Giving from Unending Source

Author: Olga Rogerio Fernandez, SSpS
Subject: Accompaniment in Palliative Care
Language: English, Spanish
Year: 2023

Giving from Unending Source
A Spirituality of Palliative Care Companions

“You matter because it is you, until the end of your life” – Cicely Saunders


Palliative Care for cancer patients – a response marked by compassionate love

This service began in 2010, when I, together with a group of lay people -health professionals, clinical doctors and oncologists, social services, psychologists, nurses, and health pastoral agents, agreed to start a project that was new for the city of Posadas. After several organizational and projection meetings, we began the task, which consisted of caring for the terminally ill in their homes, assisting them and providing comprehensive care. We carried out this action by out working as volunteers, and the Ministry of Public Health provided us with the necessary medicines for the sick.

As part of my training in the area of ​​care for the terminally ill, I participated in a course given by the National Cancer Institute at the Dr Ramón Madariaga de Posadas Hospital and on that occasion I had the great blessing of meeting the Paliativist doctor, Dr Walter Cattaneo. He shared with me his concern to start Palliative Care in the Province of Misiones, in response to a demand for such a specialty. It was from this that we embarked on this project to which other professionals from different other specialties were added to form an interdisciplinary team. From that moment until today, I have not ceased to be more and more passionate about what I do in my profession as a nurse, in pastoral care and in the mission to care for the sick. Another aspect of the training were the courses for Pastoral Health Agents and interdiocesan Mourning offered in Buenos Aires. In order to strengthen my knowledge and practice of Palliative Care, I did an internship at Hospital Tornú, in Buenos Aires. Since this specialization allowed me to dedicate myself with greater knowledge to palliative care and oncology, I am currently working in the administration room for chemotherapy for adults at the Instituto Misionero del Cáncer Parque de la Salud Dr. Ramón Madariaga.

I passed by your side, I saw you and I was moved…

Following my brief review as an M SSpS (Holy Spirit Missionary Sister) in the health care field, I want to share about the spirituality that sustains, encourages and nourishes me in this service and care for cancer patients and especially in the accompaniment of terminally ill patients. It may sound disconcerting, but I recognize that I am passionate about being with, accompanying any human being, my brother or sister, in their process of dying. Being able to be an instrument, allowing and accompanying a good death as they transition, and above all being able to allow both the patient and the family to make the necessary closures and achieve the miracle of healing the aspects that medicine cannot cure, is very important.

I am convinced that I could not do any of this without first having made a journey into my own self and discovering within me that inexhaustible source that comes to me from the beyond: spirituality, a continuous process of those who are born as spiritual beings in the image of and likeness of the Creator and who wish to constantly humanize themselves to provide closeness to the human being who suffers.

I could not be working in this area if I were not capable of discovering that the more human, we become, the more we resemble the one who gave his life for love, Jesus. He became human to humanize us and I believe that there is no compassion, nor work of compassion without empathy.

With all due respect to the unforgettable Cicely Saunders, founder of Palliative Care, using her expressions: “You matter for who you are. You matter until the last moment of your life and we will do everything in our power, not only so that you die peacefully, but also so that, while you live, you do so with dignity”, I can affirm that this is the spirituality that  moves and strengthens me, the spirituality that transcends any religious creed, the spirituality of dignified life and death, which begins with the first heartbeat in the maternal womb, which is undoubtedly the breath of God that progressively takes shelter in a human body. In the same way, that breath of God progressively withdraws when the time comes to transition, to leave.

There is nothing more valuable than being able to be there and feel that the other, my brother or sister, has started on their way back (or: begun their journey home) and does not need to carry any heavy burden.

To lighten the backpack that leads to the journey with no return, we who by profession or by mission closely accompany them, lend our ears, our hearts, our hands, our spiritual strength and therefore, when required, we offer our professional knowledge to avoid or alleviate symptoms that can cause suffering. We are there to allow the person to freely choose how, when and where to undertake the trip. We do not know the specific time, but the important thing is to be able to establish an empathic and healing communication, providing the necessary comfort so that the final journey proceeds peacefully, allowing the conditions and the spaces to be comfortable.

I am aware that all this does not mean that we do not have to pay the price of loving. Mourning, without a doubt, is essential. We suffer as payment for the love given or received from the person who left or will leave.

I feel grateful for the privilege of accompanying significant spiritual and religious moments with the sick, such as: baptisms, reconciliation, the desire to build a legacy to leave the children, the reunion between family members, helping to heal ties, the administration of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick; These are moments that promote in each one of us professionals a greater reflection and acceptance of death as a natural process, giving meaning and mission to all the work carried out.

The deep encounter in these moments transforms me daily and is a spiritual and human experience that allows me to learn to take care of every aspect of the person, even beyond the visible.

I cannot fail to mention that my spirituality grows stronger every day, when community spaces favor dialogue, listening, reflection on the Word, shared prayer and healing bonds following the example of the Holy Trinity. If I don’t seek to fill myself from the Unending Source, giving would dry me up!

About the author:

Sr. Olga Rogerio Fernández, who belongs to the Congregation of Missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit, has a degree in Nursing. She has been a nurse since 2003, and currently she works at the ‘Instituto Misionero del Cáncer del Parque de la Salud, Dr Ramón Madariaga’ de Posadas, Misiones, Argentina.

2 Responses

  1. Felicitaciones, Olga, por tu vida entregada en la misión de acompañar a tantas personas en el ministerio de los cuidados paliativos. Bendiciones.

  2. Con Olga hemos iniciado un recorrido que no tendrá fin sino en ese momento en que miremos los ojos de nuestro buen Dios. Ese encuentro final, del amor completo y aun inconcebible por lo humano. Este es el sentido de lo qué hacemos con nuestros pacientes….ayudar a conducir a ese encuentro con el mayor alivio y paz posible. Olga representa con su trabajo y dedicación ese espíritu. Felicidades amiga y compañera de esta ruta.

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