Spiritual Issues for the Terminally Ill
Spirituality is a very personal thing, with each person defining their connection to the spiritual world in their own way. The diagnosis of a terminal illness is bound to make people examine their beliefs, reconfirming or possibly doubting the values that they've held.
Doubts and Questioning
The sense of injustice that is common to those diagnosed with a terminal illness can have some questioning the beliefs that they previously had. Wondering why such a terrible thing is happening and trying to make sense of the news may leave patients with more questions than answers, furthering their confusion and sense of loss. In her famed work about death and dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross describes five stages of grief, common to those in the last stages of their lives. The turmoil associated with working to find acceptance can be a spiritual journey for many. First is denial, the period before the reality of the situation really sinks in. After denial, the next stage is anger. Sometimes, that anger is directed toward God, or whatever deity that a person holds to be true. From there comes bargaining, a time in which many people pray for time to achieve a specific goal, attending the wedding of a child, for example. Sadness may follow, with a sense that nothing really matters, even their faith. Some terminally ill patients reach a point of acceptance, and their faith may play a role in helping them to feel ready to move on.
Finding Comfort in Religion
Those who have strong ties to a belief system and well-established relationships with members of the clergy may find a great deal of comfort in their faith, especially during times of crisis. Attitudes about death and dying, and matters of the afterlife vary a great deal depending on one's own beliefs, but a sense that death is a part of a life cycle can help some to look at death as a transition, rather than an ending, which may ease their minds during those last weeks and months of life.
Non-Church Related Spirituality
Some people have a strong spiritual identity, although they do not associate themselves with any specific religion of recognised mode of religious thinking. Spirituality and matters of the soul's life are core to living, and to dying as well. Many people find that their innermost beliefs, those that feel right to them, come from a variety of sources, rather than closely following the doctrines of a specific religious group. Those who follow an independent spiritual path may seek comfort in sharing their views with like-minded people, or may simply be content in knowing that they have a strong sense of who they are and what is happening to them.
Considering Funeral Arrangements
Funeral and burial traditions are often religion-based, so terminally ill patients who have strong opinions about their post-death arrangements should be certain that loved ones are aware of their wishes. Often, family members subscribe to the same mode of thinking in matters of religion, but that is not always the case. Voicing preferences, or possibly pre-arranging memorial or funeral services can assure the terminally ill that things will be handles according to their wishes.