Spiritual Care at the End of Life
To understand spiritual care for hospice patients, one needs to know the subtle differences between spirituality, faith and religion.
When faced with advanced illness or a terminal diagnosis, people tend to rely heavily on their religious beliefs and faith as a coping mechanism. At the same time, questioning faith can also be a focus as many grapple with the meaning of life at the end. Whether a patient follows a religion, spiritual care is of vital importance and integral to the hospice care plan.
Spiritual Care in Hospice
To understand the importance of spiritual care for hospice patients, one needs to understand the subtle differences between spirituality, faith and religion. According to the Oxford Dictionary, spirituality is a broad term defined as the “quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” On the other hand, faith and religion are used to describe a person’s individual beliefs and practices, which can be part and parcel of spirituality.
More so now than ever before, we live in a society that is diverse. New York City is not the only “melting pot” of different cultures and religions. Throughout Florida, communities are a mix of people with different rituals and traditions. For instance, they can be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu, or not practice a religion and be agnostic or atheist.
No matter what a patient’s religious beliefs might be, the staff at any of the Chapters Health affiliates — Chapters Health Hospice, Good Shepherd Hospice, Hospice of Okeechobee, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice — is respectful. The spiritual care staff members develop a unique rapport with patients and their loved ones and get to know their beliefs. By creating this bond of understanding, they can provide spiritual support—with words, prayers and music at crucial moments at the end of life.
End-of-Life Rituals and Traditions
As the end of life approaches, people gravitate to specific religious rituals and traditions. They can be divided into two categories: before and after.
Before death, many religions have rituals that prepare one for death. They can take the form of reading, praying, chanting, lighting candles, burning incense, meditating or playing music. Families and friends often visit and gather around the bed to pray and be with their loved one at the time of death.
After death, religions differ in the preparation of the body, including how it is done and by whom. Additionally, different religions vary when it comes to funerals, burial and cremation. It is also important to understand mourning practices among various religions.
Around the world, almost every culture and religion has mourning traditions. These practices are not a new phenomenon as archeologists have uncovered items like tools and jewelry buried with the deceased. Think and picture King Tut for example.
In today’s society, we have evolved into more refined mourning practices, which boil down to the same premise: It is our way of dealing with the death of a loved one.
The following are some examples of mourning traditions:
Catholicism: Traditionally, mourners wear black and many hold wakes, which take place between death and burial. Often, especially true in Ireland, the wake is held in the family’s home and is more accurately a celebration of the person’s life. The wake occurs typically along with the viewing of the body.
Judaism: People of the Jewish faith traditionally bury the body within 24 hours following death. The body is ritually washed and never left alone before burial. After the actual funeral, immediate family adheres to a strict mourning period of seven days, known as shiva.
Islam: Muslims also follow a specific period of mourning, which for family and friends spans three days. For widows, the iddah, or mourning, is longer and lasts four lunar months and 10 days. During this time, she is also not allowed to remarry.
6 Tips for Spiritual Self-Care
Psychiatrist and neurologist Victor Frankl shared his observations as a concentration camp survivor in his “Man’s Search for Meaning.” He discovered that the inmates who survived were not necessarily the strongest but those who realized that, despite the suffering, life can be given meaning. According to Frankl, people can find meaning by giving something back to the world through creativity, interacting with their environment and others, and changing their attitude when faced with a situation that cannot be changed.
It doesn’t matter what your age or circumstance, everyone can create meaning in their lives. You just need time for yourself. Practicing self-care and making time to recharge your batteries can lift your spirits. Here are six simple tips to help you dispel negative energy and replace it with the positive, and thus allowing you to make the most of life.
- Read a book. Whether it is a book that you enjoyed in the past or one that someone you trust recommended, take the time to read. And even better, read one that will be meaningful and resonate with you on a spiritual plane.
- Tap into your creative side. Whether you enjoy writing, painting or playing an instrument, try capturing your thoughts and feelings on paper or canvas or through music.
- Listen to music. Music touches everyone in personal and unique ways. It helps people recall a time in their lives when their hearts were filled with joy and fond memories. Additionally, a study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine found that the multidimensional nature of music resonates with the needs of patients at the end of life.
- Take time to watch a sunset, the stars at night or the sun rise. Observing the passage of time as it relates to nature can touch your soul to the core. And if you are able, walk in nature so that you can smell freshly cut grass, watch bees drink nectar from a flower or simply make a wish and blow on a dandelion.
- Play your favorite childhood game. As a child, did you love playing Monopoly for hours? Or building wobbling Jenga® towers? Maybe throwing a little rubber ball down to pick up jacks was your favorite past-time? Try playing a game you loved as a child with sheer abandon and without judgment.
- Connect with your soul through meditation. When someone feels stressed, it can adversely affect them physically and emotionally. For those who practice meditation, the mind is not as agitated, and thus you can become more focused and your concentration can improve. Meditative practice increases self-awareness and makes people more comfortable in their own skin.
When you take more time for yourself, your inner spirit will thank you.
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