Spiritual concerns

Saturday 1 February, 2014

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As you approach the end of life, you may consider your spirituality. This page covers what that means to different people.

  • Spirituality means different things to different people. To some it may mean being part of organised religious beliefs, to others spirituality is expressed as a personal philosophy.
  • For many people, spirituality is important at the end of life, and provides comfort. It can be expressed through prayer or meditation.
  • It is also natural for people to question their beliefs.
  • If you have specific cultural or spiritual practices that you would like to follow near the end of life, talk to the hospital or hospice staff who can help this happen.

Spirituality is an individual concept. For some people, it may mean being part of organised religious beliefs and practices, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Buddhism. For others, spirituality is expressed as a personal philosophy or a world view.

Spiritual care is important for many people at the end of life. Often people find comfort and strength in their spirituality, and talking to their priest, minister, rabbi, imam or equivalent is an important source of support. For others, their beliefs are challenged by their situation. It may help to talk about your thoughts and feelings with a pastoral care worker. They are part of the palliative care team and have the expertise to discuss spiritual issues, whatever your religion or whether you are atheist or agnostic. You may wish to discuss life’s meaning or your beliefs about death. A pastoral care worker can also provide encouragement and companionship.

Some people say that knowing they’re dying makes them feel more spiritual and they need to think about and discuss these issues. Others may embrace a belief system that they have never been interested in before or abandoned many years ago.

Some people find comfort in prayer or meditation. Many people gain a lot of support from knowing that other people are praying for them or sending positive thoughts their way.

Some religions have specific practices for when people are dying. If you want to follow certain rites in a hospital or hospice, it’s best to discuss this with the staff. They will be able to help find the space and time for you to do this.

Reviewed by: Dr Melanie Price, Executive Director, Psycho-oncology Co-operative Research Group, Senior Research Fellow, School of Psychology, University of Sydney; Dr Erica Cameron-Taylor, Staff Specialist, Department of Palliative Medicine, Mercy Hospital and Calvery Mater Newcastle, NSW; Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar, Telephone Support Group Facilitator, Cancer Council NSW; Helpline and Cancer Counselling Service staff, Cancer Council QLD; Judith Quinlivan, Consumer; Linda Wolfe, Consumer; and Dr Mary Brooksbank, Philip Plummer and Claire Maskell Gibson on behalf of Palliative Care Australia.
Updated: 01 Feb, 2014