Spiritual Support for a Dying Person of a Different Faith

Dear Barbara, Can you recommend a book guiding a new hospice volunteer (me) with spiritual support to a dying person whose views are very different from my own?

I do not have a book to recommend that tells you how to support a patient with spiritual views other than your own. BUT I can tell you what I think.

 A person doesn't have to believe what we believe for us to support them in their journey. As a volunteer, or as a professional, our spiritual views are our own and kept to ourselves. We do not share them with patients or their families. 

If you can't do that then you are in the wrong job. 

We support others in their belief system no matter what we believe. It is not about us. 

If a patient were to ask outright "What do you believe spiritually?" you should respond: "This is not about me and what I believe. Can you share with me what you think happens? What do you believe?"

A conversation is started as they sort out their beliefs and you listen. You do not add "Have you ever thought about this?" That is the job of clergy.  That is the time you suggest that perhaps they are having questions and thoughts that a chaplain could help them with.  Ask "Can I help make the contact?" 

End of life work is sacred work. Everyone's belief is sacred.  Yes, as end of life approaches we will have many life questions to consider: life’s meaning, purpose, and our beliefs. And yes, the patient may ask anyone who happens to be close by and who they feel comfortable with what they think. 

Our job is to gently redirect the question back to them and their thoughts, not share ours, AND to offer to bring in someone more trained than we are.

About our own beliefs, I can tell you my spiritual beliefs are what directed me to end of life work. Because of my beliefs I felt I could support others as their lives came to a close, not support them WITH my beliefs, but BECAUSE of my beliefs. 

My beliefs are not for sharing with others. They are to get ME through the night and to help ME live my best possible life.

Something More...  about Spiritual Support for a Dying Person of a Different Faith

Here are a couple other blog articles on the topic:  Faith and the Dying Process  & Dying Without Faith



Lovely and appreciate your candid response! I find joy when contacting the person’s religious leader! I learn so much.

I am also reminded when God leads me in situations of care when the person is culturally different than my cultural background and family of origin.

All the best!
BK Books replied:
Thank you Patrick. Blessings Barbara


Thank you for this great question, and, for this equally great response.

I am a hospice nurse.
May I please share a suggestion? Sometimes, in acute situations when hospice chaplains or the patient’s own Faith leader are unavailable, the nurse is asked to partake in “prayer.”

A long, long time ago, a wise chaplain informed me that people of different faiths can pray together. She said, “it’s like a sandwich. The outer breads (opening and closing of the prayer) will be different, but the inside prayer (the heart of the matter) is the same.”

For example, a Catholic-believing nurse may be asked to pray with a Hindu-believing patient. The Opening of the prayers/ the Holy names invoked will differ, but the essence of the prayer and all the prayer requests and praises will be the same:

Catholic nurse can instruct pt/ family to quietly open their prayer in their mind and heart while nurse respectfully does the same.

Then, the essence of the prayer / the inside sandwich part can be spoken out loud:

Thank you for patient “xyz.”
Please help to lessen this physical pain,
Please wash away the fear, worry, anxiety,
Please embrace patient “xyz” in warmth, protection, abundant safety.
Please give strength and confidence to know that patient “xyz’s” family will be okay.
Please let patient xyz take Comfort in You. Let “xyz” feel and accept all Goodness and Love that is before him and behind him, above him and below him, beside him, within him…

For the closing, the nurse can instruct for pt/ family/ those gathered to close this prayer in their own mind and heart.

This style of prayer allows for the pt/ family to achieve what they needed without the nurse delving into the nurse’s personal belief system.

This is Especially important and useful in acute and time-sensitive situations in which a chaplain/ clergy cannot be at bedside or cannot even connect by phone.

As always, Ms Karnes, thank you for these emails and this community.
BK Books replied:
Hi Margy, thank you for your prayer suggestion. I haven’t heard of the “sandwich” concept before. You can also just ask the person requesting you to pray with them to lead the prayer and you will support them silently in your heart. Blessings to you in the work you are doing. Barbara

Diane Johnson

all Medicare Medicaid Hospice have to have a spiritual care person on there staff and must be seen by them unless they refuse . Volunteers should call the office and contact the spiritual care employee they will help.

there staff. The patient must be seen by them unless they refuse.

Diane Johnson

all Medicare Medicaid Hospice have to have a spiritual care person on there staff and must be seen by them unless they refuse . Volunteers should call the office and contact the spiritual care employee they will help.

there staff. The patient must be seen by them unless they refuse.
BK Books replied:
Hi Diane, the sad thing is so many people refuse the chaplain contact. Blessings! Barbara

Mary Quinn

Responding with Compassion! (formerly A Chaplain’s Companion) by Judith Joseph
I have kept this in my nursing bag for many years. It gives some background in the beliefs of different faiths and prayers that are appropriate to use with them.
When a Jewish patient died the family asked me to sit with him while the family went to another room to discuss funeral arrangements. They were comforted when they returned to the room to find I was reading appropriate Jewish prayers aloud while I sat at his bedside.
It generally gave me a small insight into a variety of faith traditions and allowed me to be more sensitive to their needs.
BK Books replied:
Mary, thank you so much for sharing this book with us. It sounds like it belongs in every one’s tool box. Blessings! Barbara

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