You matter to the last day of your life

Phil Larkin has worked in Palliative Care in Ireland since 1992. He was Director of Education at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, Dublin and Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing (Palliative Care) at University College Dublin. He lectures on end-of-life care nationally and internationally and has published extensively on issues relative to palliative care. His current research interests include the place of compassion in the delivery of 21st century palliative care.

We were lucky enough to have Dr Larkin give us a presentation on Compassion and End of Life Care in February. Although at face value the topic didn’t seem to have too much immediate relevance to our lives, we all agreed that Phil’s session was in fact one that most impacted on us and one from which we took away more.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness fear, confusion and anguish…compassion means full immersion into the condition of being human

This quote, from the great French-Canadian priest, Fr Henri Nouwen, was used by Phil to centre our attention on what it means to have compassion. Or rather, to be compassionate- he explained that it’s not so much a feeling, but a way of being. For practitioners of Palliative care, compassion is about three things. It starts with really recognising the suffering of another; then having the courage to ask the patient about their sufferings, and finally having the courage to wait. Compassion isn’t about a clinical intervention to alleviate pain with subsequent withdrawal and moving on; it involves the slow constant care for another, with full commitment to sharing the journey towards end of life.

Phil finished his presentation with a well-known quotation from Dr Cecily Saunders, an Anglican physician who started the hospice movement in England in the early 1960’s.

You matter because you are and you matter to the last day of your life. We will do everything we can to help you die peacefully and to live until you die

The deeply Christian root of the hospice movement underscored by the understanding of the dignity of the human person motivates true compassionate care for the dying, and also care for the carers. Phil’s presentation explored many aspects of end of life care while engaging us and asking questions of us about our own commitment to others, healthy and sick alike.