Spirituality at the end of life
The period of time before a person’s death can be one for growth and healing if supportive care is available to address the inevitable feelings of confusion, anger, sadness and fear. By addressing a dying person’s spiritual needs, the friends and family members can facilitate feelings of emotional healing and peace.
Spirituality is sometimes equated with religion. They are not, however, the same. Spirituality is the compiled wisdom gained over a lifetime concerning existence and one’s relationship with others and nature. Spirituality deals with the important events or experiences that bring a deep sense of belonging, trust and connectedness to a person’s life.
Religion is one direct expression of spirituality. It is a specific organized belief system that has standards and beliefs that accompany a religious practice. Most often, religion is experienced through participation with others in set rituals. It is not uncommon for the dying to find comfort in the religion of their childhood even if they have not been religious or practicing a religion in the recent past. Therefore, friends and family members should support the dying person’s desire to see a chaplain, religious leader, or pastoral counselor to discuss spiritual issues, provide guidance and offer comfort at the end of life.
Friends and family members may also be called upon to address the spiritual needs of a dying person. Questions regarding the meaning and purpose to life, presence of hope, peace, values and belief may become very important at this time, as the person seeks to understand what is happening and to gain support during the dying process. At the end of life, the expression of spirituality through organized religion may take on a greater meaning. Prayer, ritual, life review or conversations with others can heal relationships and comfort the dying person, as well as bring a sense of value and purpose to life.