Faith and Death
While we all know that we will someday die, most of us view the possibility as a faraway concern. Those who have been diagnosed as terminal, though, are faced with the reality of their impending demise, forcing them to re-examine their lives and make choices about how to best spend the little time that they have remaining.
For many terminally ill patients and those closest to them, matters of faith take on a great importance at this time.
Finding Hope and StrengthMany people call upon their faith to help carry them through life’s toughest times. Hope may stem from faith, though the hopes of the recently diagnosed will likely vary from those who have reached a point near the end.
In the beginning, the hope may be for a cure, or at least for additional time. As disease progresses and it becomes clear that death is imminent, hope often shifts toward the desire for peace and acceptance, both for the patient and for those who hold that person dear.
Many faithful describe strength as one of the most important gifts that they receive from their beliefs. Praying for the strength to handle life’s challenges, including illness and death, can help patients to remain connected to their spirituality whilst they strive to make sense of their illness and suffering.
Those who are experiencing the illness of a loved one may pray for the strength to help their dying friend or relative and to help themselves in coping both before and after the death.
Turning AwayWhile many people rely on their faith to help them through difficulties, others may turn away from their previous spiritual beliefs when faced with a terminal diagnosis.
In her work about death and dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described the Five Stages of Grief commonly experienced by the dying. The first two stages are denial and anger, and while the hope is that patients are able to move beyond the initial disbelief and resentment to achieve peace and acceptance, not all do.
Some remain stuck in their anger or settle in sadness, lashing out at the injustice of their situation. While this is certainly an understandable reaction, it is unfortunate when people who have enjoyed a strong spiritual presence throughout their lives lose that connection just when it may have had the ability to bring them the most comfort.
Spiritual SupportSpiritual leaders from all faiths often find that followers call upon them most when they are frightened or in pain. Matters of faith are highly personal, but the sense that there is a force greater than us is shared by many people.
Thoughts of the afterlife are sure to weigh heavily on those who know that they are at the end of their lives, who may seek out the counsel of trusted clergy to offer them the answers they so desperately need.
Assurances from loved ones as to the contributions that a dying person has made to the lives of others can offer a great deal of comfort, too, for knowing that their lives have positively impacted others may be the ultimate expression of spiritual support.
Faith and GrievingThose who have experienced the recent loss of a loved one may experience many of the same feelings that the patient did during their last weeks and months of life. Grieving can be both painful and frightening, with survivors trying to find ways to rebuild their lives after a significant death.
While not all are, some grief support groups are faith based, drawing people of similar beliefs together for the purpose of healing and finding a sense of peace. Grieving is an individual experience, with each person following the path that they find most comfortable, but those who feel that their faith can be a tool for healing should not hesitate to call upon their beliefs to help them find happiness and contentment.