Death is not the end to spiritual people. Death is a continuation. Many view death as primarily an end point and something to be avoided at all costs, but death is as part of life as birth and plays a pivotal role in our development.
Spirituality is key in death. Many may view life in a more materialistic way, but even so, spirituality without a higher end can be beneficial to the dying. Spirituality and a commitment to something higher or bigger than themselves. The traditional ideal of spirituality sees this in regards to religion, faith and a God, while others may see it as a way of life, or giving to the greater cause of humanity. Spirituality allows one to approach death with more dignity and understanding.
In David Kessler’s book, “The Needs of the Dying”. he addresses five important stages and elements of spirituality. In some cases, death or the news of death bring about this stages and to them the benefits of death open one’s soul. Spirituality is for the mind and soul, not the body itself. Death can bring about a healing of the soul for the future existence.
Kessler points out that the first step is expression. Expression is needed in regards to one’s physical ailment. One needs to let the anger or grief out. Many are angry at God for suffering and misfortune or why they have a particular disease. It is important to express the feelings of death to be able to face them and understand them. No particular feeling is wrong or right but are catalysts to understanding.
Following expression is a spirituality of responsibility. One begins to take account of one’s life and begin to understand that not everything in life was everyone else’s fault. Taking responsibility allows one to humble oneself and identify issues of life that were once so black and white and maybe see that the issues and common factors were oneself. It can present an important spiritual transformation that without death could never occur.
Naturally following responsibility stems forgiveness. One does not wish to die bitter and angry but instead looks to forgive. Death can bring broken and shattered families together in forgiveness. One is able to set everything straight and see things far more clearly than before. Petty arguments and proud stances become trivial when one is about to lose his or her life.
Acceptance of the death is also an important step in dying. One may not desire to die but it is important to accept death when no other route is left. One needs to learn from oncoming death what life truly is. This is only possible when one faces death and accepts it as part of his or her continuing journey.
In this, spiritually, one should find some sort of gratitude. Life is not defined by what was accomplished or how long one lived, but a life is defined by birth and death. No life is incomplete. Each life has a certain amount of time. Gratitude for life and what has been given is key in spirituality when dying. It cherishes what has been given instead of lamenting what was taken.
Spirituality is important in dying. It helps one to understand the comprehensive nature of death. Death is no longer an end point but part of a process and something that is as important to life as birth itself. If you would like to learn more about Pastoral Thanatology and the science of dying, then please review AIHCP’s Pastoral Thanatology Program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.
Pain is a natural nerve reaction telling the body that there is damage to tissue. It is an essential warning device. It sometimes hastens death and lets the person know the body no longer is viable and sometimes in death it can be absent. Unfortunately, individuals cannot decide if pain will be present in their final days or not but every person has a right to die with as little pain as possible. Physicians and family need to ensure their loved one’s receive the necessary pain management.
Pain management should be simple but it is not always simple. Many individuals see pain differently. Pain for the most part is dependent upon the individual. This is why it is so crucial to express for the terminally ill or dying to express their levels of pain. Doctors may prescribe pain medication levels for an average curve and supply too little for someone who may have a lower tolerance for pain. It is important for individuals to let doctors know their pain level. They need to express the type of pain, the level of it, the place of it, and its duration.
Some may seek to hide their pain, fearing if they accept certain medications, they are hastening death, but the reality is pain management is not about giving up, but instead, living in comfort with what days remain. It is crucial and a right of every patient to be pain free or at least as pain free as possible. Families who see their loved ones suffer, need to be the voice of those to weak to express their pain and ensure the proper medications and pain relievers are supplied.
Many doctors may fear the issue of addiction with greater pain relievers, but the fear of addiction is mute once a person has reached the threshold of death. Death is coming and addiction of certain medications is not an issue nor ever should be. Addiction can become a topic for discussion for pain management of the living, but never should be an issue for the dying. Comfort and pain relief is the most important concern after someone has reached a certain point.
It is the duty of pastoral care givers and healthcare providers to provide the best comfort to the dying. Physically, pain relief is one of the most important elements of pastoral care. It is important to reduce or remove pain as much as possible for the dying so they may experience a death of peace and dignity when possible.
If you would like to learn more about our Pastoral Thanatology Certification or would like to become certified in this field of care of the dying, then please review AIHCP’s program and see if it matches your academic and professional goals. The program is for healthcare professionals and those involved in ministry and focuses on preparing individuals with the training and knowledge needed to help the dying and their families deal with end of life issues. The program is online and independent study and leads to a four year certification.
Pastoral Care of the dying is beyond treating the body and providing comfort but also helping the soul prepare for death. Spirituality plays a key role in this process of death. While the subject should not be breached unless invoked by the patient, it is important for healthcare providers to have some understanding of faith and spirituality. It is important to see how faith plays a role in dying and how to react to faith based statements from patients.
