerland to be with him/her as they die. I am sure you know about the euthanasia program that is available there.* The person’s life is a misery, no hope of returning to a so called normal life….he/she has no religious beliefs and has no possibility of returning to a reasonable life… Personally, I have no religious beliefs, so your honesty would be appreciated. If it helps it is a family member I am talking about.”
I sat and read it over, I think, probably 4-5 times before I started to think about an answer. How do you answer such a painful cry for help? What sprang to mind was the “thought of the day” I was living with my Focolare friends: “Free yourself totally in order to be the living will of God”. But how could I live it? I tried to concentrate on living the present moment, putting aside everything else in order to take onto myself the burden of the person who was asking for my help. I prayed to God for courage to say with sincerity what I was feeling in my heart, without any fear.
All I did was to share my thoughts as asked. I also shared some brief experiences I have personally made with the dying and their families over the past 25 years, that includes the sufferings, the joys and the triumphs. And then I said I wouldn’t take the path her relative had chosen and the reasons why from the depths of my heart, and gave her some contacts in Palliative Care close to her.
My friend, who has always remained grateful for my help, recently let me know that she had shared my thoughts with her relative who decided to consult the resources I had given her and not to go to Switzerland, choosing the palliative care option instead. In fact she spent nearly 2 years making peace within the family.