Jo-Anne Paquette of Edmonton's Marian Centre told about accompanying her dying friend.


Jo-Anne Paquette of Edmonton's Marian Centre told about accompanying her dying friend.

February 23, 2015

Jo-Anne Paquette's three-month journey with Martha Shephard as she died from a brain tumour was both physically draining and a spiritual gift for Paquette.

"Martha lived in a house in Ottawa, and I really grew to respect her, thought of her as a mentor," said Paquette.

"When I was dropped into the pool of caring for her and journeying with her, it was a sudden thing. It felt like a whole lifetime to me."

Both women were members of the Madonna House Apostolate, based in Combermere, Ont.

Paquette's talk on Understanding a Good Death in the Catholic Context was part of the Edmonton Archdiocese's Committee on the Life-Giving Love Initiative. The meeting was held Feb. 15 at St. John the Evangelist Parish Hall.

Paquette, who now lives at Edmonton's Marian Centre, described her journey with Shephard as intense and consuming.

Shephard was already ill, she said. A creative person and writer, "she was not real eager find out what was wrong."

Doctors discovered she had a tumour on the right side of her brain, it was pushing and she was quite ill. Shephard had surgery and the physicians gave her three months to two years to live.

But this was a woman who lived in hope and was full of spirit.

When three months came and went, Paquette said, "She said, 'Look at me. It is three months. We should have a party.' She made fun of those kinds of things."

Shephard had a fall when Paquette was alone with her.

"It was a pretty traumatic thing, probably more for me than her because I was conscious and she was not."

A slow decline followed. Shephard took slower steps,

"As she became more ill I could see her walking towards eternity. I thought we should go back to Combermere (the motherhouse)."

They did and two weeks later, Shepard died – Oct. 15, 2012.


Archbishop Richard Smith began the afternoon session saying euthanasia and assisted suicide are creeping into our society because of the "the growth of radical individualism.

"People live as though there is no tomorrow, live for the moment, with no thought to a higher power, that this life is leading somewhere, that we will be facing death and we need to prepare for it properly."

The result? "A self-centred world that develops a fear of death," said Smith.

One of the main problems is the lack of clarity around important terms.

"The terms 'euthanasia,' 'assisted suicide,' are used quite broadly, often with varying understandings," said Smith.

So be prepared. Let those around you and an agent know what you want done medically when you cannot speak or think for yourself.

"Right in the midst of that emotionally-wrought situation, it is very difficult to think clearly," said Smith. "Are we going to make the right decision? Did we make the right decision?"

To create a good death, explained the archbishop, "means facing it, facing hope, facing faith, facing it with understanding and making all the appropriate decisions to be ready."

It also means reconciling with loved ones with whom we have become estranged.

"With Jesus, all comes clear – even the mystery of suffering," assured Smith.

Karen Macmillan, senior operating officer of acute services at the Grey Nuns Hospital, tackled the topic of suffering, saying, "Any health care professional should be able to give good palliative care."

Macmillan clarified that palliative care is comfort care – not necessarily care only when you are dying. It relieves one of symptoms such as nausea and pain.

Euthanasia, in contrast, is someone doing something to hasten someone's death, she added.

While one probably does not welcome the assisted suicide bill, she said, "It opens the conversation. Dying is something people do not want to do."

Macmillan underlined Smith's advice to let others know your wishes while you are hale and hearty.


"Do your loved ones know what you want?" she asked. "What would you want if you could not speak for yourself?"

Another member of the discussion was Father Eamonn McNerney, chaplain at the University Hospital.

McNerney assured audience members that they can ask for a Catholic chaplain no matter what hospital they are in. He told of three recent incidents when prayer was needed, including one which involved watching a young Edmonton constable talk a girl out of leaping from the High Level Bridge.

"He was the Good Samaritan," he said.

McNerney finished his talk with an Irish quote: "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal."