Hospice differs from many other types of medical care in that it cares for the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. Hospice workers understand that spiritual and emotional pain can make physical suffering more extreme, and that the reverse is also true. Spiritual and emotional pain often intensifies physical suffering. Therefore, hospice teams include Spiritual and Grief Counselors (sometimes called chaplains) who are trained to address issues specifically related to spiritual pain.
Sources of Spiritual Pain
When people perceive they are nearing the end of life, they may feel an urgency to address “unfinished business.” They may grapple with regrets or lost opportunities, sense a need to strengthen relationships that matter to them, or reconnect with religious beliefs from which they have grown distant.
Issues that have been buried may rise to the surface and demand attention. Common sources of spiritual pain are:
- The search for life’s meaning
- Sorrow overstrained or lost relationships
- A need to grant or receive forgiveness
- Concern for those who will be left behind
- Longing for peace about one’s beliefs
Signs Your Loved One is Experiencing Spiritual Pain
Your loved one is not likely to say, “I think I am experiencing spiritual pain related to my declining health.” But generally, the changes that have led to a person becoming a hospice patient cause a head-on collision with one’s own mortality. The person may find themselves examining their own feelings of worth and whether their life has mattered. As the illness progresses and others must provide care, the loss of control may result in frustration and lashing out at those who are closest. Changes such as these be indicators that your loved one is suffering from spiritual pain:
- Agitation or anger
- Intensified criticism
- References to past mistakes
- Extensive apologies or self-deprecating remarks
- Firm avoidance of topics
Spiritual Care and Finding Peace
Patients typically do not know how to address their own spiritual pain that emerges while they are on hospice. Spiritual Care Providers are skilled in helping patients find closure for their most pressing—and sometimes most private concerns. These clinicians do not represent a particular faith, elicit conversions, or pass judgment. Instead, they facilitate resolution so that patients can find a greater sense of peace before their time of death. They may also help family members prepare for the loss of their loved ones and offer support afterwards.
It is extremely difficult to watch someone we love suffer through illness and finally to leave us. While on hospice, our loved one may seem to “wither” and become physically feeble in comparison to the former self. However, the opposite is often true in regards to the inner person. When spiritual pain is properly addressed, inner strength increases, even as the body weakens. The person may show signs of love, kindness, courage, or hope that far outweigh what was exhibited in the past.
This is the great paradox of dying—that the casting off the physical body ultimately allows the spirit to soar as never before. Hospice is one form of medical intervention that handles this process with great care and respect.
Dr. Melody Rossi Metcalf