Fr Penehe Patelehio
2 October 2012
The man who had Alzheimer’s disease and was dying had struggled for so long. He had endured memory loss for many years. All the while his daughter had taken very good care of him. One day, towards the end of his life, she asked him, ‘Do you know who I am?’ He replied, ‘No, I don’t know who you are, but I love you.
A Pacific perspective
For us, life is valued above all things. Traditionally, for Polynesian cultures, whatever the medical situation of a person, that person should always be cared for and looked after.
Our Polynesian culture and our Christian values teach us that life is a gift from God. Life is not something to be ended by an individual’s choice, as with assisted suicide or euthanasia. The opportunity to care for elderly parents is also seen as a gift and a privilege for that family.
When someone is ill or dying, the idea of assisted suicide or euthanasia is entirely foreign to us.
There is no word in our lanuage for this concept and consequently it does not enter into our thinking. The opportunity to care for and look after someone who is ill or dying/suffering is seen as a blessing even though it may present significant financial and other challenges. At such times the extended family and community networks come to the fore – it is common for immediate and extended family and community members to visit, provide food and massage and converse with the person who is ill. No one would ever be left to die alone.
Supporting the family and the person concerned through ongoing daily practical and emotional support enables the sick person to find ways to feel better and achieve the best possible quality of life during the latter stages of their life’s journey.
While we strive to do all that we can to alleviate the suffering, the most important thing is for a person to experience the best care they can in order to live the final part of their life with dignity and love. This calls for us all to act with dignity and love and remain present to the person who is dying.
Fr Penehe Patelehio is parish priest at Holy Family Parish, Porirua. This article was first published in The Nathaniel Report, August 2012.