A bird does not sing because he has an answer. He sings because he has a song.
Joan Walsh Anglund

The spiritual dimension of care is based on the spiritual tasks the dying person faces. As a reminder, these tasks include a search for meaning and for (re-)establishing and maintaining connectedness to oneself, others, and the person’s own perception of the transcendent. It is probably obvious that the spiritual aspect of a person’s life, whether dying or not, is not a stand-alone aspect. It permeates throughout the physical, psychological, and social aspects as well.

Since everyone must experience his/her own spiritual journey, no one can impart meaning to life, provide connectedness to others, or provide a personal experience and understanding of the transcendent for another. These are completely within the personal domain of each person’s life. How then can a caregiver assist a dying person in his/her quest and in answering the inevitable questions that arise as the end draws near? The first and foremost way is to be present and listen. It is by talking that many people are able to sort out in their own minds the answers to their questions. Their desire is not to be directed on their spiritual journey, it is for someone to travel with them. However, being present and listening doesn’t mean passivity. Instead, it means being actively present and closely listening so that the caregiver can assist in the quest by supplying access to the tools the dying person finds helpful. Some of these might include:

  • Objects – books, photographs, icons, sculptures, etc.
  • Places – a holy place, a memorable place, a personally significant place, etc.
  • Rituals – participating in a sacrament, praying, being read to, etc.
  • Communities – support groups, religious/spiritual groups, etc.
  • Special times – observing Christmas, Ramadan, Yom Kippur, a birthday, an anniversary, etc.
  • Teachings and ideas – Tao Te Ching, Apostles’ Creed, Shema, etc.
  • Special persons – shaman, priest, imam, family member, etc.

Another way the caregiver can give assistance might be to increase the opportunity for the dying person to have a means for creative expression. Creativity through music, drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, etc. can be an additional outlet for working through feelings, beliefs, and uncertainties that words alone cannot accomplish.

Finally, caregivers should realize that just because a question is answered today doesn’t mean it won’t come up again. Additional nuances of the old question may arise that now have to be addressed. There is an old saying that for every answer to a question at least two more questions arise. That is certainly no less true here. The spiritual quest is ongoing; there is no goal to be reached. For nearly all, the journey doesn’t end until the last breath is taken; and who knows if the journey really ends even then?