Elderly have responsibility ‘to give a good example for the young,’: workshop on dying

Clara Lum and her husband Brian Hunt had an obvious reason for attending a recent workshop on old age, as inspired by Pope Francis’ homilies and teachings. They’re part of a growing number of Catholics who believe that a cultural response is needed to Canada’s euthanasia crisis, irrespective of whether a political solution presents itself.

Like many of the 20 participants in the inaugural Mercy From Age to Age: From Loneliness Toward a Culture of Encounter workshop, the couple have had personal experiences with Medical Assistance in Dying, as well as with contemporary issues associated with ageing.

Lum said she has started to see requests from her estate planning clients to incorporate MAiD into their end-of-life plans. She wants to better understand their perspective and find ways she might help them.

Age to Age workshop participant reads from sticky notes attached to painting of biblical elder. 

The couple were also inspired to attend because of their challenging and uplifting experience with recently deceased Oblate priest Father Oscar Pauwels after he was institutionalized in 2019 due to a bad fall.

The B.C. Catholic shared some of their story in February 2023. 

Hunt said much of what was discussed at the workshop reflected their experience with Father Pauwels, who was depressed and struggled to see how his priesthood had any place in a care home.

He recalled Father Pauwels saying he felt like he was just waiting to die.

Hunt and Lum started to visit the priest weekly, talking with him about his life and pushing his wheelchair outdoors when the weather allowed. Father Pauwels had spent time in Oblate missions throughout Canada, and Hunt suggested on one of their walks that maybe the residence was his new mission.

This gave Father Pauwels a new sense of purpose, and he became more involved at the care home. Perhaps most interestingly, he started to bring purpose to the lives of the other residents, even baptizing one of the residents.

Brian Hunt with Father Oscar Pauwels. The priest inspired Hunt to be confirmed in the Catholic Church. (Contributed photo)

The benefits of connection went both ways, and their friendship with the priest inspired Hunt to be confirmed by Father Pauwels.

This story illustrates what the Mercy From Age to Age workshop is all about and the focus of organizers Nicole Scheidl of Canadian Physicians for Life and Amanda Achtman, whose online project Dying to Meet You is dedicated to preventing euthanasia in Canada.

Participants heard a brief talk about the reality of euthanasia in Canada and then jumped into small group discussions to look for inspiration in Scripture on the meaning and value of old age.

The workshop emphasized co-responsibility, and participants were encouraged to ask not just how the young can support seniors but also what seniors have to offer young people in an age of disillusionment.

“Suffering is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be unravelled. I am watching how you die,” Achtman told participants. Even in death, she said, “it is the responsibility of the old to give a good example for the young.”

Achtman told the gathering that MAiD recipients list the inability to do the meaningful activities of their youth as the single most prominent reason for choosing to die.

In one activity, participants were given a black marker and asked to walk around the room, writing the answers to questions such as: “How can the young restore enthusiasm to the old?” “How can the old bear witness to the young that they are a blessing?” And “how can those who are old reopen the future to wounded youth?”

The groups also meditated on aged biblical figures. Afterward, pictures of the saints were adorned with sticky notes describing their virtues and strengths. One image of St. Elizabeth with the Virgin Mary was covered in words describing Elizabeth’s hopefulness and support for her younger cousin.

Throughout the workshop, the emphasis was on looking for ways to bring meaning to the lives of old and young alike.

During one activity an image of St. Elizabeth with the Virgin Mary was covered in words describing Elizabeth’s hopefulness and support for her younger cousin. 

After the workshop, Lum told The B.C. Catholic she was grateful it had helped her find ways to approach people looking for euthanasia with less judgment. The realization that someone is scared or craving connection and meaning can shift how you choose to accompany that person, regardless of their final choice.

Achtman said the idea for the workshop came from attending Pope Francis’ audiences while she was studying in Rome. She started discussing with Scheidl what she calls Pope Francis’ “‘catechesis of ageing,”‘ a collection of sermons that speak about ageing and old age. Together they decided to dig into the topic more deeply.

After some discernment, they decided to bring the catechesis of ageing to the communities it could impact. Rather than lecture people, they created a workshop built around discussions that could help people come up with their own solutions to the loneliness and isolation that characterize so much of modern ageing.

During the opening activity workshop participants brainstormed answers to questions about ageing and intergenerational connection. 

Initially, the pair started a webinar that quickly attracted more than 100 participants from across North America. The webinar’s popularity spoke to the need for a catechism for seniors to help confront old age with “meaning and depth,” Achtman told The B.C. Catholic.

The response to the webinars eventually inspired Achtman and Scheidl to start in-person workshops that the pair hopes to expand and promote nationwide. Their next event in Calgary already has 60 registrants as of the time of writing.


Scroll to top
Skip to content