Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 1, 2004

  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dube
Phil Nixon
Mark Goldfarb
Robert Rotondo
  Music Editor
Emanuel Pordes
  Arts Editor
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Robert Fisk
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Mark Kingwell
Arundhati Roy
Naomi Klein
Jean Baudrillard
John Lavery
David Solway
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein




She calls herself Mique. She was born and lives in the Province of Quebec. For the past 15 years, this ‘angel of mercy’ has been working as a volunteer in a palliative care center, helping the dying to complete their last voyage.

Most of us who have been called to bear witness and provide for the dying will admit (if only to ourselves) that when confronted with the heart-wrenching and wretched facts of death, we would do almost anything to be spared from the terrible smells, the sordid sunken faces and ugliness that foretell of what is to come. And yet that is where Mique and her remarkable colleagues want to be. Being there (for the dying, for death) is not just an essential condition of their lives; it’s a hunger, a passion. I spoke with Mique in her home with one purpose in mind: to discover the secret sources of her dedication.

© Athena Tacha

ARTS & OPINION: They are ugly, they are rotting, they stink of death, the room stinks of death, you stick your fingers up their asses to make them shit, help me understand this. Why are you there?

MIQUE: First of all, I object to your characterization of my working environment. The beautiful moments I share with these ‘dying, rotting, wretched human beings’ – to use your ‘unkind’ words – more than compensate for the inconveniences you outlined in your question. Those of us who choose to go through unpleasantness and pain -- not unlike someone who decides to do 100 push-ups every morning, -- do so because the rewards more than offset the discomfort. The fitness and general well being enjoyed by the person doing the push-ups is at least equal to the energy and effort spent, otherwise he wouldn’t do it. Are you following me, Mr. Lewis.

ARTS & OPINION: May I rephrase my question?

MIQUE: You don’t have to, I know you have to sell your magazine, but one day, if you’re lucky, you’ll be counted among the ‘dying and rotting and stinking and incontinent’ and you will not feel you deserve to be characterized by that kind of language. (Lewis, humbled -- i.e. ostensibly out of character -- with an impatient nod, encourages his interlocutor to proceed).

To your question, what I think all of us palliative care volunteers have in common is that we have been abandoned in some terrible way: quite a few of us were given over for adoption, some of us have been abandoned or rejected in our relationships, marriages, friendships. And it hurts us to see others abandoned by either their families, or by life circumstances, especially when they are dying. But we are doing it for ourselves, too. We need to feel needed, we need to feel connection, again and again and again because we know what it’s like to be cut off. What they give back is so strong, so totally unconditional, so real, so transparent, you become almost addicted to being that appreciated, just as they become addicted to your care, your love. We are not heroes, Mr. Lewis. We get as much out of it as they do.

ARTS & OPINION: Are you obsessed with death?

MIQUE: I’m obsessed with life. Being with the dying is part of that obsession.

ARTS & OPINION: Explain?

© Athena TachaMIQUE: The dying have so much to teach you about life. The near-dying have lost almost everything, some of them can hardly breathe, some can’t see, or hear – just being with them makes me acutely conscious of the beautiful world I inhabit which they have lost, a world that is mine now, but a world that won’t always be there for me.

ARTS & OPINION: What do you say to the person who accuses you of being afraid of death, of using these people for your own means, to get used to the idea of death, to satisfy your curiosity about what it’s like to die. Are you like the boxing fanatic who can’t see enough fights because he's obsessed with death and frustrated by it because you can only get so close to it and no closer.

MIQUE: Your analogy is a good one. And yes, we are fascinated, obsessed with death, the mystery of it. And what they say and see before death is so interesting: some of them see angels, some of them talk to their dead loved one, some of them report their loved ones coming back, some are scared because they don’t know if there’s a next world.

So yes, I’m there because I fear death, but I love the emotion of fear even more. But prior to all this – prior to what you would call our ‘morbid’ curiosity, prior to our fears and obsessions, prior to what is hidden from us -- is the fact that we care for them because they need us and we want to care because we want to be needed.

ARTS & OPINION: How do you help those who are afraid?

MIQUE: By being there, as their link to life, accompanying them, as far as I can, to where they are going, where accompanying is more of an emotion than motion. For some of them, just being touched puts them at ease. Most people at the end of their lives are like children: they want attention, to be held, soothed and reassured. What most people don’t realize is that dying is more mental than physical. On the other hand, there are some people who are so convinced they are going to meet their spouses, or parents they almost can’t wait to cross over.

ARTS & OPINION: How do you deal with all the deaths you witness?

MIQUE: I accept them the way they are and have no right to ask them to stay longer. But it took me a while to learn that. My attachment to them is now defined by that limitation which allows me to cope with death on a daily basis What is sometimes more difficult to deal with is the attachments they form with us: they want us to always be there for them but we can’t. We have other patients, we have lives outside palliative care – but it’s hard for them to understand that. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we have our own lives, our own families that need us.

ARTS & OPINION: Is there a gender factor?

MIQUE: Most definitely. Women are drawn to this kind of work much more than men, but not exclusively. From a caregiver’s standpoint, I have more facility with males because they are more direct, more honest about their needs. In terms of their response to dying, women remain more attached to material things than men, more concerned about the neatness of the room, their physical environment, their appearance. Men are more focussed on the bonds between themselves and the people that remain in their lives. I suppose you could say men are more spiritual at the end.

ARTS & OPINION: Will you be disappointed if someone like yourself isn’t around when your time comes?

MIQUE: No, I have myself and I have my God, and I don't expect anyone to be there. I don’t believe I need someone like myself because I've been preparing for this all my life. This might sound strange but I've been wishing for death all of my life because I love life and dying is part of it.

ARTS & OPINION: Your views on euthanasia?

MIQUE: I personally don’t believe in euthanasia. Only God can make those decisions.

ARTS & OPINION: Have you ever helped anyone cross over?

MIQUE: As you can well imagine, it doesn’t take long for myself and my colleagues to become very close to the people we look after – as well as their immediate families. It happens, in special circumstances, that we make cocktails available. We do not administer them. But I would rather not discuss this in any more detail.

ARTS & OPINION: When you look at how other people live their lives, do you consider yourself normal?

MIQUE: Absolutely not. We don’t have regular friends, regular relationships, regular anything. And we always seem to find each other. I guess we live on the edge of something even though I’m not sure what that something is – only that were happier there than anywhere else. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we’re better than other people, only that we are special. We have a gift and we know it, like a musician knows of his gift, but the nature of the gift is that it must be shared, otherwise it is a gift that isn’t given.

ARTS & OPINION: Thank you, Mique. This has been a pleasure and learning experience. I’m still not sure if I can make the leap to what makes you tick, but thank God you and your fellow ‘angels of mercy’ exist. May your tribe increase.

MIQUE: I thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my life.


Email Address
(not required)



E-Tango Creative Web Design
Core-Net Computer Services
Caribbean Report
Available Ad Space
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis