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Volunteers get tips on visiting the sick

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Pilot workshop addresses suffering, loneliness, and physician-assisted suicide
By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Photo: Presenters Annabelle Chong (left), Father Larry Lynn, and Natalie Sonnen lead a one-day workshop at Christ the Redeemer Parish April 8. (Photo submitted)

Hospital and hospice patients may soon be getting more visitors thanks to a new campaign that encourages ordinary people to be present for the sick and dying.

“The power of human presence is so profound,” said Natalie Sonnen, creator of the Make Time for Life campaign and executive director of Life Canada.

“We’re not trying to train professionals in counselling. We’re not there to give advice or be problem solvers for people,” Sonnen said. “We’re just there to be a presence.”

About 15 people attended a pilot workshop at Christ the Redeemer Parish April 8.

Being a listening, supportive presence in a hospital setting requires a lot of humility, said Father Larry Lynn, a speaker at the workshop and assistant pastor at St. Anthony’s in West Vancouver.

“Humility is really the fundamental bedrock of what charity is, what love is,” he said. “You need a certain quiet presence.”

Father Lynn was profoundly moved by the silent presence of someone in his hospital room as a child. A rambunctious 12-year-old, he had been confined to a hospital for three weeks with a broken arm.

He woke up one afternoon to find a priest sitting in his room. He had been waiting and praying for an hour. “It made me feel validated. It made me feel good about myself and grateful.”

That experience affected how he makes hospital visits today. “I go there with the idea that I will offer my presence without preconceptions of what will happen, not to push my agenda, not to bring my feelings into the room with me, to just quietly be present and deal with the situation as it develops.”

Annabelle Chong, executive director of Vancouver’s Life Community (formerly Vancouver Right to Life), helped bring the workshop to West Vancouver. She said volunteers have a lot to gain through the program. “We can be strengthened by understanding how to cope with suffering and know our dignity. At some point we will be suffering, too.”

Life Canada developed the workshop, called Dying Healed, after assisted suicide became legal in Canada.

“We think at this point the most effective response is engaging with the lonely, disabled, and ill, and anyone who is vulnerable,” Sonnen explained.

“Just by being with somebody, you can change their life.”

The next Dying Healed workshop, part of the Make Time for Life campaign, is Saturday, April 22, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church hall in Vancouver. For more information visit

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 April 2017 10:51  

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