A new collaboration of Catholic agencies will equip people to navigate conversations about death and create communities of care for the dying and those with a life-limiting illness across Sydney.
The Living Well, Dying Well initiative draws upon the expertise of agencies including Catholic Healthcare, St Vincent’s Health Australia, Catholic Cemeteries & Crematoria, CatholicCare Sydney, CatholicCare Broken Bay, and the University of Notre Dame, Australia.
It was prompted by a call from Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP in 2019 for greater care and support for the sick and dying of people in the archdiocese particularly in the community setting. It will be launched on 7 October with a webinar titled ‘Living Well, Dying Well – the most important conversation you’ve never had’.
The webinar will examine how, as a society, we can better engage in this conversation, and discusses the value of accompaniment of the sick and dying by volunteers. It will be moderated by Patrick O’Reilly, General Manager Pastoral Services, CatholicCare Sydney, and will include a video message from Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.
Professor David W Kissane, Chair of Palliative Medicine Research at The University of Notre Dame, and the Cunningham Centre for Palliative Care Research will be an expert panellist, along with Paige Bullen, Project Manager, Chaplaincy in the Community at CatholicCare Sydney, and Nishi Rana, Regional Manager, Residential Care at Catholic Healthcare.
A full life includes discussing frailty and death
As most people die of age-relating illnesses, there is plenty of time for people to think about their own death. For others, a diagnosis of a serious and life-limited illness may prompt earlier considerations of one’s mortality. Either way, the concept of thinking about death might seem like an unsettling prospect at first, but, undertaken with an open mind and heart, it can be valuable and rewarding.
The webinar will examine what it means to live well and how it is connected to dying well, offer some insights and connections to further information and support, and look at what the Catholic Church says about death and explore its traditions around dying, death, burial, and life beyond the earthly realm.
Professor Kissane told The Catholic Weekly that as medicine has improved and life spans extended, many people have little exposure to death and dying until they reach middle age and witness the decline and death of elderly parents.
“As a result it’s become a taboo topic in our society,” he said, adding that palliative care is also widely misunderstood. “What we really want is a culture of life and that means people living their lives out beautifully, fully, and value until the very end of their life.
“And a culture of life is really dependent upon the community sustaining that – for example helping with menial tasks like shopping, providing respite care for carers, there are photography and biography programs and many other ways in which volunteers can enrich the life of a person who is sick and help them tremendously.”
Ms Rana said in her experience a person’s attitude towards illness and dying makes a noticeable difference at the end of life, as well as the attitude of their relatives or carers.
“If someone can sit with a person in their last days and talk with them about their faith or their beliefs about life that can make them feel much better, and it helps their loved ones as well,” she said.
Ms Bullen said language is important when navigating conversations relating to a person’s experiences of suffering, dying and death, loss, grief, mourning, trauma and bereavement. “Many of us have not been raised in a culture that teaches us how to speak about these things, or in families that modelled this for us,” she said.
“We do live in a death avoidant culture, but these experiences are not meant to be carried alone. In our culture we largely treat them as a private matter, and so the Living Well, Dying Well website and webinar are excellent initiatives for giving people an opportunity to start a conversation acknowledging these experiences and putting a language to them will validate people’s very unique experiences.”
Mr O’Reilly said the Living Well, Dying Well project would also aim to tailor its services to assist partner organisations with their own needs.
Marilyn Rodrigues is a journalist for The Catholic Weekly (print and online). She has worked as a journalist and columnist for the paper intermittently since 2000 and sees the CW team and readers as part of her extended family. Her special interests are spirituality, psychology and mental health, and life issues. Marilyn blogs in her five minutes of free time a week about faith, family, work and life at marilynrodrigues.com.
Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Weekly, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.