Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said the event is on a Tuesday.
While a difficult topic, the prospect of end-of-life care is one nearly everyone must face at some point. In order to make choices easier for local families, the Respect Life Committee of Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Lancaster has organized a conference designed to inform families about caring for aging or ill family members with dignity and in accordance with Catholic teaching.
The End of Life Topics Conference will take place on Thursday, May 7, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., at Our Lady of Pompeii parish auditorium at 129 Laverack Ave. A variety of speakers will discuss nine topics ranging from adult day care and respite, to hospice and health care proxies.
"I have experienced it in my own family with my relatives: you have someone who gets seriously ill, and you're frantically seeking out places for you to get help or some guidance," said Michael Conboy, trustee of Our Lady of Pompeii and a member of the Respect Life and stewardship committees. "Even as far as when it comes to having a family member passing away, frantically going to the funeral home, and all that. It's been on my mind for quite a while as we've attended Respect Life meetings."
Conboy said the Respect Life Committee has been "quite an active group of people over quite a number of years, and typically organizes events including the Life Chain on Niagara Falls Boulevard and diaper, clothing, toy and baby care drives. While its ministry mainly focuses on abortion, their mission also dovetails with other aspects of the pro-life movement in the Catholic Church, up to and including making sure people are cared for properly as they near the end of their lives and ultimately pass away.
Last October, Conboy mentioned to the other committee members that being pro-life is about more than just anti-abortion ministry, but also helping people from beginning to end.
"We sat down and figured out, who are the primary aspects of this whole program that we would want to get in touch with?" Conboy said. "It ended up that we decided one of the big things that arises is adult day care. So many families have members of their family that are ill, and then the people that are home trying to take care of them, they get burned out, so the idea of adult daycare was one aspect."
"Hospice is not strictly for cancer, but for other problems as well, so that was another target group," he added. "Health care proxies, there are a lot of people who don't understand what they're all about and why they need them, so we pursued a Catholic hospital chaplain on that. People put off taking care of their wills and trusts, and basic instruments people need to make it easy when the time comes, so we got an elder care attorney. As you get down to the end, (there are) Catholic cemeteries and funeral directors."
Speakers at the event include Nancy Weil, diocesan director of bereavement support services; Carmen Colao, director of Catholic Cemeteries; Father Richard Zajac, chaplain of Sisters Hospital in Buffalo; Laurie Menzies, an estate and elder law attorney and Amy Lange Kenyon, a funeral director based in Lockport and the president of the Erie Niagara Funeral Directors Association.
Additional presenters include Mary Wallen, admissions director at Brothers of Mercy Nursing Home in Clarence; Meghan Fadel, director of education and training for the Alzheimer's Agency of Western New York; Robert Fink, chaplain of Hospice Buffalo; Heidi Billittier, adult day program leader for Catholic Charities' A Gathering Place, and Lisa Wiedemann, owner of Home Instead Senior Care in Williamsville.
Conboy said while there are other aspects of end-of-life care, the conference will remain focused on the issues discussed above. He said people go about their daily lives without thinking of problems and without planning for the future or, in particular, for emergencies. "I know, through experience, that people tend to put things off and as a result, when the time comes, they don't know where to get help."
In his own case, Conboy attended a pre-planning session at his local Amigone Funeral Home on a night "when there was nothing else to do." He called it "one of the best things I've ever done," and they stressed how planning ahead leaves a gift for families of a loved one who passes away.
"You know there are some things you won't have to worry about, it's all taken care of, and that's the background of my thoughts on why this should be there: to relieve that burden and give them basic information and education," Conboy said. "For the conference, we're not going to be able to give everybody the answers they need, but at least it gives them a basic idea of what is out there and what is available, so that when the time comes, they have a sense of where they can go to get the help."