by Charlene Thurston, RN, ANP,Director of Hospice,from the Spring 2000 Hospice Currents Newsletter
What is spirituality? What are the spiritual needs of patients and families? What is spiritual care? How is spirituality related to one’s health?

Health care professionals in hospice programs wrestle with these questions all the time, since trying to help meet the spiritual needs of our patients and families is one of our major goals. Yet different people have different understandings about what spirituality actually means. Many think of spirituality as only having to do with one’s religious preference, and spiritual care as only asking what religion a patient practices and calling the clergy for him or her. But spirituality and the spiritual domain of one’s life include much more.

As I sit down to think about some of the questions which would fall into the spiritual domain, the following questions come up. There are many, many more, but these are a start. What is the meaning of life? And death? Why are we here on earth? What is our life’s purpose? Why do we die when we do? Why do young people, even babies die? Why do people suffer? What is the nature of suffering? Is there a God? What is the nature of God? What happens at death? After death? Is there a part of us that lives on after our body has died? Is there a heaven? A hell? What does that mean? What is the nature of consciousness? Are we connected to other beings? What is our place in the natural world? What is prayer? How do we pray? Does it affect us? Others? Do we need other people? Is it okay for us to end our own lives? What is the importance of forgiveness? What is the importance of surrender? Non-attachment? Helping others? Compassion? Are there such beings as angels or spirit guides? How does ESP happen? Precognition? Clairvoyance? What about dreams? Do the dying really see their loved ones again after death? Are we visited by those who’ve died before us? Do our spiritual beliefs affect our health?………The questions go on and on.

In hospices throughout the world, the core values and spiritual beliefs of our patients are recognized as being extremely important to their overall well-being and are valued and supported in our attempts to help them through the challenge of a life-threatening illness. Although no one knows the answers to the many questions that arise regarding the mysteries of life, we often find that people who’ve given some attention to exploring their own personal beliefs, find support in having such a frame of reference when confronting life’s crises. The value of attending to such personal growth work throughout our lives, long before illness strikes, is immeasurable.

In an effort to help people within our community to continue to explore their spirituality, Hospice is joining with several other community members and organizations in planning a conference on spirituality and health for the fall. Chaired by Rev. Tom Richard and Dr. Robert Slater, an outstanding conference was held last year and another has already been lined up for October 18-20, 2000. We hope that many of our readers will participate in what promises to be an extremely worthwhile opportunity with very well-known, off-island speakers. Hospice Care of Nantucket Foundation is delighted to have provided the first grant for this year’s conference, and we hope that many other individuals and organizations will join the effort to sponsor this important event.

Funded by the Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket Foundation, the Palliative & Supportive Care Program is operated as a department of the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, which is an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital, and a member of Partners HealthCare. Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket is a specialized health care program dedicated to providing excellent physical, psychological, social, and spiritual care to persons with life-threatening illness and their families.

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