"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Monday, December 18, 2023

Bouquets of love: offering the lonely blooms instead of tombs

A story I wrote for the B.C. Catholic about one of my projects, published in the spring of 2023:
It’s been 29 years since the pro-life committee at St. Joseph’s Parish in Port Moody launched Blooms into Rooms as a way to animate the Prayer for the Reverence for Life’s call to support the sick and the elderly. The committee also intended the project to signal opposition to the then-ominous spectre of legalized euthanasia. Today, with the virus of “Medical Assistance in Dying” infecting all too many of the sick and elderly, projects like Blooms into Rooms are proving to be more important than ever. The idea for Blooms into Rooms was simple: a few volunteers from St. Joseph’s would visit a single care centre on Holy Saturday and give patients a flowering plant, a homemade greeting card and, most important of all, some companionship. Since then, the flowers project has blossomed, with the result that this Easter weekend volunteers from two Catholic high schools and six parishes will be delivering flowers to almost 1,300 seniors and patients in six communities. Life Compass, the north-of-Fraser Catholic pro-life group, has become a key partner in this project and, for the first time this year, the Archdiocese of Vancouver is providing financial support with funds raised through the Pro-Life Sunday collection. Post-pandemic restrictions still rule out one-on-one visits, but organizers hope the flowers and cards will lift the recipients’ spirits and send the message that they are valued. The importance of projects like Blooms into Rooms is becoming more evident now that MAiD is not only legal and shockingly permissive in scope but is also being actively encouraged as an end-of-life-care option. Blooms into Rooms volunteers from St. Patrick’s Parish in Maple Ridge. Moreover, statistics show the primary reason so many elderly are choosing to seek assistance in ending their life is because they are lonely, depressed, and feel their life lacks meaning or value. Life-affirming Catholics have worked hard over the decades to oppose assisted suicide laws, but even as their warnings of a slippery slope have come true, Catholic opposition has failed to change public opinion, failed to influence politicians, and failed to sway the courts. Many in the pro-life movement are now pointing out how vital it is to connect with the most vulnerable in order to give them the love and support they need to continue to choose life. Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, delivered that message in a series of presentations in B.C. in early March. He encouraged Catholic parishes to establish outreach programs aimed at supporting the sick and elderly. Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition speaks with listeners. “Most people ask for euthanasia because they are going through a difficult time of life,” he said. (Nicholas Elbers photo) And a single flower can make all the difference. In the pre-pandemic days when Blooms into Rooms volunteers visited seniors personally, one volunteer brought a small flowering plant to an elderly woman living in a Coquitlam seniors home. The woman was confused and angrily ordered the volunteer to take the plant away. “I didn’t order it and I don’t want to pay for it,” she said. The volunteer explained that it was a gift. The woman responded, “A gift? For me? No one ever gives me anything. Thank you!” She then shed a few tears of happiness. Blooms into Rooms organizers have watched as this sort of connection, multiplied hundreds or thousands of times over, has a positive, life-affirming impact. And they’re not the only ones. Michele Smillie, of the archdiocese’s Life, Marriage, and Family Office, points to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Horizons of Hope program, a toolkit on palliative care, as one of several initiatives aimed at supporting the sick and the elderly. Smillie also says the archdiocese’s Spiritual Care Training program, the latest installment of which wrapped up on March 29, offers effective training to help Catholics connect with persons who are suffering and need support. “End-of-life care is difficult for many, and there are sometimes significant physical, as well as psychological issues,” Smillie said. “We all feel helpless sometimes, overwhelmed, lonely and have some fear of the future. This doesn’t mean we want to be killed. It only means we are human. What we need is good medical care including palliative care and we need community. We need to feel important and that we mean something to someone.” The Compassionate Community Care organization, which is associated with the EPC, provides resources for those looking to advocate for loved ones who are in care. The archdiocese will be presenting the organization’s volunteer-training sessions in the fall. LifeCanada National is also now looking to expand its Dying Healed program in response to the spread of MAiD. The program trains individuals to help those who are suffering mentally, physically, and spiritually, so they can experience “healing of a deeper kind.” Pat Wiedemer, the organization’s president, said she not only wants to make the program more accessible by making it available online but also plans to expand its scope to include individuals who are living alone or have no friends, as well as patients in palliative care. “People have lost meaning in their lives,” she said. She stressed that young people also need support, especially given the looming expansion of MAiD to mature minors. “Despite social media, they’re suffering great loneliness. Look at the rise in the rate of suicide, the rate of anti-depressants,” she said. “We have a generation that doesn’t know how to deal with human relationships.” For Wiedemer it’s sadly ironic that at a time when so many deny the existence of God on the grounds that human connection is sufficient, those connections are being denied to the sick and elderly when they most need it. “We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to make time for life.” Which is what Blooms into Rooms is doing now that it has expanded into Christmas, although its main focus continues to be Easter, when Catholics celebrate not only life here on earth but eternal life. Forms of outreach like these offer yet more ways Catholics can support the culture of life, if for no other reason than such work embodies the second great commandment, to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

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