Loneliness has become a serious issue amongst elderly Canadians and with loneliness comes several serious health effects. According to many studies, loneliness shortens our lifespan, almost twice as much as obesity.[i] Loneliness impacts people’s overall health more than twice as much as their age. The impact of loneliness is also about one third larger than the effect of socio-economic status, which public health research has long established as an important predictor of health outcomes.[ii]
In a 2016 study by the US National Institute of Health, it was found that a majority of people killed by euthanasia in the Netherlands for so-called psychiatric reasons had complained of loneliness. The researchers found that loneliness, or “social isolation”, was a key motivation behind the euthanasia requests of 37 of 66 cases reviewed, a figure representing 56 per cent of the total.[iii]
This is one of the many reasons why LifeCanada decided to create a program that would help to address this issue. We called it “The Dying Healed Program.”
What does the Dying
Healed Program offer?
The Dying Healed Program is a project of LifeCanada which works to foster a deep and lasting awareness of the meaning and dignity of each human life and by extension the meaning and dignity of all human suffering.
Our aim is to train our members groups both in the language and concepts of “Dying Healed” and to help them recruit and train volunteers to spend time with those who suffer.
The goal of the Dying Healed Program is to form volunteers confident in the fact that their presence at the bedside of a lonely or dying person can make the difference, sometimes between life or death.
What do Dying Healed volunteers do?
Dying Healed volunteers are not professional counselors, grief consultants, licensed
therapists, or spiritual advisors. They may not have competencies in the areas of respite care, or any form of medical care.
They are non-licensed, ordinary lay-people from every walk of life who want to extend the power of human presence, for just an hour or so, to sit beside those who suffer in our medical facilities, long term care facilities or at home. Volunteers sit quietly by the side of someone suffering to help them understand that their worth does not depend on what they can do, but rather, simply, that they are. In so doing we show them that their own being and life, even in the midst of suffering can be a source of love, companionship, belonging and mutual gratitude.
Laws in Canada that now permit assisted suicide and euthanasia have serious consequences for vulnerable persons who are alone, frail and have no one to advocate for them. These people often feel pressure, often unspoken, that tempts them to think that it would be better to end their lives prematurely. Without someone who shows care for them, they could be easy candidates for the new ‘end of life’ protocols that have been introduced.
What is involved in the volunteer training?
A grassroots endeavour…
LifeCanada can provide the educational resources and the organizational structure that will help deliver the Dying Healed Program to your community. We have approximately 80 member groups across Canada that operate locally in their communities and it is with these and other local groups that the volunteers can receive support.
Local groups can order the educational program from LifeCanada, and organize to run it in their community, either through offering the courses themselves, or by partnering with another group in their community to run it with their support. Those who will facilitate the training will receive on-line support and training through LifeCanada.
The Dying Healed Program comes with a facilitator’s manual, 15 workbooks for volunteers and a USB key complete with registration forms, power point presentations, and all of the marketing materials for the Program. The Program is marketed under the “Make Time for Life” Campaign that includes digital and print media.
Why is this outreach so important?
Because our culture is dying for lack of love…
This is a real-life experience from one of our Dying Healed volunteers:
“I was walking down the hall when I noticed an old woman sitting alone and looking a little dejected in a wheelchair by the door to her room. I walked in and pulled up a chair beside her and we began to chat. Within a few minutes, she suddenly reached out and clasped my hands in hers, leaned in, and exclaimed, “Thank you so much for volunteering. I used to be a volunteer…” Then she told me her background, the volunteering that she used to do in a hospital, and how she was from Newfoundland and forced to come to an Ontario hospital, away from almost everyone she knew because that was where her daughter lived. At that moment, she was basically all alone.
The following week
I made a point of stopping by her room but she was gone, and when I checked the
‘Deaths and Discharges’ book, I discovered that she had passed away…that
day…within only a few short hours of my stopping to talk to her. I was
literally one of the last people to ever speak to her.
I cannot begin to describe how incredibly moving and humbling it was to hold the hand of someone—a stranger--who was alone and dying. I am forever changed. It is really not the difference that we make in these people’s lives, but the difference they make in ours. We do not know the impact that we can have, even up to our last moments. Every minute. Every second is precious. I hope even by sharing this story that other people will be inspired to go out and volunteer. It is so rewarding—almost selfish. We receive so much more than we give. When people talk about ‘quality of life’, I think about that old woman. In those last hours, without even knowing it, she had a profound impact—she made a connection—she helped me to realize yet again that we are made to love and be loved and that there is something so much bigger than death or suffering than we can ever imagine.”
What do I do next?
Would you like to be a Dying Healed volunteer?
LifeCanada has already worked with several groups across Canada to put on Dying Healed Programs. We worked closely with Vancouver’s Life Community to develop and host the pilot programs. We also worked with Saskatchewan Pro-Life and the Chaplaincy Office at the Archdiocese of Saskatoon. There are currently 15 programs being run across the country.
To learn more, call us at 1-866-780-5433. LifeCanada will connect you with a group in your area. For more information and educational resources go to: www.maketimeforlife.ca.
This article was featured in LifeCanada's Reflections Magazine.
[i] Loneliness is a major health risk for older adults, By William Harms, UChicago News, February 16, 2014
[ii] CARP Survey, April 2017, http://www.carp.ca/2017/06/05/loneliness-survey-results/
[iii] http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/02/18/most-euthanasia-deaths-linked-to-loneliness-says-dutch-study/ published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry