Section Five - Emotional/Spiritual/Religious Care
1. Who can I talk to about emotional, spiritual or other concerns?
The most important thing is that you do talk. Serious or terminal illness can be a very isolating and alienating experience. The temptation may be to turn in on yourself, limiting those important human and social contacts that will actually be a source of strength. This is a time to reach out to family and friends, colleagues and neighbours and fellow parishioners. In some cases, the help of physicians or trained counsellors may be called for. But often, what is needed most is a friendly and listening ear. For spiritual support, contact your pastor or lay parish minister at your parish. They may be able to put you in touch with other supportive people and groups in your faith community; a parish nurse, Ministers of Communion to the sick or home visitors.
2. What Sacraments could assist me on this journey?
The Holy Eucharist draws us into union with Jesus through the reception of his body and blood. As food for our souls, it is a means of grace and strength to those suffering the pain and isolation of serious illness. Moreover, the Eucharist draws us into closer communion with the members of Christ’s body, the Church. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) is also an important means of grace, bestowing pardon and peace and giving us the firm assurance that our sins have been forgiven. From the earliest days, the Church has celebrated the Anointing of the Sick for those suffering from illness and serious injury, commending the sick person to the Lord Jesus that he may save them and raise them up. This sacrament bestows the grace of the Holy Spirit upon a person, helping them to trust in God, to be strong in the face of temptation and resistant to fear and anxiety.
3. Is there a difference between Last Rites and Anointing of the Sick?
Yes, but the terms were often used synonymously in the past. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council went to great lengths to distinguish between the rite of the Anointing of the Sick and the rites to be used when death is imminent. Generally, it is foreseen that the Anointing of the Sick would take place whenever a person begins to be seriously ill. In that manner, the sick person can be strengthened by God’s grace to confront the challenges of illness. Of course, a dying person should be anointed if he or she has not previously received the sacrament. But the rites referred to as “Last Rites,” more closely associated with death, are the celebration of Viaticum, the Commendation of the Dying and Prayers for the Dead. “Viaticum” signifies a dying person’s final reception of the Eucharist, although this might be repeated if a person lingers near death.
4. How do I find peace?
Inner peace can be elusive at the best of times, and all the more so when facing the anxiety of a serious illness. But peace is more of a by-product than a product! It is the fruit of a right relationship with God and with others. Serious illness may beckon us toward a deeper spiritual life, through more intense prayer, the sacraments or conversations with a pastor or a wise friend of firm faith. It is also a time to seek healing in our relationships, to set aside old hurts and to strive for reconciliation where this is possible. Since people are often troubled about how their loved ones will fare without them, it is important to do everything possible to set our financial and legal affairs in good order.
5. Are there home visits from the parish I attend?
Different parishes often have quite different populations and so pastoral services may vary from place to place. This will be a good time to investigate what a parish offers either by website, phone or personal meeting. Your parish may indeed have a very organized Ministry to the Sick, with a variety of volunteers. Even where parishes lack a formal structure for such activity, you will almost certainly find that the pastor, lay parish minister or deacon is eager to visit you at home and offer spiritual support.
6. Many feelings/thoughts are occurring for me at this time. Are these feelings considered normal? How can I cope with these feelings?
Know that you are not alone, and your feelings of anxiety, fear, disbelief, anger at God, are almost certainly shared by others who are making this same journey. Whether you are sick yourself or in the role of caregiver, this is the time to reach out to others for help. Formal support groups can be a great source of consolation and strength: your pastor or healthcare provider can help to point you in the right direction. At the same time, do not neglect the informal support group that you already have, in your network of family members, friends, work colleagues and fellow parishioners. Find someone with whom you can share your feelings in a safe and confidential setting.
7. Who can I reach out to in order to find support for family healing?
No family is perfect and some, unfortunately, have experienced deep rifts and long-term estrangements. Serious illness may present an opportunity to bridge differences and reconcile. Depending on the nature of the problems, professional counselling and/or mediation may be called for. Sometimes, however, a family member, trusted friend or pastoral care person may be able to act in the role of go-between. Don’t rule out that others might be waiting for you to take the first step, unsure themselves of how to begin. Even where family members may be unwilling to reconcile, this is a time for you to make a gracious act of the will and forgive others from your heart.