Spiritual Care Approaches in Death and Dying
Written by Lydia D’Ross, Ordained Minister and Outreach Chaplain for RENEWAL at Brookhaven Hospital
Recently, I took a course in Spiritual Care delivery services in death and dying through the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Chaplaincy program. I took this course for personal growth as I’ve had too many loved ones die of terminal illness. I felt as though I was not equipped enough in my understanding of the dying process.
We tend to call the priest or chaplain when someone is near death, but in reality, I found that spiritual care can begin the moment someone finds out about their terminal illness. Many need to make peace with certain issues in their lives or evaluate the meaning of life overall. Spiritual caregivers are not just there for the individual, but can also provide spiritual care for the whole family. Spiritual care is important for the loved ones of the patient as well, because the dying process can be stressful for all involved. Caregivers, in particular, can “burn out” and need support.
Kenneth J. Doka, M.Div., Ph.D.Senior Consultant, Hospice Foundation of America said there “are certain basic human needs that exist as long as we live — comfort, connection, and care, …the sense that their life is now severely limited.” [Huffington Post Religion, 3/6/11] People become more religious when they know their end of life has come.
Death is more than just a physical process. Many people who care for those who are dying report the observation of something other than the physical shutting down of the body’s systems as someone approaches death.
In contrast, some people seem to make a deliberate choice to die alone. They appear to wait until everyone has left the room before they die.
These experiences can be profoundly healing, and often enable the person to let go and die at peace. But are we prepared to die? Some Christians believe they do this because they have Christ in the center of their heart. Some die with peace while others seem to struggle. If you were to die today, have you made peace with yourself and with your loved ones?