Spirituality means different things to different people. For some, religion and faith are part of their spirituality; others may look to cultural traditions to meet spiritual needs, and some may seek spiritual fulfilment in nature. In this week's Changing Lives Podcast we discuss traditions and spirituality at end of life.
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About Hospice Quinte
Hospice Quinte assists terminally ill individuals and their caregivers by offering them support and companionship. Visiting hospice services are offered in the person’s own home, long term care homes, retirement homes and both Belleville General and Trenton Memorial Hospitals. This care is provided by trained, experienced, and compassionate volunteers. Bereavement support groups are also offered. There are no fees for services to patients and their families. Hospice Quinte is a registered, non-profit charity whose volunteers are the heart of the organization.
The Hospice Quinte service area includes Quinte West, Belleville, Deseronto, Tyendinaga Township and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. To find out more visit HospiceQuinte.ca.Support the show
Spirituality means different things to different people. For some, religion and faith are part of their spirituality; others may look to cultural traditions to meet spiritual needs, and some may seek spiritual fulfilment in nature.
Dr. Christina Puchalski (PE-CHALL-SKI), Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health says, "Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning, and purpose, and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred."
Every person has spiritual needs whether or not they may identify them as such. A healthy spirit needs meaning and purpose in life, connection with others, to love, to feel loved, and to find a sense of hope and peace.
When approaching the end of one’s life, thoughts of death, loss and grief can no longer be avoided, and spiritual wellbeing may be harder to attain.
For individuals who have embraced faith-based experiences throughout their lives, the traditions and expressions of that faith, prayer, meditation, attending religious services and the support of a faith leader may bring comfort to them, giving them a sense of meaning and hope. Even if their faith-based experiences were at some point abandoned, when facing one’s mortality, the interest in re-engaging one’s faith-based preferences and experiences is often revisited.
For others, it may be cultural traditions and the expression of these traditions that have been the foundation for their spiritual practices. For many First Nations Indigenous people, practices of bringing gifts of sage, sweet grass, or tobacco to the Creator, smudging, or gathering together to lend energy and prayers as a person makes their transition, are all ceremonies that provide the individual and their family peace and a sense of connection.
And for many others, spiritual fulfillment is observed through a variety of other ways, such as surrounding themselves with nature, music, or meditation.
When spiritual needs are not met, it can cause spiritual suffering or distress, and this can negatively impact a person’s physical and mental health. Being diagnosed with a terminal illness can make it more difficult to find sources of meaning, hope, comfort, peace, and connection.
Some will choose, as never before, to reflect on the meaning of their life and review the course their life has taken. Others may not have the capacity or the energy to do this on their own and could benefit from the services of a spiritual health or social care professional who can assist in guiding them to find ways to resolve the things that are causing them distress, such as broken relationships with family members, a search for meaning, or questions about their own beliefs.
Dame Cicely (SIS-SUL-LEE) Saunders, founder of St. Christopher’s Hospice in London, England, and pioneer of the modern-day hospice movement, spoke about the need to attend to a person’s “total pain”, not just physical, but social, emotional and spiritual pain, too.”
Individuals and families who are caring for someone with a terminal illness may find the best way of helping is by simply asking “what’s important to you?” or “what really matters to you?”. This can be the beginning of helping them recognize their spiritual needs, and perhaps lead to identifying any fears or worries they might not be communicating. Often remembering the significant moments of one’s life can identify spiritual needs that were fulfilled, yet have been overlooked through the course of their terminal illness.
Volunteers involved with Hospice Quinte’s Visiting Hospice service have helped many individuals with various forms of “life reviews”. Sometimes, it’s the writing of letters to siblings who live far away, or preparing personal treasure boxes for children – with reminders of special memories. Other times, it’s organizing photo albums, and adding names and dates to photographs, making legacy gifts like hand painted rocks to be placed in the gardens of loved ones, or even storytelling. Hospice Quinte volunteers are trained to be sensitive listeners, and often find that the client’s spirituality is revealed to them through the stories they share. This type of support can improve quality of life for people who are facing the terminal phase of their illness because it allows them to share what’s important to them.