Barbara, How is dying different for those who have no faith...and how do we support them while respecting their position?
This question can be expanded to also ask: “How do we support others who believe differently than we do?”
I am going to assume “no faith” means not believing in a God or an afterlife, believing that life as we know it just ends. I don’t think dying is any different for those with “no faith” than it is for those “with faith”. We die the way we have lived and there are few death bed conversions. Facing the end of our life does make us look at life and its meanings, but we do tend to examine our beliefs from our personal perspective. We look at our life and how we have lived it from the vantage of the belief system we have developed. As we approach death we do not begin to change what we have lived so hard to believe.
We tend to think a person with no belief in an afterlife or God will be more frightened as death approaches than someone who believes life continues, just in a different way. I do not find that to be true. Fear is present for all of us as we approach death. Not because of our belief system but because we are facing the unknown. We are all afraid as we approach death, no matter our beliefs, no matter how hard we try to deny that fear.
I have found that some people return to religious beliefs abandoned earlier in life. Catholics go to confession, others counsel with a minister or a rabbi, but most of us hold to the belief or non belief we have accepted or developed throughout our life.
Now, how do we support a person while respecting their position? Supporting a person does not mean or even imply that we share our personal beliefs with them. Supporting a person does not mean talking about life after death or talking about God. Supporting a person means being a presence, being a listener (not a talker), not having answers, but having compassion.
Faith or lack of faith is not an end of life issue. It is a personal, living choice. As caregivers we must remember we are privileged to be part of this person’s, and in many cases this family’s, experience. We are there to support, educate, nurture, and guide. We are not there to change.
Something more about Dying Without Faith?...
In my books The Eleventh Hour and The Final Act of Living, I write about how it is inappropriate to share our spiritual ideas with patients. We are there only to support, not to confront or question.