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Spiritual Care at the end-of-life

Hospice of Michigan spiritual care advisors help patients discover a sense of peace and closure as they prepare to die.

Hospice of Michigan spiritual care advisors help patients discover a sense of peace and closure as they prepare to die.

From Hospice of Michigan

When we are young and healthy, we can feel invincible. There’s plenty of time – and opportunity to solve life’s problems and make one’s mark.

But when faced with death, perspective can change quickly and so can priorities. This is when we begin to evaluate the meaning of life and contemplate the legacy we will leave behind.

Rev. Ronald White sees this time and time again.  As a spiritual care advisor with Hospice of Michigan, it’s White’s job and his mission to help hospice patients discover a sense of peace and closure as they prepare to die.

“Many people assume spiritual care is about religion, and while it can be, it can mean something different to everyone,” White says. “Spiritual care is not intended to change patients’ belief system, but accept patients wherever they are on their journey and provide support at the end of life.

“When a person is dying, reality can hit hard. It’s often as they face the end that people look to find closure and mend relationships. This could be with God, family and friends or the world at large.”

The need for spiritual care differs from person to person. Some find solace in their religious faith; others may need to evaluate the meaning of their life or come to terms with important issues.

Spiritual care advisors like White provide support for patients and their families as physical, emotional and spiritual needs arise. This can mean helping patients through a journey of faith, reconnecting them with their church, helping to mend family rifts or simply listening to patients while they share things that are weighing on them.

Many times, when facing death, people seek forgiveness, White explains. “We’ll often try to reconnect family members and bring them together for a family meeting so they can sort through issues while there is still time. Many times we see that the family members don’t even remember what the disagreement was about, just that something happened. In circumstances like this, talking things out usually helps. But other times issues are deeply rooted and can’t be resolved. While we can’t fix all problems, we make our best effort.”

When you can’t mend a situation, White notes that sometimes it’s enough to just be there to listen.

“Letting patients tell their story and talk through problems can often lead to acceptance,” White says. “As spiritual care advisors, our conversations with patients are confidential. Sometimes patients have things weighing on them that they don’t want their family to know about, but they still need to share with someone. Knowing that we can be their confidant allows them to open up to us and find a sense of peace.”

White explains that some of his most important work is with veterans.

“Many veterans have a lot of guilt when they near the end-of-life,” White said. “They are dealing with things they saw or did in the name of war—often things they’ve never shared with anyone. When we work with vets, we know we can’t change what happened, so we spend a lot of time talking. We ask them about the duties they had, where they served and how they were involved. These questions can lead to meaningful conversations and often times helps veterans share the things that are weighing on them. Sometimes just talking through an issue with someone provides acceptance and closure.”

White notes that anxiety at end-of-life can cause unnecessary pain – which is why the role of a spiritual care advisor is so important.

“Providing comfort to patients and their families is our number one goal,” White adds. “Helping patients find solace and closure allows them to die a good death. This is something that provides peace for both the patient and their family.”

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