The church knows that the moment of death is always accompanied by particularly intense human sentiments: an earthy life is ending, the emotional, generational, and social ties that are part of the person’s inner self are dissolving; people who are dying and those who assist them are aware of the conflict between hope in immortality and the unknown which troubles even the most enlightened minds. The church lifts her voice so that the dying are not offended but are given every loving care and are not left alone as they prepare to cross the threshold of time to enter eternity.
– “Love and Solidarity for the Dying.” Pope John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Academy for Life, February 27, 1999.
The awareness that the dying person will soon meet God for all eternity should impel his or her relatives, loved ones, the medical, health-care and religious personnel, to help him or her in this decisive phase of life, with concern that pays attention to every aspect of existence, including the spiritual.
– “Faith responds to fears about death.” Pope John Paul II, Address to an international congress on the care of the dying, March 17, 1992.
It is both comforting and necessary to keep our Catholic Faith in mind as we contemplate and discern end-of-life decisions. These might include a Living Will and/or a Health Care Power of Attorney; these decisions may also include the planning of our funeral or the funeral of a loved one.
Advance Directives, Living Will and/or a Health Care Power of Attorney
The site, “Now and at the Hour of Our Death“, offers state-by-state guidance for what can be very complex moral choices. As the site homepage says,
“Advance care planning is a positive thing to do. The most essential thing any one person can do is to speak to your family, your loved ones, your doctors, and trusted clergy members regarding the hour of your death. Make sure they know your desire to be faithful to the teachings of the Church. As difficult as talking about death may be, we should be having these conversations while we are young and healthy in order to most effectively plan for the time when we are not.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urges Catholics to consider designating a proxy decision-maker to make health care decisions for them should they become incapacitated and unable to decide for themselves. They urge the use of advance directives to appoint a health care agent who understands and shares Catholic values, and can help to apply them to the medical situation at hand.”
The site also offers a free “Combined Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney” form which you can print and complete. This form was created and is offered by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
Helpful Information for When Your Loved One has Reached the End Stages of Life
Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs and Communications of the Dying written by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley
This book was written by two hospice nurses and it draws upon their wealth of combined experience in helping patients and families navigate what can be a precious but challenging time. It is a secular resource, yet still offers beautiful insight into ways “…we can help the dying person live fully to the very end.”
Amazon link for purchasing: https://www.amazon.com/Final-Gifts-Understanding-Special-Awareness-ebook/dp/B005UDIC3E/ref=sr_1_1?crid=OLC0194JMQ7P&dchild=1&keywords=final+gifts+by+maggie+callanan&qid=1590419670&sprefix=Final+gifts%2Caps%2C152&sr=8-1
Help in Planning Your Catholic Funeral and Burial
Immediately after the unexpected loss of a loved one, it can be difficult for families to turn their attention to the detailed planning of a funeral. It can be particularly challenging for family members who may not be fully immersed in the life and traditions of the Church.
A beautiful gift to our loved ones, is to plan some or all of the details we would prefer for our own eventual funeral. Your parish may be able to guide you in this planning, please reach out to your parish secretary, deacon, pastor, or pastoral life coordinator.
Another resource is the book, A Parish Guide for Bereavement Ministry & Funeral Planning, written by Jill Maria Murdy. This book offers step-by-step Catholic funeral planning and helpful insights into potential surrounding issues and considerations.