Faith leaders explain approaches to end-of-life care

Published: 7/2/2017 11:10:15 PM

AMHERST — As a member of Hampshire Mosque in Amherst, Naz Mohamed often looks for ways to educate people of other faiths on the basics of her religion.

That’s why she joined some 50 others from four different faiths last week to discuss end-of-life care at a workshop sponsored by Cooley Dickinson’s Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice Unit.

The workshop featured leaders from four different faiths — Judaism, Catholicism, Islam and Protestantism — who shared their beliefs in a cross-faith educational forum.

Mohamed, an event volunteer, said that she wants health care providers to understand Islamic traditions, so that they can provide appropriate end-of-life care for Muslim patients. The topic is one of many subjects covered at her mosque’s “Islam 101” workshops.

“Islam is not something that is known to everyone,” she said. “The goal is to have greater understanding.”

That is part of the reason Nan Davies showed up for the workshop at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Newman Catholic Center. Davies said she wanted to hear about ways in which other religions prepared for death.

She identified herself as a Quaker, but said she was “intellectually interested in integrating ways of responding to ultimate questions with different faith communities.”

Moderator Ben Tousley, chaplain at Cooley Dickinson, said that the event responded to a need felt by the community for more cross-faith dialogues about death and dying. The Hospice Unit at Cooley Dickinson has been doing community outreach programs for the last five years to demystify end-of-life care.

“We were all born and we’re all going to die,” Tousley said in his opening remarks.

Faith leaders who followed him talked about their traditions and beliefs surrounding death. Compassion for the sick, anxiety about mortality, and the inevitability of death were common themes.

Rabbi Benjamin Weiner of the Jewish Community of Amherst emphasized the “sacredness” of sick people in the Jewish tradition.

“A dying person is in all respects a living person,” Weiner said. “They are worthy of all of the same dignity, respect and care that we would extend to anyone else.”

Tim Biggins, from the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, shared the experience of losing his parents. “We know personally that moment will approach us at some time,” Biggins said.

Dr. Zubair Kareem of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts and the Rev. Jenny Valentine of the First Congregational Church of Southampton talked about the ephemeral quality of life on earth.

“The worldly life is a temporary and brief period compared to the time before birth and after death,” said Kareem.

“Believe in god. Don’t be afraid. This is not the end,” Valentine said.

After the faith leaders spoke, the audience was divided into groups to share personal beliefs and experiences.

Tousley said the goal of the hospital’s outreach program is to help people start thinking about end-of-life options before the time for decisions is upon them. Hospice, he said, is a way of guiding people through the end of life with the least amount of pain and suffering.

“We’re all like great ships trying to get to our safe harbors,” he said.

He added that, unlike more traditional forms of end-of-life care, hospice takes a more holistic approach when caring for dying patients.

“They’re not just a collection of symptoms,” he said. “We pay attention to what their story is.”

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