Story by Carly York | Correspondent
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
This beloved prayer was the poignant opening of a Hospice Seminar in Nativity Church, Fair Haven, that presented the Church’s teachings on end-of-life care to more than 40 parishioners, community members and hospice professionals.
“God created human life for eternal life,” said Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish, Freehold, one of the event’s co-presenters. “Life does not end, it changes.
Discussing two major concerns he often hears from Catholics who are considering hospice for themselves or loved ones, Msgr. Sirianni said people often do not want to take “extraordinary means” when caring for the sick but also do not want to “commit a sin” in not working to preserve life.
He explained that the Church teaches that one must give “ordinary and proportionate care” to the sick and dying. However, recognizing that the emotional impact of making these decisions can sometimes cloud a person’s judgement, he recommended everyone to create an advanced directive – directions that specify what health care actions should be taken if a person becomes gravely ill and cannot make decisions. This should be done before such an illness occurs, he stressed.
During the Nov. 11 seminar, fellow co-presenter Father James Grogan, administrator of Nativity Parish, said hospice is a form of pastoral care for the sick. Both he and Msgr. Sirianni agreed that it is the only type of spiritual care that is government supported through Medicare.
Both explained that hospice is often recommended when doctors have determined that nothing more can be medically done to preserve a person’s life, typically when a patient has six months or less to live.
Msgr. Sirianni added that one goal of hospice is to help comfort and soothe a patient’s physical pain. However, another is to comfort one’s spiritual pain.
“We look to the suffering Christ during this time,” he said. “Our suffering is with him, and he strengthens us.”
Father Grogan and Msgr. Sirianni both have experience with the subject. They have given a similar hospice seminar on the diocesan cable TV program “Catholic Corner,” as well as in other parishes in the Diocese. In addition, Father Grogan, who often teaches about this special end-of-life care, created a hospice prayer booklet years ago. The booklet integrates prayers for hospice that lay people can pray, along with prayers of the Anointing of the Sick, renewal of Baptism and Viaticum, which is prayed with a priest.
Catherine Stewart, a licensed nurse working as a full-time, on-call night hospice caregiver, said she found the end-of-life seminar information extremely helpful.
“I wish it could be universally explained to help people peacefully transition from active medical care to hospice care,” she said.
Stewart, who sees her work as an extension of her Catholic faith, said she agreed with many of Father Grogan’s comments, one of which was that hospice creates a sense of community.
“I see hospice to be a gift to the family,” Stewart said. “It gives them time to tell their loved one how much they are loved, and how much they appreciate all that [the dying person] contributed to their life.”
Ann Friel, a Nativity parishioner who attended the event as a way to help grow in her ministry with the parish’s Lazarus committee, agreed. She experienced a hospice community when she cared for her own mother and uncle during their final days.
“Health care in America is excellent, and it is good to know that the medical community recognizes the spiritual side of it, which is found in hospice,” she said.