My husband, Benjamin, is writing a book on hospice and palliative care with the support of the Ontario Arts Council. For the past month, he’s been recording the stories of people who work with the dying – administrative personnel, doctors, nurses, art and music therapists, therapeutic touch workers, and spiritual and bereavement counselors. He’s also talking with those whose loved ones have passed away. One of the most intriguing stories he’s collected was from David Maginley, a Lutheran pastor and chaplain at the Cancer Program of the Queen Elizabeth Health Sciences Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Maginley integrates Christianity with Buddhist practices to help him understand attitudes of fear and attachment, which comes in handy when he works with patients who are struggling with their attachments to people, to memories, and even to their body.
David says he cares more about the “here” than the “hereafter”. He believes the fear of death can be so profound that many people would rather think about the afterlife, instead of confronting the pain of leaving everything we know.
In the words of Krishnamurti, the Buddhist philosopher, “There is a preoccupation with death because we are afraid to lose the known, the things we have gathered. We are afraid to lose a wife or husband; we are afraid to lose what we have learned, accumulated. If we could carry over all the things that we have gathered … then we would not be afraid of death, would we?”
As a Spiritualist, I know that death is not the end. There is life after life, and we do not lose our loved ones; they are with us in spirit to help and guide us, if we are open to receiving them. Still, the transition we call death can be very frightening for people. And that’s why David stresses that the most important thing to remember is that love enables us to die feeling completely safe.
David administers therapeutic touch to patients who ask for this relaxation therapy. Briefly, therapeutic touch is energy manipulation work that involves placing the hands near a patient, and then moving the hands through the patient’s energy field to reduce the patient’s pain and anxiety. In addition, the energy worker sends compassionate thoughts to the patient.
“Therapeutic touch helps people experience themselves as more than physical,” he explains. “That’s an important aspect of feeling completely safe, even as they die.”
David tells the story of a 14-year-old cancer patient who enjoyed receiving therapeutic touch, and thanked the chaplain after each session for easing his discomfort. Yet the aggressive cancer spread through the boy’s body, and he went into coma. Doctors sedated him and the family asked David to give their son one last treatment.
“The family gathered on one side of the bed, and I stood on the other side,” he remembers. His voice softens as he continues: “I centred myself until I was aware of only me and the young man. I felt a deep sense of fear within him. You’re not alone, I thought, I’m right here, and sent him those thoughts of love and compassion as I moved my hands around his body. We’re all here; we all love you.
“His breathing became shallower as his fear seemed to subside, and I began to weep. When I looked up, I saw the family’s minister standing with them on the other side of the bed. I told him he could take over, and he said, ‘It’s okay, you’re doing good, keep going.’
“I finished the treatment with a sense of deep love, and felt the boy’s spirit say Thank you. I stepped away from the bed and told the family I felt the boy had sensed their love, and it helped dissolve his fear. His parents asked for some time with their son, so the minister and I stepped out of room. The boy died a few moments later in his parents’ arms. They came out of the room weeping and grateful.”
David reflects for a few moments. “Too many people die feeling scared of pain, or they’re afraid they’ll encounter profound isolation as they spiral into darkness. The important thing to remember is that in love and connection, we feel safe. It’s possible to die feeling completely safe.”
Benjamin is still looking to interview hospice and palliative care workers, and patients and their families for his hospice book project. The goal of the book is to demystify and humanize hospice and palliative care. Would you like to be part of this loving and empowering project? Tell him your stories! You can contact him at bgleisser AT sympatico DOT ca.
And if you have any questions or comments on this subject or on any spiritual matter, feel free to write me at mail DOT carolynmolnar AT com. And please visit me again!