DEATH AND DYING
The "last rites" is a term that used to be used for the annointing of the sick when it tended to be used only as someone was dying. Now that sacrament has been restored to its proper place as a sacrament of healing. The sacraments for the dying consist of the sacrament of reconciliation, the annointing of the sick and the receiving of Communion as viaticum - food for the final journey - and the commendation of the dying. When possible, a priest should be summoned in good time while the person is still mentally alert and able to receive all three of these sacraments. If the person lives for a little longer it is possible to bring viaticum again as often as necessary. When someone is already unconscious and not able to respond these rites are reduced to the annointing and the commendation of the dying.
The sacraments are for the living and not those already dead. If a priest was not able to come in time for the sacraments, he should still be summoned and he will say the special Prayers for the Dead with the family.
CARE OF THE DYING
Dying is a very sacred and holy time, both for the person who is dying and for family members. God is fulfilling part of what he promised us in Baptism. Like all special times of change in our lives they are marked by special prayers and sacraments. It is at these times that we need the support of family and friends and the whole Church. It is a time for saying farewells, it is a time for saying "thank you"; it is a time for asking forgiveness for anything we have done to offend one another. (We should all make our Wills when we are young, fit and healthy). Often many hours or even days are spent waiting while a person slowly declines. We should use much of this time praying with the dying person. Say the Rosary, read the Psalms and the Gospels. The hearing is the last sense to leave a person so even if there is no response, the dying person may still be able to hear us.
A Christian death is a very blest time when Our Lord is specially close and it can bring a great blessing and healing on a family. A person only dies once so we shouldn't waste this precious time.
The heart of the Catholic funeral is the offering of the Mass for the departed person. This is essential, however good or bad a catholic a person may have been. It always takes place in the Church and not in a crematorium or cemetery chapel, though the body may be cremated or buried afterwards. Funeral Masses can take place at either St. Wulstan's or Holy Family at a time convenient to all. The Undertaker will make the necessary arrangements with the priest. The priest will then want to see the family in order to plan the funeral liturgy with them e.g. choosing of the readings and the hymns which "should express the paschal mystery of the Lord's suffering, death, and triumph over death and should be related to the readings from scripture". It is usual to bring the body into church the night before so that it can lie before the altar overnight.
When we lose someone we love there is a process of bereavement. First we are in shock and cannot believe that it has happened. Next we feel angry. Why has this happened? Who is to blame? Our anger can be directed in any direction - against the doctor, the hospital, God, the Church, the government, the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident. Then we turn the anger in on ourselves. Perhaps if I had done something different, been more aware of the symptoms at an earlier stage, then it wouldn't have happened. Much of this blaming of ourselves is quite unreasonable. However there may be something for which we really do need to say we are sorry and to come to the sacrament of reconciliation. Then there may be the difficulty of adapting to a new role as a widow or widower and doing jobs which your spouse always used to do. Finally there is the stage of acceptance and coming through to a deeper faith in the resurrection and a closeness with our loved ones in Christ.
This process is quite lengthy (does it ever completely finish until we are all united with Christ in the glory of heaven?). It is more difficult when the departed person was young, the death was sudden and the farewells couldn't be said or where there were bad relationships. Sometimes people won't face up to the fact that someone they love is dying and they play act pretending it isn't happening, planning what they will do next year when he is better. The farewells are not then said and the bereavement is more difficult. It is possible to stop the process of bereavement for instance by immersing yourself in your work or looking after the children. This is very dangerous and bereavement counselling should be sought.
When a person is bereaved, it is very difficult to make decisions, even minor ones and they may need to rely heavily on others to make decisions for them. It is a golden rule never to make a major decision which is going to permanently effect your life within the first year of a major bereavement.
The Church's rites for the care of the dying and the funeral rites help to make the mourning much easier. It is also very helpful to have Masses said for the departed person after a month or 40 days and on the anniversary or any other appropriate time.