A Catholic home for the dying held a benefit dinner in early April, drawing its largest crowd of supporters ever. Martha & Mary Ministries, with a house in Southeast Portland, has now abided for almost two and a half years.
"Those brought low in mind and body need not lose their dignity," said Baker Bishop Liam Cary, keynote speaker. "When it comes time for us to die, much, perhaps everything, depends on the company we keep."
No one wants to be lonely at life's end, Bishop Cary said, adding that no one need be, because of places like Martha & Mary Home.
Dorothy Schechtel, 94, died there at the end of January. The spiritual life, plus the camaraderie over bingo, made her final months meaningful, says her daughter, Linda Blevins. Blevins recalls the dignity with which her mother's body was treated after death — she was brought to the funeral home vehicle after a simple ceremony and quiet candlelight procession.
"There is a special energy to the place," says staff member Helena Tesselaar. "Underneath it all, despite the upheaval people are feeling, there is a sense of peace there — joy, community and connection."
The plan for a home began in the 1990s as a pastoral response to Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law. Church leaders wanted to show another way to handle aging, illness and death. Founder and executive director is Pat Cary, a nurse and the sister of Bishop Cary.
"We were overwhelmed by the home. We wanted to move in ourselves," says Claudia Lashley, whose brother died at Martha & Mary Home in 2012. The place gave her brother, who had long struggled with mental illness, a place to feel accepted and loved, she said.
Martha & Mary Ministries has begun an education program, sending speakers to parishes, schools or other organizations to discuss the end of life.
"Dying well in addition to living well is important to me and my colleagues," Dr. Fred Auerbach said during the reception before the dinner. Dr. Auerbach, a member of St. Ignatius Parish and an emergency room physician, has observed over the years that doctors have become more comfortable with palliative care.
"Martha and Mary Home and Pat Cary have taken it to another level," he says.