The woman before us was frail, lying peacefully, unalert—a shadow of the fierce, intelligent, vivacious woman she had been. Her 95 years on this earth had been lived to the fullest. The years had not been without their trials and sufferings, but they had always been lived for God. With God as her lifesource, Joan radiated light, joy, and love to all whom she encountered. The time had come for God to let his good and faithful servant go in peace.
On September 13, 2020, my family gathered around my Grandma Joan’s bedside, along with our pastor, Fr. Marc. We stood together to surround her in prayer, to bless her one last time, to witness the reception of her final sacrament—the Anointing of the Sick—so that we might commend her to “the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise [her] up and save [her]” (CCC, §1499). The sacrament ministered to her was also, in a sense, ministered to us, for in this communal celebration, we too were given comfort and filled with hope.
For many, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick (once called ‘Extreme Unction’ and often thought of as ‘Last Rites’) is the least utilized and least understood of the seven sacraments. It is first and foremost a sacrament of healing, and therefore, can be received multiple times and at various stages in a person’s life. It is not only for those who are in danger of imminent death, but also for those whose sickness might lead to death, are of old age, or are about to undergo a serious operation (CCC, §1513–1515).