The article, “Spirituality Is An Important Part of Cancer Care, But Nurses Need More Support” by Kaitlyn D’Onofrio looks at how nurses view spiritual care. Her article states from a case study of nurses that
“For nurses to provide spiritual care, institutional acknowledgement of the importance of spiritual care is needed. Nurses have highlighted the lack of adequate settings to address spirituality. Spiritual care needs to be a part of the institutional vision to enable the provision of this care to become relevant and accountable by institutions,”
Hospice has been a big part of end of life care since 1970. It is an essential comfort giving service to the dying. It allows the terminally ill to receive the pain management and comfort they need in their final days. Many unfortunately never utilize this service and instead suffer more than they need to in the final days.
Hospice has always been about improving care and comfort for the dying. In the article, “Hospice: Improving Care at the End of Life”, the author, Mary Kane, answers some basic hospice questions and why it so critical to better care at end of life. She states,
“When hospice first started to take off, there was a lot of enthusiasm and a sense you were rescuing a person from the clutches of a medical care system gone mad. That has eroded. Hospice has become both a business, in the sense people are making a lot of money on it, and it’s become routine. Now just about half of Medicare recipients use hospice before they die.”
Hospice is growing and it is being seen more important everyday, but many still need to understand its importance in their own end of life care. To learn more about thanatology and the needs of the dying, please review our Pastoral Thanatology program
Palliative care helps individuals face life threatening illnesses with compassion and care. Hospice helps those who are terminal. Both can give the comforts of home during an illness or near death. Is dying at home overrated or is it truly better?
The article, “Is Dying at Home Overrated?” by Jon Han looks at this question in detail. He states,
“It is emotionally and intellectually compelling that patients should die in their own homes, surrounded by loved ones in a comfortable, familiar environment. For patients dying of end-stage disease, be it cancer, heart disease or something else, even the best hospitals are unlikely to be able to “fix” the underlying problem.”
Dying at home has many benefits if possible. It can give the emotional and spiritual needs a person needs. Please review our Pastoral Thanatology Program and see if it meets your educational and professional needs.
As a counselor who deals with death and dying, it is important to have a strong grasp of different cultures and their views of death. Pastoral Counselors and chaplains come across many different views on death not only within main stream creeds but also other religions not as common in the United States.
The article, “Living with dying: Different cultures treat death in different ways” by Rev. Matthew von Behrens discusses how chaplains need to be aware of the differences of the people they come into contact with. He briefly describes a few different cultures on their views of death. The article states,
“Experiencing differences in how various cultures view the end of life can help us understand our own traditions better, as well as develop a greater appreciation and respect for others. Here are three traditions I have encountered in my work as a chaplain at the UVMHN’s Porter Hospital and Helen Porter Rehabilitation and Nursing and practices within them”
Pastoral Thanatology is the study of pastoral care of the dying. It is a study but also a active ministry dedicated to the dying and applying the principles of care. Pastoral Thanatology deals with not only understanding the process of death but also helping individuals and families face death.
While it is a difficult reality to accept, one must eventually accept death. Death visits many people in different forms throughout their lives. Many experience death at a young age through the loss of a pet. Others may experience death all to commonly but the the reality that death occurs will manifest in one’s life. Those who seek to deny this and live in a world where death has no power are the most profoundly wounded when death strikes.
It is important to have a healthy respect for death. One does not need to have a morbid obsession with it but a healthy respect. A respect for the reality of death means one is not fearful to discuss it. One should not fear to discuss the death of oneself in the future or the death of a loved one. Many fear these discussions of death but by postponing these discussions they only make death worst when it does arrive.
Those who fear death are not prepared for death. Their Will is not in order, nor their future wishes. This leaves families without guidance after death. Others who refuse to discuss death with dying family members miss out on close and personal good byes that may not be able be said on the eve of death. Discussion of death is critical to a prepared death. One cannot allow a morbid fear of death and dying to complicate future issues.
It is hence important to understand the reality of death. It is important to know that when death is on the horizon not to dismiss it but to prepare for it. Many look to hospice to find relief. Some see hospice as a death sentence and refuse to utilize its services. This fear of death prevents important care to minimize pain and discomfort. Hospice is about quality of life. It looks care for terminal cases with 6 months or less to live. This does not mean one surrenders to death or gives up on life but instead one realistically is trying to limit symptoms. Shortness of breath, intense pain and other symptoms can be successfully dealt with by a hospice team. (1)
One can still have a medical team dedicated to treating the disease or looking to treat the disease itself but hospice will attempt to make the time more comforting. This is far from surrender but a realistic but also optimistic approach. Why should one live in discomfort? Instead minimize the symptoms of death and terminal disease while still looking for a cure. This is the proper mindset one should have in regards to the utilization of hospice.
