While this is not a popular subject, it may be an appropriate one for the season of sobriety. Not long ago, I made a will, an advance directive, a medical power of attorney, and a financial power of attorney. Since I have no family, I asked a deacon and trusted friend to be in charge of my life and death—literally. The advance directive itself was a multi-page form provided by the local hospital in which the “patient” is asked personal preferences in the event he or she is unable to make cognitive decisions at a time of emergency. (Very popular among attorneys nowadays is the packet of forms called “Five Wishes”, intended to be completed in collaboration with family members. It’s a very involved group of forms, most of which don’t actually apply to most people.)
Recently I received a small book, some 80 pages, from TAN: We Are the Lord’s: A Catholic Guide to Difficult End-of-Life Questions, by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD. Brief but comprehensive explanations answer those “difficult questions” referred to in the title. Those who will be terminal patients as well as those who will be entrusted with the difficult responsibility of making decisions regarding their care and treatment should read this book. An example: most of us think we know the difference between “ordinary” and “extraordinary” means of life support, but the distinction is not as simple as we think.
Priests should read it—funeral Masses have a purpose and meaning different from popular belief and different from many funeral Masses I’ve attended. For example, there should be no eulogies at a funeral; they are only for vigils. Most important, the funeral is not “for the living” as we’re often told; they are exclusively for the deceased Catholic. And they are definitely not “celebrations of life,” a term which has always reminded me of “the circle of life” from the film The Lion King. The purpose of a funeral Mass is quite other. Father Kirby also provides an unsentimental explanation of the purpose of suffering, not as a kind of unwelcome “consolation” but as the important part of our faith that it is. If we have chosen to live as a Catholic, we would likely choose to die as a Catholic. The book tells us how.
Brief, concise, and important, this book should have a place on every Catholic’s bookshelf.