As death approaches, spiritual concerns often become even more important.
To take care of the whole person, all needs must be met: psychological, social, biological and spiritual. Addressing spiritual concerns at the end of life can be as vital to the patient’s well-being as medications and comfort. Not only does this provide an opportunity for the individual to grow and find peace, but these issues may influence the behavior and decisions of both the dying person and family members.
Serious illness may cause one to reflect on what it is that really matters in life and can result in changed priorities. At the end of life, when the physical body becomes more frail, the individual’s inner being can become stronger as spirituality is awakened.
Understanding spirituality and religion
Spirituality is the deep inner essence of who we are. Related to our soul, spirituality comes from the unique qualities of each individual. It is based on personal experiences and relationship with God, nature, or a Higher Power. It answers the question, “Why am I here?”
Methods to connect with spirituality may include:
- Relaxation techniques;
- Creating a legacy;
- Enhancing relationships;
- Turning to your priest, rabbi, minister, chaplain or religious representative for guidance.
Religion is a set of structured guidelines of belief that are practiced within a religious institution, such as a church or synagogue, and designed to bring people together in community worship.
Addressing spiritual issues
Because spirituality is based on an individual’s inner being, each person addresses it differently.
Yet, researchers have found some aspects of spiritual fulfillment are universal, such as:
Finding meaning in one’s life:
“Is my life worthwhile?” This is a common question asked by seriously ill people who are trying to find out whether they have made an impact on the lives of others close to them and society as a whole. Doing a life review — looking at photographs, watching movies or listening to music from particular periods — allows them to reminisce about events and relationships throughout their lives. It can let them rediscover legacies, meaning and spiritual strengths.
Dying as you wish:
Terminally ill persons can die meaningfully in a way that is consistent with their own identity. Because death is a personal experience, each person will define his or her own appropriate death differently. As part of this process, a terminally ill person may seek to feel connected to others. This may lead to maintaining and deepening existing relationships, putting affairs in order and taking care of unfinished business.
Having hope beyond the grave:
Another spiritual need is transcendence, or a person’s awareness and acknowledgement of issues that transcend, or go beyond, earthly concerns. Each person may want assurance that, in some way, life will continue after death occurs. Some people may turn to God for guidance and comfort, while others may focus on the legacy they leave behind.
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Forrest Church, who was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2006, discusses how to reach acceptance of a terminal illness diagnosis.