The day before the interview, Danièle Bourque, spiritual care worker at the CHUM, met a 20-year-old young man in intensive care at his hospital. He was going to die “within two or three days” and now he had to face death.
“My first questions were aimed at understanding what he had as a spiritual resource to help him live better with what was happening,” says M.me Bourque. He didn’t have many. At 20, you don’t think about death. But what you always find – and I’m going to look very candy pink – is the heart. I have seen many people die and, no matter where they come from or what they are in, it is the heart that becomes important. […] The dying want to tell their loved ones that they love them. “
Her profession, accompanist, benefactor, comforter, has existed since 2011 in Quebec. Doctor of Religious Studies, Mme Bourque represents none to believers and unbelievers.
“Quebec is the only place in the world where my profession is not attached to any religious institution,” she says. We are in the process of inventing this approach with the aim of meeting people where they are and supporting them in the care trajectories such as at the time of death. “
The support “request” usually comes from caregivers. Queries, Mme Bourque has received many more in the past year. The pandemic has killed more than 25,500 in Canada, including about 11,150 in Quebec, counted day after day.
The astonishment was all the stronger as we live in a “postmortal society”. The sociological formula describes our new relationship with death, with the affirmed will to overcome it technically and to “live without aging”.
“My role is to better prepare them [les mourants] because in general, people don’t think about the ultimate end, when life is a party on death row, says Danièle Bourque. We have to recognize our mortality and see what is true. Death is unavoidable. Billions of people have died before us, and yet this reality does not enter our heads. “
A horizon so close, so far
Diane Laflamme, co-director of the journal Borders who has been relaying studies on death for more than four decades, wonders if mass death will leave many deep traces in our societies. She notes that our species is, so to speak, shielded from tragedies, which in fact are often caused by ourselves. The XXe century of world wars and genocides, does that mean anything to you?
There remain the single deaths, the deaths of relatives. In the United States, where the number of COVID deaths will likely exceed one million once the true accounts are revealed, one in five people know someone who has died of the disease. The New York Times announced a few days ago the end of his series “ Those We’ve Lost » offering portraits of “ordinary” missing persons.
“We all know that death is on the horizon because of the death of others,” says director Diane Laflamme, also associate professor of social work at UQAM. With the pandemic, the death of others has taken on a much more significant presence in our daily horizon. In the form of statistics, yes, of course. I would add the tales of tragedies, especially during the first wave of the pandemic. Death is experienced in the tragedy of a personal story. “
She predicts that these accounts will multiply on the part of caregivers who accompanied the elderly who died alone, or thereabouts. “The death of others, impersonal, on the distant horizon, will become a closer horizon. […] We realized that our model of care for the elderly is very vulnerable. Caregivers couldn’t even help anymore. The narration of these tales will probably be very painful to hear in the next few years. “
An issue in preparation for the journal Borders will propose “links between epidemics, pandemics and death”. The call for proposals is organized around ten themes ranging from ethical issues related to triage of patients to suicidal thoughts in dark times.
Sociologist Éric Gagnon, a specialist in the various areas of aging, has himself just conducted five interviews with patient attendants for an article to appear in another journal on the experience of death and mourning during the pandemic.
“It was very, very dramatic,” said the professor at Laval University. They no longer had time to take care of people or say goodbye to them. He missed those moments, these gestures, these rituals before and after death that give importance to the missing person. “
Éric Gagnon also took advantage of the pandemic to write a book, an ethnography of residential centers for the elderly (CHSLDs), at the center of the 2020 disaster. The synthesis is based on “participant observations” spread over a dozen years.
He announces it clearly: this is not a charge against the centers, far from it. “It’s far from always sad. We must pay attention to the image we have of it. It’s not just negative, what is happening in CHSLDs. “
The pandemic has also multiplied the bereavements of a thousand and one ways of life. “The pandemic is causing us to rethink our attachments, or at the very least to observe them with new eyes,” says Mr.me The flame. We discovered the fragility of our attachments and that our attachments make us fragile. Those to people, of course, but also to things, to consumption, to travel. “
Rituals normally help to mourn. Quebec society organized a sober and touching ceremony on the first anniversary of the appearance of the pandemic here. Places of memory could be imagined to highlight the losses.
“The ritual has a consoling function for the bereaved,” says Mr.me The flame. It also has a social role. Its function reestablishes the connections of social bonds and makes it possible to choose life. When death occurs, one can stand on the threshold, hurt forever. The ritual allows us to continue. Are we going to create specific rituals? I do not know. But we will certainly have to choose life by rethinking our attachments. “
Professor Éric Gagnon qualifies the idea of a society denying death and mourning essential rituals. The rites of passage do not die: they are transformed and will continue to do so in the next world.
The pandemic is leading us to rethink our attachments, or at the very least to observe them with new eyes
“Ceremonies borrow less from religious forms,” he says. We invent new ways of doing things to share grief and take care of the living. The agents that I met expressed the wish to train people in the centers to continue to provide accompaniment, to support relatives. This aspect will have to be taken into account in the new Seniors Homes planned by the government. “
The spiritual care worker Danièle Bourque finds herself at the center of this change that began decades ago and which will continue in “the world after”. She realised a podcast with hospital staff to show that the changes experienced during the pandemic are destabilizing but can also be inspiring.
“I saw an institution that adapted,” she says. We now hear that things and people will change by getting back to basics. I hope so. […] In the changes that I have observed over the years, I notice the renewed importance of kindness towards the people around us. I don’t think the changes will be drastic, but I believe we are entering another era because of this COVID crisis. We have all been marked internally. “