What’s on the line? Faith & spirituality at the end of life

Our Information & Signposting Team Lead, Sharon, recently attended an event held by St. Clare Hospice in West Essex which looked at faith and spirituality at the end of life.

For many of us, there are challenges around discussing with those who are in the end stages of life what their wishes are on a practical level, particularly in how to start the conversation. Faith and spirituality can be an even more difficult subject to broach, but why is that?

Faith and spirituality are two different concepts which often get mixed up. Put simply, faith can be explained as belief in a particular religion such as Islam or Christianity, whereas spirituality can be explained as a meaningful connection to something which makes us feel better, such as watching the sunrise and set or listening to birdsong.

Both faith and spirituality can become central to anyone at the end of life, and it is therefore very important that any needs or wishes they may have are discussed with them and implemented wherever possible. Assumptions should not be made, as often the significance of nearing the end of life can fundamentally change feelings and beliefs for the person who is dying. For example, someone may have never shown any particular religious affiliation throughout their life, but at the end, may wish to adopt the Catholic faith and rituals of their parents like receiving the sacrament. Alternatively, someone who has been known to follow a particular religion may decide that there are aspects of this which they don’t want to adhere to.

Unfortunately, many of us do struggle to have these conversations, for very understandable reasons. We may not know how to initiate the conversation, as the subject feels so immense and intensely personal. We may also fear using ‘wrong’ terminology and offending someone or upsetting them by speaking candidly about their impending death. Yet for the person in the end stages of life, this is often a time when they have fears, questions and hopes that they need to talk about. Faith and spirituality is intrinsically a part of our wellbeing, and especially so when we reach the end of our life. Addressing our faith and spirituality needs contribute significantly to enabling us to access things that matter to us when we are nearing the end of life.

There are organisations in our community who can give support to those at the end of life and their loved ones. St Clare, like many other hospices, offer patient and family support in a variety of ways to help and support with these conversations, and exploring faith and spirituality at the end of life. If you would like details on how to access these organisations, please contact us by calling 0300 500 1895, text 07712 395 398 or email info@healthwatchessex.org.uk