Reaching out to a Non-Religious Person At End of Life

Dear Barbara, How important is spirituality and how do you reach out to a non-religious person who believes the end is the end?

One of the "End of Life Rules" in supporting someone is to accept them with their belief system. It is not our place to try to share our beliefs, only to support theirs. I let a patient know I will talk about anything, just ask me, but what I'm really doing is getting them to talk, to tell me their beliefs, concerns, and ideas. This is not about me and my beliefs. It is about the patient and family's belief. I always say if someone believes pink elephants are coming through the door to lead the way, I'll hold the door open for them to come in. 

So, to answer your question, "How do you reach out to a non-religious person who believes the end is the end?" You don't. If they want to talk about it they will reach out to you. And then---- We listen. We do not share our beliefs or try to change theirs. 

You ask a good question, “How important is spirituality?” I will add to your question what does the word really mean? I went to my favorite internet friend, Google, and got a variety of definitions:

* Spirituality involves the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory experience and that the greater whole of which we are part is cosmic or divine in nature.

* Shamans, healers, sages and wisdom keepers of all times, all continents and all peoples, in their ageless wisdom, say that human spirituality is composed of three aspects: relationships, values and life purpose.

* The quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.——Signs of spirituality: asking deep questions about topics such as suffering and what happens after death; deepening connections with other people; experiencing compassion and empathy for others; experiencing feelings of interconnectedness, feelings of awe and wonder.

* AND my favorite: What's the difference between religion and spirituality?

Religion: This is a specific set of organized beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group. Spirituality: This is more of an individual practice, and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose.

It is in this definition, “Spirituality: This is more of an individual practice, and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose” that I find our mission of end of life support and guidance. It’s not about our beliefs, our opinions, or even our concerns. It is about supporting and guiding the person facing the end of their life to see they had a purpose and to experience a sense of peace in that purpose being at its end. I believe it is in that definition we find the spirituality of our work.

Something More...  about Reaching out to a Non-Religious Person At End of Life

I write about the hospice philosophy and the different roles hospice staff provides patients and families in my book, THE FINAL ACT OF LIVING.  And here is another blog article that has similarities to this topic- Initiating Religious Talks In Hospice Care.


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buffy draper McPhee

I am Anamcara.
I find myself in the “tragic gap” between working in Hospice in the Portland OR area which seems to
be mainly Palliative (administering medications)
helping to relieve Spiritual suffering at the end of life…quality of life (conscious) right up to the end
of life…in the areas of: Hope, Fogiveness, Relation-
ships, and Meaningfullness.
Most of the Hospice agencies seem more concerned with eliminating pain and liability for
their actions than being present with the dying person…what happened to the vigil?
blessings * buffy
BK Books replied:
I know Buffy, hospice’s goal used to be to be at the bedside in the hours to minutes before the death to support and guide those present, to help create a sacred experience. Thanks to the micromanaging of medicare and other issues hospice families are alone when their loved one dies at home. That space can be and is being filled by end of life doulas. Thank goodness they have come forward to be there at one of the most important moment in end of life work. Blessings to you! Barbara


We have a relative in his 80s dying from Alzheimer’s and Congrstive Heart Failure. He is in Hospice and as far as we know has stopped eating I understand that at some point with Alzheimer’s one can no longer swallow. ( I believe I read that in one of your writings.)
He hasn’t eaten for 6 or 7 days. In order to not disturb his wife and family we have not asked for details each day or really at all. How can we know his progress without asking and causing the family distress. We are several hours away and are planning to travel even further away for an 85th Birthday Celebration in a week and are not sure what to do. Can you give us any information that will help us know what to expect or how to find out more without disturbing the family. Blessings, Kate
BK Books replied:
Kate, How to know what is happening without calling is a challenge. Do you know someone close other than immediate caregivers that could be your contact person? You can also say to the caregiver “I am concerned but don’t want to bother you. How is the best way to keep in touch?” You might also read Gone From My Sight as a guide to understanding the signs of approaching death. The booklet can be a gauge to how close to death he is from what you are hearing when you do talk with the family.. My blessings to all of you. Barbara

Veronica Scheers

Hello beautiful soul. Thank You for this wonderful newsletter. I just subscribed. I’m an RN and End of Life Doula. Everything you shared is so beautiful. I’m hoping for an RN job with Hospice, I know I won’t be bringing my Doula practices with me YET but maybe someday.
I was blessed to receive your letter from a new friend who’s the president of the End of Life Club supporting a large retirement community.
Let there be peace and compassion in End of Life
BK Books replied:
Hi Veronica, thank you for the supportive words. Blessings to you in the new work you will be beginning. You might find my book *The Final Act of Living *helpful in your work. Barbara

Lolita Silicani

As always, thank you so much for your words of wisdom. :)

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