We are born into the world to live and one day die. So, what is the meaning of life and death? With these words, a doctor emeritus at the hospice center at a Catholic hospital begins a column in the Catholic Peace Weekly.
The hospice movement, he says, does a great deal to open us to the meaning of life and death. One of the ways of showing us what the completion of life is.
With the discoveries made in medicine especially antibiotics in the last century, we have had an extension of the average lifespan. In 1955 the ordinary lifespan of Koreans was 55.4 years it is now over 80.
Medicine's saving lives and extending the lifespan enabled society to avoid issues of death and care for the dying. Results are that many terminally ill cancer patients have serious pain problems in meeting death. In the intensive care unit of hospitals the patients are in unfamiliar surroundings with all kinds of mechanical gadgets and apparatuses that they have to deal with. Separated from their families, in many cases, alone to face death.
Precisely because of these problems the hospice movement began. An English physician Dame Cicely Saunders began work with the terminally ill in 1948, which eventually became the first hospice. Society, volunteers, clergy, family and many others worked together holistically to alleviate the suffering of those seriously sick who were facing death. The Little Company of Mary, religious sisters, were the group that began hospice work here in Korea in 1965. From there it spread to other parts of the country.
Our columnist has been working in hospice for the last thirty years. He has worked with those terminally ill from cancer and working with anti-cancer medicine. They cured a few and extended the lives of many. With the cure of some of the patients, he has found great satisfaction from his work. However, the majority, treatment extended their lives but the pain was there and this has bothered the doctor much and wonders why he ever got into the work with the dying sick, but this soon disappears.
He was a frequent visitor to the chapel where he expressed his frustration in not being able to do more. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament were often to complain but he always found consolation and found strength to continue his work in the hospice movement.