A more acute form of care is Palliative Care. Palliative Care does not necessarily deal with oncoming and approaching death but is a special care unit designed to treat symptoms associated with a particular type of disease. They work with the primary caregivers and other healthcare team members in helping the person deal with the ongoing illness. Many units deal with cancer and other dangerous diseases. While both Palliative Care and Hospice deal with symptoms they do differ. Hospice deals with the dying while Palliative Care deals with those who are dealing with an onset of a disease that could possibly kill. (2)
Pastoral Caregivers, ministers, family and other care givers need to understand the phases of death. They need to recognize the reality of death and discuss it with individuals who are dying or with family members who are losing individuals to death. The care and counsel of a minister or caregiver certified and trained in Pastoral Thanaotology is important. The training helps ministers and family help the dying face death from an emotional and spiritual aspect.
The training in death and dying from a theological and philosophical standpoint help the counselor or minister better able to explain death and suffering from multiple cultural, social and religious views. They become equipped to answer questions and help emotionally guide the dying through death. With the combined understanding of the physiology of death, with this philosophical and theological training, a minister or caregiver can confidently help the dying and family.
Doctors, nurses and other primary caregivers should also be trained in Pastoral Thanatology. They need to be able to help their patient beyond just the physical but also treat them in mind and body. Many healthcare professionals lack a good bedside manner. This is unfortunate. With training in Pastoral Thanatology, healthcare providers can become better equipped in the care of the dying.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross was a pioneer in the care of the dying. Her study on the stages of death provided psychological chart for ministers and care givers in understanding the mindset of the dying. While this model is still useful, one must understand that reaction to death, or grief is not always ordered but these various emotions may come in any order. The classic stages include, denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance. One can include many other emotions in the acceptance of death but these are the primary stages. (3)
Again it is imperative to emphasize that many individuals face these stages in various orders and not neatly put together steps. Some may even revert back to previous stages. So one certified in Pastoral Thanatology or ministers to the dying need to acknowledge that different patients react differently to death and need their own unique care.
Ultimately, death must be accepted. How we accept it, how we discuss it and how we deal with it throughout our life will determine our life. We need to be prepared for death and have a healthy acceptance for it.
The American Institute of Health Care Professionals and the American Academy of Grief Counseling acknowledges the need for good care to the dying and the families. AIHCP offers a certification for qualified professionals and clergy to be better equipped to help patients face death.
The program is online and independent study. Students can complete the required courses and then proceed to earn a four year certification in Pastoral Thanatology. The certification helps prepare ministers and other care givers the necessary training in Pastoral Thanatology. If you would like to learn more about care of the dying then please review our Pastoral Thanatology Program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.
One of the greatest burdens is to receive a bad medical diagnosis. Some may be terrifying and involve a chance of death while other cases are terminal pronouncements. These challenges involve first digesting the terrifying diagnosis. This alone is a challenge and can cause time to adjust to the challenge ahead. Whether its a long road to recovery or potential death, one must eventually overcome the initial shock wave of grief and denial and move forward.
The article, “The Importance of Grief and Acceptance After a Diagnosis” by Jori Hamilton states,
“Many people, after learning any type of serious diagnosis go through different stages of grief. Grief doesn’t just apply to death, it applies to other types of loss as well.”
Please also review our Grief Counseling Program as well as our Pastoral Thanatology program. Both programs can help professionals with the training they need to help others through the process of grief and death.
There is much to learn about life from the elderly. In their dying days they can also teach us how to reflect on life and live it to the fullest. In many ways we can help them and they can help teach us. In Pastoral Care, those who help the dying can help and learn.
The article, “Lessons on Living From My 106-Year-Old Aunt Doris” by Barry Eisenberg discusses how much we can learn in our care of the elderly. She states,
“I have been involved in health care for my entire professional life, as a hospital executive, consultant and professor of health care management. But the time spent with my aunt at the end of her life taught me more about living and dying than all my experience had prepared me for.”
A discussion about cancer is everyone’s greatest fear. Noone wishes to face the reality of death and its possibility. Cancer brings that. In the case of a loved one, discussing what could happen is even more painful. It is important to learn how to talk to our loved ones about cancer or the great “what if”. It is important to have that conversation without losing hope.
The article, “How to Talk to a Loved One Dying From Cancer” by John Edwards states,
On the other hand, avoiding talking about death can create unnecessary tension, irritation, and that can detach you from having some memorable moments with the people you care about. And it will only elevate the sense of loneliness, excessive fear, and sadness for both of you.