Conference enlightens on diverse cultures' approach to death, dying

July 29, 2019 at 12:37 p.m.
Conference enlightens on diverse cultures' approach to death, dying
Conference enlightens on diverse cultures' approach to death, dying


By Georgiana Francisco | Correspondent

There are many factors, including culture and ethnicity, that can determine a person’s thoughts about death. As the number of hospice patients continues to grow each year, so too does the need for caregivers to understand and communicate with the critically ill whose cultural differences may play an important role in how they and their families can be cared for physically, emotionally and spiritually.

On Feb. 23, the 11th Annual Educational Workshop on End-of-Life Issues from a Catholic Perspective, held in St. John of God Community Services Gymnasium, Westville, celebrated Black History Month by showing the Emmy Award-winning video about Sister Thea Bowman, “Almost Home: Living with Suffering and Dying.”

The workshop was sponsored by Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice in collaboration with the Dioceses of Trenton and Camden.

The spiritually uplifting film about Sister Thea, the first black member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and regarded as one of the most significant Catholic figures in modern history, aptly set the stage for the panel discussion that followed on the role cultural diversity plays in caring for the terminally ill.

“Family culture can be egocentric, they might be very private, and not share their critical situation, whereas a sociocentric culture is more expansive, and includes extended family members, neighbors, friends (that help the family in their time of grief),” said Father Gerard Marable, co-pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Camden.

Father Marable participated in a  panel discussion with Susan Baratte and Betsi Bell, both Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice social workers, and Sister Jocelyn Edathil, a member of the Sisters of the Imitation of Christ (Bethany Sisters) and assistant professor of clinical medicine, Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia.

“Different religions have different traditions as well,” Father Marable said. “The Catholic Church recognizes those who have died on All Souls Day, for example, to help those still grieving.”

Moderator Marge McGinley, former pastoral administrator in Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly,  and a chaplain in Virtua Memorial Hospital, Mount Holly, asked the panel to address how Sister Thea could serve as a role model, especially since the film exhibited how being a person of color and the granddaughter of slaves enabled her to manage her terminal illness by continuing to live a life of achievement in the Church, the civil rights movement and society until her death from bone cancer in 1990 at the age of 53. 

“Sister Thea was a trail blazer within the Catholic Church,” Father Marable said, “because she was one of the first ... African American Catholics who was able to share the gift of her culture with the larger Church, offering an Afro-centric perspective. Her family was Protestant and she grew up in what we call the Black Church, but she brought their way of expressing joy and sorrow to our Church.”

Panel member Sister Jocelyn, being the first North American-born professed woman religious of the India-based Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, knows what it’s like to be a trailblazer and could relate to Sister Thea’s story.

“What struck me,” said Sister Jocelyn, “was that she went from a familiar and loving community to being a sister in a place where no one looked like her or thought like her, but she had an idea of what she wanted to do and she just kept doing whatever it was with no fear. And that is how she lived her life to the end.”

The panel also discussed how pastoral caregivers can support families in times of serious illness because that is when conflict can arise and may even intensity in a time of crisis. By identifying that dynamic, caregivers may want to address it and may be able to fix the chronic situation so everyone is respectful of the person who is ill.

Participants, mostly nurses and hospice caregivers or volunteers, were also asked to discuss with each other what fears and uncertainties they have seen the critically ill face.

Sherry Foshay, a hospice nurse for 10 years in Burlington said, “A lot of our patients don’t want to suffer in pain or die alone. They worry about what they are leaving behind. What will be their legacy? And what, if any, are the unresolved conflicts that still exist with family members?”

Volunteer Colleen Spies of Mount Laurel (once Sherry’s nursing instructor) said, most of all, they want to be remembered. Quoting a poem entitled, “The Dash,” she said, “It’s not the day you were born or the day you died but the dash that’s in between.”

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By Georgiana Francisco | Correspondent

There are many factors, including culture and ethnicity, that can determine a person’s thoughts about death. As the number of hospice patients continues to grow each year, so too does the need for caregivers to understand and communicate with the critically ill whose cultural differences may play an important role in how they and their families can be cared for physically, emotionally and spiritually.

On Feb. 23, the 11th Annual Educational Workshop on End-of-Life Issues from a Catholic Perspective, held in St. John of God Community Services Gymnasium, Westville, celebrated Black History Month by showing the Emmy Award-winning video about Sister Thea Bowman, “Almost Home: Living with Suffering and Dying.”

The workshop was sponsored by Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice in collaboration with the Dioceses of Trenton and Camden.

The spiritually uplifting film about Sister Thea, the first black member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and regarded as one of the most significant Catholic figures in modern history, aptly set the stage for the panel discussion that followed on the role cultural diversity plays in caring for the terminally ill.

“Family culture can be egocentric, they might be very private, and not share their critical situation, whereas a sociocentric culture is more expansive, and includes extended family members, neighbors, friends (that help the family in their time of grief),” said Father Gerard Marable, co-pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Camden.

Father Marable participated in a  panel discussion with Susan Baratte and Betsi Bell, both Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice social workers, and Sister Jocelyn Edathil, a member of the Sisters of the Imitation of Christ (Bethany Sisters) and assistant professor of clinical medicine, Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia.

“Different religions have different traditions as well,” Father Marable said. “The Catholic Church recognizes those who have died on All Souls Day, for example, to help those still grieving.”

Moderator Marge McGinley, former pastoral administrator in Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly,  and a chaplain in Virtua Memorial Hospital, Mount Holly, asked the panel to address how Sister Thea could serve as a role model, especially since the film exhibited how being a person of color and the granddaughter of slaves enabled her to manage her terminal illness by continuing to live a life of achievement in the Church, the civil rights movement and society until her death from bone cancer in 1990 at the age of 53. 

“Sister Thea was a trail blazer within the Catholic Church,” Father Marable said, “because she was one of the first ... African American Catholics who was able to share the gift of her culture with the larger Church, offering an Afro-centric perspective. Her family was Protestant and she grew up in what we call the Black Church, but she brought their way of expressing joy and sorrow to our Church.”

Panel member Sister Jocelyn, being the first North American-born professed woman religious of the India-based Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, knows what it’s like to be a trailblazer and could relate to Sister Thea’s story.

“What struck me,” said Sister Jocelyn, “was that she went from a familiar and loving community to being a sister in a place where no one looked like her or thought like her, but she had an idea of what she wanted to do and she just kept doing whatever it was with no fear. And that is how she lived her life to the end.”

The panel also discussed how pastoral caregivers can support families in times of serious illness because that is when conflict can arise and may even intensity in a time of crisis. By identifying that dynamic, caregivers may want to address it and may be able to fix the chronic situation so everyone is respectful of the person who is ill.

Participants, mostly nurses and hospice caregivers or volunteers, were also asked to discuss with each other what fears and uncertainties they have seen the critically ill face.

Sherry Foshay, a hospice nurse for 10 years in Burlington said, “A lot of our patients don’t want to suffer in pain or die alone. They worry about what they are leaving behind. What will be their legacy? And what, if any, are the unresolved conflicts that still exist with family members?”

Volunteer Colleen Spies of Mount Laurel (once Sherry’s nursing instructor) said, most of all, they want to be remembered. Quoting a poem entitled, “The Dash,” she said, “It’s not the day you were born or the day you died but the dash that’s in between.”

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