Pope Francis has a lot of countercultural recommendations and one upon which I came the other day is to remember the times that we have suffered most.
Usually, we want to forget the times we’ve suffered. Maybe we consoled ourselves in the midst of some trial saying, “This too shall pass.” And, once it has passed, we’re happy to move on from it.
But Pope Francis says, “I believe that in this time of the pandemic it is good for us to remember even of the times we have suffered the most: not to make us sad, but so as not to forget, and to guide us in our choices in the light of a very recent past.”
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.
This evening I watched the film “The Father” – a drama that follows an elderly man’s experience of dementia.
The film is masterfully done and its artfulness consists in the way in which the disorientation and confusion of memory loss is simulated for the viewer.
Take a look at the trailer:
This film caused me to wonder: Why do Alzheimer’s and dementia happen specifically? I don’t mean biologically and physiologically, but rather existentially. What does it mean for humans to be the kinds of beings who, at the end of a long, successful, flourishing life can sincerely ask, “Who are you?” and “Who am I?”
Writing meant a great deal to Anne. It was her way to vent.
The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I’d absolutely suffocate. – Anne Frank, 16 March 1944
She hoped one day to become a famous writer or journalist. Although she doubted from time to time whether she was talented enough, Anne wanted to write anyway.
That last sentence is so key! She hoped to become a famous writer and, in fact, she did but not in a way she could have ever expected. Anne Frank perished in the Holocaust at age 15, and her diary went on to be published after her death. Since then, more than 30 million copies of the diary have sold in more than 70 languages.
It took far too long in our globalized, hyperconnected, twenty-first century for the world to become alarmed about the genocide committed against Yazidis and other minorities.
In 2016, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion recognizing the genocide and pledging to provide asylum to Yazidis. An ancient people indigenous to Upper Mesopotamia compose a fledging new minority here in Canada.