Dying, death and bereavement


Bereavement is something that every one of us has to cope with at some time or other. Simply, death and loss is part of being human. And yet when it touches us closely, it can seem as if nobody else has ever gone through what we are enduring. For some, faith can seem to waver; ‘why has God done this to me, or to the one I loved?’

God has never promised to extend our life in this world, or to spare us pain; his promise is eternal life after death to those who are faithful; we sometimes need to reflect on this, and meditate on how this should affect our lives here and now.

Life and Eternity

Spe Salvi

Encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XVI about hope. He writes warmly about eternal life and the hope that this holds out to us in this world.

Support in Bereavement

Our parish has a bereavement support group, who, besides having experienced close bereavement themselves, have undergone a course of training to help them relate sensitively to others experiencing the pain of bereavement. There are members at both Christ the King and St Peter’s. Each member has received CRB clearance which enables them to visit you at home if that is felt to be best. Members will offer time and attention to a bereaved person, listening with an open mind whether your loved one has died just recently or maybe some time ago. If you would like assistance please call St Peter's office (01273 452654) or email here. When you ring you will be asked for a few details so that arrangements can be made to see you at an appropriate time by one of the Bereavement Support Group members. All communications and visits will be dealt with in the strictest confidence.

Sacramental Care

for those in danger of death

Our Lord has given us the sacraments to help us in our journey through life, and especially for those key moments when we really need divine assistance.

The first is the sacrament for serious illness. We call it Anointing of the Sick, or the Sacrament of the Sick. In the past, this was often known as Extreme Unction. This sacrament may, indeed, should, be requested by anybody whose illness is serious. Any Catholic priest (but not a deacon) is able to administer this sacrament. I myself have anointed many people over my years as a priest, and several times have seen people drawn back from the brink of death directly after anointing. The more usual perceptible effect of the sacrament, though, is peace of mind. The sick person is anointed on the forehead and the palms of the hands; the sacrament forgives their sins, brings spiritual comfort, and may sometimes bring bodily healing.

If the sick person is able, it is important that they try to make a good Confession while they can. Suffering and illness are the result of sin—not particularly of the person who is suffering, otherwise our Lord and our Lady would never have suffered, but of humanity’s sin in general. So doing one’s best to put things right with God, seeking forgiveness of one’s own sins, is a very important, and in some cases essential, part of the tranquil leaving of this world.

When death draws near, there can be so much going on, both practically and emotionally, that it can be very hard to know what to do for the best. Naturally, friends and family want to spare the dying person any worry, inconvenience or fear, but the greatest charity they can do to their loved ones at such a time is that they leave this life at peace with God and with their loved ones.

So please contact a priest as soon as possible so that he can visit to administer the sacraments, unless a priest has done so recently. It is very important not to wait until the person has died, because the priest cannot give sacraments except to the living.

It is also important to make sure that this is done; hospital staff, however well-meaning and kind, cannot be relied upon for this. Recently some of them have been disciplined for even mentioning religion to patients, and you can expect them to be nervous around the subject. This can be the case even when it has been agreed that a priest should be called. You need to make sure.

These days, it is very rare that a person dies conscious, and still rarer that he or she is able to receive Communion. The priest will presume that this last will not be possible unless you tell him to the contrary. If the dying person is able to receive Communion, even only the tiniest particle, it is important that they do so. The priest will bring the Blessed Sacrament if asked, and will administer Communion in the special way known as ‘Viaticum’, with special prayers for the dying.

In any event, assuming the person to be alive, the priest will give absolution, anoint again, unless this has been done very recently, and administer the Apostolic Pardon, a special plenary Indulgence granted by the Pope to the dying.

Unless the dying person is willing and able to make a Confession, it is very much best that you stay with them and the priest for these sacraments. You should only leave the priest and sick person alone for the confession itself.

The priest will say some prayers for the dying with you, and then will probably quietly slip off, leaving the family together at this emotional time.

He is always willing, though, to do anything else he can to help.

Read more here:

An article from the Catholic Medical Association about the legal rights of a dying person to receive spiritual comfort.

The Liverpool Care Pathway

When someone is dying, there will usually be a conference with doctors and family to discuss what to do for the best. This is the time to mention the importance of the sick person’s receiving the sacraments before he or she dies. There may well be mention of something called the Liverpool Care Pathway. This is intended as a way to smooth the path of death for the person, and to make it as gentle an experience as possible for all concerned.

Usually this will take the form of a substantial dose of morphine to induce unconsciousness, sometimes accompanied by withdrawal of fluids. The motivation is good; when death is inevitable and imminent it seems kind to soften and even hasten the process.

The difficulty is that the decision is based on prognosis, which means estimating how long the person has to live. This is a tricky thing to get right, and any doctor will tell you that it is largely guesswork, even if educated guesswork. Once a doctor says that the patient has about 72 hours to live, then the Liverpool Pathway may be initiated.

However, without the medication, the dying person may very well live quite a lot longer, and be able to experience a good and healing time with family and friends. That person has the chance to make peace with God and with their neighbour.

This is not saying that morphine, even a lot of morphine should be denied if it is needed, even should this bring about unconsciousness or hasten death. It is simply that it should not be given if the person does not actually need it, because it may deprive the person of his or her chance to give and receive love at the time of their life when it is most needed.

As for the withdrawal of food or fluids, the Church teaches that we need not use extraordinary means to keep a person alive. We should ask ourselves, however, whether food and drink could ever be considered ‘extraordinary’. It would seem better not to withdraw these things: the inability of a person to feed him or herself is not the issue; a baby cannot do so, after all.

