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What would your death look like? Part II

“Why would you want to volunteer among sick and dying people?”

This question, along with similar ones, was posed to me countless times by loved ones and close friends. Each time, my response remained the same. And when I was asked in an interview, “Why do you want to volunteer with us in hospice care?”, my answer drew from a deeply personal experience.

I lived in Canada while my father resided in Trinidad and Tobago and my greatest fear was not being able to spend time with him during his final moments. Little did I know this fear would lead to one of the most profound gifts from my dad. It was a frantic rush to book last-minute flights for my daughter and myself after receiving a call from one of his caregivers informing me that he had been taken to the hospital. Despite her calm demeanour, a voice inside me urged for more clarity. Upon calling her back, I spoke words that were guided by something beyond explanation: “The Holy Spirit told me that you did not tell me the truth.” She blurted out “Oh my God, Camille!” as she revealed a deeper layer to my dad’s condition, prompting immediate action on my part to be by his side.

Returning home the following morning was nothing short of a miracle—a chance to spend the last three days of my father’s life with him. In those fleeting moments, amidst tears and laughter, I expressed my gratitude, teased him for listening to my prayers (“Dad, I’m coming home–please wait for me’), and found comfort in our shared faith. Though my father belonged to a different religion, I found comfort in reciting prayers and psalms by his bedside, including his favorite, Psalm 91.

Facing the reality of his condition, I grappled with the decision of whether to pursue surgery, knowing the risks it entailed as stated by his attending physician. However, my foremost concern was his comfort and that he was free from pain. As his condition deteriorated, I was confronted with a pivotal choice: whether to opt for artificial respiration. With unwavering resolve, I entrusted this decision to a higher power and signed a do-not-resuscitate order, knowing it was what my father would have wanted, and this was between him and God.

On that final day, as my father’s breathing grew laboured, I held his hand and whispered words of comfort and gratitude. With each verse of the Lord’s Prayer, I felt a sense of peace wash over the both of us. And as I uttered the final “Amen”, he took his last breath. It was a moment of profound intimacy and release, one that underscored the beauty of being present during life’s most vulnerable moments.

My journey in hospice care has been one of unexpected revelations and immeasurable growth. In providing comfort, compassion, and love to those in their final days, I have received far more than I could ever give. In the laughter, stories, ice cream feeding, wine drinking and other shared moments, I have found a renewed appreciation for the preciousness of life.

In the end, it is through embracing death that we truly learn to cherish and celebrate life. And for that, I am forever grateful to have been given the gift of hospice care—a gift that continues to enrich my life and honour the legacy of my beloved father: Cecil V Mc Millan as I continue to reflect on that question posed during my first day of hospice care volunteer training—”What would your death look like?”

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash