As a twelve-year-old living in Berlin at the start of the war, my patient was told her purpose was to assist the family by searching for freshwater and food, but also to assist in the hiding of a Jewish uncle from the ruthless German troops. As the years passed she was told her purpose was to work a job and assist the family in simply surviving the toils of war. To help support her family, she worked for the local newspaper and one day her building was bombed. She was one of seven that survived that day and she spent six months in the hospital. After her recovery, an American general recruited her to work for him in America due to her fluency in multiple languages. Eventually, she went on to work for the United Nations. Her purpose was clear, exciting, and exhilarating.
The next chapter was marriage, child-rearing and the normal routines of life filled with purpose and direction. Now at the age of 90, looking back, she realized she had so much purpose in life and many people counted on her for results. Now battling disease processes and limitations, she does not see any meaning or purpose in her life. Although she has numerous physical needs and complaints, her main concern is the inability to accomplish anything productive for herself or anyone. Her top complaint, one would think would be to walk better and have energy endurance of more than one minute, instead, she expresses her top pain in life is internal in which we call spiritual pain.
Spiritual pain is the interruption of anything that has brought us hope, meaning, purpose, peace, joy, and contentment. For some, it’s religion, God, family, vocation, beliefs, and community. My definitions of spirituality are as follows.
- An awareness of our quest to find meaning and purpose in life.
- Our ability to access our inner sources of personal strengths that bring us peace, joy, and hope.
- The awareness of aspects of life that feed us the most and offer fulfillment and lasting satisfaction.
- The awareness of things that are “greater than ourselves” that have helped us cope in life’s uncontrollable circumstances.
- The awareness of our lacking or yearnings for more wholeness and healing.
It is estimated that 70 percent of suffering and pain at the end of life is not physical, but emotional and spiritual. As a Spiritual Care Provider, I am able to help my patients identify the spiritual parts of themselves and help them bring peace and comfort to the dying person as well as the surviving family.
After a few visits, my patient had a renewed sense of purpose centering around writing her life story, planning her celebration of life, and writing her favorite recipes … including stories for her grandchildren. She never replaced the meaning and purpose she once felt assisting in solving world problems, but on a small scale, she has a job to do! Dying is hard work and the work is not done until our last breath. We all have a job to do! Find your purpose!