Read more here:

Catholic Medical Quarterly

A Telegraph Article (Dec.2011)

Love and care before death

Love and care once death has taken place


The first thing to do is to take some days off work! There is a lot to do. Rather than go through the list of the jobs myself, there is a useful governmental document which should be very helpful.

You can find it at this link.

Funeral Arrangements

The first port of call is not the priest, but the undertaker, and it is a good idea to go and see them as soon as possible. There are three funeral directors in our parish:

Tribes (Shoreham)

40 Brunswick Road, BN43 5WB.

01273 452169

Chalcraft (Steyning)

Chequers Yard (behind the pub) BN44 3RE

01903 812656

Caring Lady (Shoreham).

65 High Street, BN43 5DB

01273 464647

You will find all of them helpful and supportive.

The reason why it is important to go to and see the undertaker first is because one of their jobs is to get everybody’s diaries together; it is no use making a date with the priest for a funeral if the cemetery or crematorium is busy.

Death has become the greatest taboo in our society, something not to be spoken of, often viewed as the greatest disaster that can befall us—and when the death is tragic, this view becomes more understandable.

However, to a Christian, death is the gateway to eternal life; the culmination of a life lived seeking God. And so making what is sometimes called a ‘good death’ is an important task for the Christian. The person needs to be gently helped to make peace with God and with all those around; to die with dignity, which does not mean in ignorance of the process, but giving them the opportunity to try to put right anything that needs to be put right, to say the important things about love to those they care for. In this way, a death can, though of course still sad, also be something joyful and healing. When we leave this world, we all want to leave behind us a blessing. Even those who have not made a success of their lives can still make a success of their death.

I am the resurrection and the life! If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

John 11:25-26

Is anyone sick among you? Let him send for the priests of the Church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, they will be forgiven.

Letter of James 5:14-15


It seems that every few weeks now we have been reading in the news about this or that person suffering greatly and wanting simply to end it all.

This is not the place to go into the whys and wherefores of the argument; you can find plenty on the internet. What needs to be said here is the importance of understanding what we mean by Euthanasia.

Direct euthanasia is always wrong. That is taking a deliberate and actual step in order to end someone’s life, whether it is by putting a gun to their head, or by chemical means.

If however, a person is dying, and/or in intolerable pain, and means are taken to relieve that pain, it is often the case that these means (such as large doses of morphine) can shorten a person’s life. This is not direct euthanasia; the intent is not to kill, but to ease pain. This is okay, and we shouldn’t worry about it.

We need to take all reasonable measures to preserve our lives, but are not required to use extraordinary means. What is reasonable and what is extraordinary is not always easy to tell; one simply has to follow one’s common sense.

Further reading:

Frank Pavone

Vatican declaration on Euthanasia 1980

Fr William Saunders

The Funeral Liturgy

Once the date has been agreed, then it is time to talk to the priest or deacon who will conduct the ceremony about the details.

A Catholic funeral has as its focus faith, life after death and the resurrection. And, importantly, we pray for the forgiveness of the deceased person’s sins, so that he or she may enter heaven. It is not primarily an occasion to ‘celebrate somebody’s life’, though there is always that element to it.

It is a religious service, which is why readings must be taken from the Bible, and the music must be sacred; the priest or deacon will help you choose.

During the service, you will have an opportunity to speak about the deceased person, to read something other than scripture if you would like. The priest is not allowed to speak directly about the deceased person in the homily (sermon), but he is usually willing to read something you have written later, if you would prefer not to speak yourselves. It is always best, however, for someone who knew the deceased to do this.

The ‘normal’ funeral service is a Requiem Mass in Church, followed by committal at a cemetery or crematorium. The Mass will take about fifty minutes, if there is music, and about forty if there is not. The committal is very brief; about five minutes.

Should there be a lot of people who would find the Requiem Mass difficult because of length or strangeness, there is an option to have a service in church without at Mass, or even to have a longer committal (about 25 minutes) at the crematorium or graveside. A Mass will be offered for the deceased person at another time.

Prayer for the Dying

May Christ Who was crucified for your sake free you from pain.

May Christ Who died for you free you from the death that never ends.

May Christ the Son of the living God, set you in the ever green loveliness of His Paradise,

and may He, the true Shepherd recognize you as one of His own.

May you see your Redeemer face to face

and standing in His presence forever, may you see with joyful eyes Truth revealed in all its fullness.


What happens when we die?

Naturally, we all want to go to heaven. But the decision about that is God’s, not ours, and not our friends’. None of us deserve heaven, but Christ has made it possible for us if we truly want it, and have shown by our turning away from sin ias much as we can, and by our good works in this life that we have that faith in him which will save us.

Few of us leave life fully purified from sin, though, and for that there is a process of being made increasingly ready for God’s presence—a bit like getting fit in a gym, one might say, painful, but so very much worth it when we see the progress. Purgatory is, then, a positive thing, not a negative one.

As for what heaven is like; well, we will have the Blessed Trinity and all those we love for company, and who can want better than that?

Golden rule: Don’t make any major decisions about selling property or destroying letters, mementoes &c for at least two years after a close bereavement.


Counselling Directory — a site which will help to find the right counsellor for you.

Cruse Bereavement Care—their main site

Cruse Brighton

Royal College of Psychiatrists on bereavement

Child Death Support Helpline

National Association of Widows

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide

BBC links about bereavement — a rich list of contacts

Widowed Young Support—for those experiencing untimely widowhood