Faith and the Dying Process

Dear Barbara, How has faith entered into the dying process?

What does “faith” mean? I am going to say, for the sake of this blog, that faith means religion and the various dogmas it teaches. Although “faith” could mean “a spiritual belief”.

It seems a lot of us want faith to be part of the dying process. Our idea, and maybe our wish, is once we approach the end of our life  we will believe that God exists, that we are accountable, that we will go to a good place and this will make our dying easier, maybe even less scary.

I’m just not sure if that really happens. Yes, for some it may but for most of us I think we approach the end of life with whatever beliefs we have gathered throughout our life. I don’t see people reaching death and suddenly changing their ideology. If they had “faith” they may find comfort in its teachings. If they did not they may find comfort elsewhere. It does not mean faith always comforts and not having faith brings discomfort.

Going beyond religion and God/Spirituality I do believe on many levels (conscious and unconscious) we question our life, our relationships, our purpose. A “what have I done, who have I touched” review. In that evaluation we may look at our spiritual beliefs. It is just that most of us don’t change those beliefs. Some of us do return to the religion we have been lax in attending and practicing.

One of the key aspects of approaching death I almost always see regardless of an individual's belief system is fear. We are all going to be afraid to some degree as we approach death (degree being the operative word here). That fear often gets confused with our belief systems. Some who, in their healthier days, rejoiced in the idea of being with God, become fearful as death approaches and think it relates to their belief in God. I suggest that that fear has nothing to do with God but relates to the humanness of facing the unknown.

Religions that teach heaven and hell affect us as we approach the end of life. If we believe we have not lived up to our religion’s expectations of entry into heaven we may be hesitant to let go of this life (We have limited control over the time that we die. See Gone From My Sight).

If prayers brought us comfort in living then they will bring us comfort in dying. If we did not relate to praying in living then we will not necessarily relate now. We die the way we have lived. We don’t change who we are just because death is near.

All of the above is why it is so important for us as healthcare providers to keep our beliefs to ourselves. We are at the bedside to support,  and guide, bring comfort, not to bring change. It is all about the patient/family and nothing to do with what we believe.

Something More about Faith and the Dying Process......

In my book, The Final Act of Living, Reflections of a Longtime Hospice Nurse, I have a chapter on Spirituality.  This may be a helpful resource.

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Blessings!