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'The only thing you leave behind is love': Kinew

By James Buchok


WINNIPEG — To oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide means to be in support of the best end-of-life care a community can provide, but according to Palliative Manitoba only 16 to 30 per cent of Canadians have access to, or receive, palliative and end-of-life care services, and even fewer receive grief and bereavement services.

Palliative Manitoba’s executive director Judy Knight says the organization is “changing the conversation about death and dying.” At a fundraising luncheon April 17 in downtown Winnipeg, Knight said Palliative Manitoba’s small staff and many volunteers provide services “that extend far beyond the person with the illness.” Those services include bereavement counselling, grief seminars, compassionate care courses and programs called Kids Grieve Too and Teens Grieve too.

“Children are forgotten grievers, “ Knight said. “These kinds of programs allow them to become confident and self-actualized and they need a safe space for that.” The most important issue, said Knight, “is the need to initiate palliative care services sooner rather than later.”

Journalist and CBC broadcaster Wab Kinew spoke of the experiences he gained as he cared for his father, Tobasonakwut, in his last weeks and days in late 2012. Kinew said his father, who was born in a village in Lake of the Woods, Ont., lived a good life but not before, like so many First Nations people of his generation, he was forced to endure the hardships of Indian residential schools.

“He did not dwell on the past,” Kinew said, “but it was the kind of thinking that was present in this country.” He said government scientists found starving kids, including his father, in the schools, “but they didn’t feed them, they experimented on them. This took place in every region of this country.” But, Kinew said, it didn’t stop his father from achieving a university education, becoming a Grand Chief and a leader for First Nations treaty rights.

Kinew said the palliative care provided to his father “respected that final part of his journey. He didn’t want to die in a hospital. He was able to stay in his own bed.”

Kinew said what his father was able to do in his final months “was remarkable” as he completed reconciliation with the Catholic Church, many of whose priests and nuns were in charge of Indian residential schools. He became friends with Archbishop Emeritus of Winnipeg James Weisgerber and was part of a 2009 delegation that Weisgerber had arranged to meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican to receive a personal apology from the pope for the role the Catholic Church played in the schools. Tobasonakwut presented the pope with an eagle father.

The apology was reciprocated in April 2012 when Tobasonakwut joined other Anishanaabe elders in adopting Weisgerber as a brother. “Someone who had every right to be angry embraced the descendants of his former tormentors,” Kinew said.

In his father’s final days, when he was not eating or speaking, Weisgerber visited and Kinew asked his “Uncle Jimmy” to say a prayer. “He did, and then he said to my father, ‘Pray for me too.’ Somehow, the old man reached out and in Ojibwa said a prayer for the ‘black crow’ that he had adopted as his brother.”

“As we prepare to leave we need to have compassion for those left behind,” Kinew said. “Before we get there, prepare to make that journey a little more easy for those who come after us. It’s not about living a perfect or faultless life, it’s about settling things, so the only thing you leave behind is love, so those remaining here are the recipients of that gift.”

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