Hair, makeup, and palliative care

I was interested to come across several news stories about a new documentary created by filmmaker Lorraine Price. The film tells the story of an 83-year-old woman named Kathleen Mahony who, as Price tells us, “volunteered to do hair and makeup for the terminally ill at the palliative care unit at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal [for the past 31 years].”

Price was inspired to make the documentary in honour of her grandmother who had been a very classy and elegant woman. In this interview, Price reflects:

Her style was loud and unapologetic. But when my grandmother passed away in hospice care, on top of having dementia, she was barely recognizable to me—her hair was short and white, her nails nude, and her lips pale. It felt as though she was gone long before she left us. I was so absorbed by my grief and the desire to mitigate her suffering that I neglected to consider the importance of that outward-facing identity that she had cultivated her whole life.

I would love to see this documentary because we desperately need good examples of how to treat those who are approaching the end of life.

There is a universal, inherent dignity that is innate, yes. But there is also the matter of dignifying – we can add to a person’s dignity by bestowing honour, appreciation, and affection.

In another interview, Price remarked, “Kathleen doesn’t do their hair because these patients are dying. She does it because they are human and they deserve to feel dignified and like themselves even when they are at their most vulnerable.”

Kathleen’s service is precisely the kind of hidden work that will benefit our culture greatly by being brought into the light.



Not Wholly Gone

This Father’s Day, I have noticed many people acknowledging the ongoing influence of fathers, grandfathers, and other father figures in their lives – even after these men have died.

It is interesting to consider the ways in which, through memory and legacy, a person can continue to be a part of a family even after death.

This evening, my mother shared an anecdote with me to this effect about my paternal grandfather.

My paternal grandfather was Polish and he died in 2015.

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Caregiving as a school in humanity

This evening I read a short book written by my friend and colleague’s grandmother.

In the brief memoir, Walk with Me: growing rich through relationships, author Judy Rae reflects on the experience of caring for her husband Joe while he developed Alzheimer’s.

Presented with honesty and infused with a faith, Rae offers a window into how caregiving can be a school in humanity.

Judy recounts the pain and sorrow of watching her husband lose his memory and she does not skirt the undeniably tragic dimensions of this disease.

“I have been told that when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he is introduced to a world of loneliness, rejection, terror, confusion, misinformation, and termination. Can this tragedy bring with it any victory into our lives?” she asks.

Rae speaks about how Joe became embarrassed and humiliated by what he could no longer do or remember. Despite the continual accompaniment, affection, and affirmation of his wife, Joe’s feelings of uselessness regularly caused him to get frustrated with himself and even to cry.

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An Appetite for Affection

The other day I was having a call with my aunt and godmother who is a hospice nurse in the U.S.

She had texted me to ask, “Have you talked about dying and food? How our bodies need less and less but families want to keep feeding the dying person? Food = Life = Love. It’s quite a psychological issue.”

I was interested to hear more from her about this, so I gave her a call.

She told me, “I have some patients who, if left on their own, wouldn’t eat. They would just stop eating and it’s not that they would be starving. It’s simply that their body doesn’t need the food anymore because they are approaching death. However, their loved ones worry they’ll starve and so they think that they must feed them.”

Sometimes hospice caregivers will spend an hour trying to feed someone a bowl of oatmeal or three hours trying to feed someone a shake, she told me.

My aunt expressed some frustration over this saying that is makes her wonder: “Why are you doing this? You’re forcing it.”

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Is your work to die for?

Today is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and this post examines Pope Francis’ beautiful Apostolic Letter “With A Father’s Heart” to explore the practical ways in which we can see work as a context for self-gift through which we fulfill the meaning of our lives.

I have organized the themes of the letter into the following eight categories. Each category begins with a excerpt from the letter and then includes a question or two for our contemplation of some possible practical applications.

1. Names and Relationships:

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Gifts for the Dying

Below is a piece of fan mail for this blog, which came from my mother. Since she has accompanied several persons in beautiful ways before their deaths, she shared with me this list of Gifts for the Dying.

One person for whom my mom cared deeply and to whom she showed great affection was her brother-in-law’s mother, Mrs. Hall.

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