The Spiritual Dimension of Health Care
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn." From this we can see that Jesus congratulated those whose sensitivity to loss and pain makes it possible for them to mourn. The emotions of grief and loss are authentic and appropriate responses to death and tragedy. The shedding of tears and the expressions of grief are not only appropriate, but necessary. Jesus knew that those who are able to honestly and appropriately express their grief and talk about it with people who care would be comforted.
In Making Health Care Whole, Christina M. Puchalski, MD, and Betty Ferrell, RN, PhD, cite earlier studies (1996, 2003) on mind-body interventions: "The mind has tremendous potential to affect how a person perceives life, stress, illness, dying, and the world. There are a number of studies on meditation and other spiritual and religious practices that demonstrate a positive physical response, especially in relation to levels of stress hormones and modulation of the stress response." Those who have practiced meditation and other spiritual practices over the years have witnessed the positive effects of their practices and how they experience life differently because of it; however, the association between mind-body interventions and certain physiologic processes—including cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune functions—have surfaced more recently. Without going into the science behind those studies, I would suggest that the spiritual dimension of care helps people tap into their abilities to heal and cope. This is a crucial component to healing stress in the midst of a terminal diagnosis or for the family member who is grieving over the loss of their loved one.
When we are in a crisis, we can respond to the experience positively (spiritual growth) or negatively (spiritual distress). Sometimes people who have strong faith at the onset of their terminal illness or when they lose someone special can benefit from counseling or being with someone who can assist them on the new stage of their journey. When patients struggle with their traditional beliefs due to their new situation, they may need assistance in making meaning of their situation. In light of their new circumstances, many find themselves struggling with their old beliefs. This struggle can lead them away from their faith or help them grow in faith. I believe that the last comments of Gail Sheehy's book Passages speaks to this struggle: "The courage to take new steps allows us to let go of each stage with its satisfactions and to find fresh responses that will release the richness of the next. The power to animate all of life's seasons is a power that resides within us."
Those who have clergy in their lives may receive assistance from them during these times. Whereas clergy are usually connected to a particular faith tradition, chaplains and bereavement coordinators may be able to walk with you through your pain. Trained chaplains and bereavement coordinators never take the place of your pastor, but they are able to walk with anyone through their grief, whatever their culture or faith tradition, or wherever they are on their spiritual journey. They try to help others by overcoming their presuppositions and understanding people on their own terms.
—Beverly Hatcher, Chaplain
Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today toll-free at 1-888-789-2922.
Tags: Grief Support