The importance of spiritual support during hospice care

Posted December 7, 2018 3:53 p.m. EST
Updated December 7, 2018 3:55 p.m. EST

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This story was written for our sponsor, Transitions LifeCare.

Nearing the end of life can be a scary time with many unknowns. It is a time for terminally ill patients to find his or her own way to die consistent with the way they have lived.

While the process may be challenging at times, know that the patient and even loved ones can find peace through spiritual care during their time in hospice, even if a person typically isn't focused on spiritual matters.

"Hospice care is designed to meet not only physical needs, but also emotional and spiritual needs of the patient and family," said Barbara Murphy, spiritual care team leader at Transitions LifeCare. "Counseling from social workers and spiritual care from chaplains can help to provide the patient and their family with a level of comfort and peace while nearing the end of life.

"Spiritual care isn't about any particular religion or denomination – it's helping people connect with their faith according to their individual preferences, beliefs and traditions, regardless of what faith they practice."

While there are basic human needs that exist while we live – comfort, connection and care – there are three distinct spiritual needs that arise as individuals become aware of their end of life, according to Dr. Kenneth J. Doka, a consultant with the Hospice Foundation of America.

The first spiritual need focuses on affirmation and if the individual’s life has had meaning and value.

Many want to leave the earth knowing they lived a good life and ultimately have a good story to be told about themselves. To help with this, loved ones of a terminally ill patient are encouraged to share old photographs and stories about the person's life. Letting the patient know the ways he or she influenced or affected your life is one of the greatest gifts that can be shared during this time.

Focusing on the importance of ensuring the patient dies an appropriate death is the second spiritual need. This need focuses on the desire to die in a way that is consistent with the individual's values, wishes or earlier life.

The hospice philosophy embraces patients taking charge of how they wish to spend the rest of their life to ensure they have a meaningful, dignified and peaceful end-of-life experience.

The final spiritual need is to find hope beyond the grave, such as finding comfort in faith, religion and spirituality.

Many people find solace in their faith. Others may struggle with their faith or spiritual beliefs, but praying, talking with someone from one's religious community, reading religious texts or listening to religious music may help to bring comfort for the patient as well as loved ones.

"Each patient and their loved ones react differently to end of life," Murphy said. "While some may have strong spiritual beliefs and others do not, hospice is here to provide a variety of options that best fits each individual. Not only do we offer spiritual and emotional support during end-of-life care, but also after for the family."

During these difficult times, it is important to remember the lesson that Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement, taught us: Dying is more than a physical event. Rather, the experience reaches us on all levels – psychological, social and spiritual. We cannot neglect the spiritual needs any more than we can neglect the physical needs. Care for the dying is inherently holistic.

This story was written for our sponsor, Transitions LifeCare.