Spiritual and Existential Aspects
Religious and spiritual needs throughout the dying process will be highly individual, but even someone who has not engaged with religion or spirituality throughout their life may find themselves thinking about these concepts more deeply when they are confronted with death.
When we talk about thinking about life on a bigger level, it’s referred to as existential thinking or, sometimes, an existential crisis. Any major change or trauma, including serious illness or injury, death, and bereavement, can bring up these thoughts and feelings.
The spiritual and existential aspects of the dying and grieving process are natural, but they can also be intense, exhausting, and distressing.14
A person may feel a sense of desperation or as though time is running out as they race to take stock of their lives and make plans for their death.
They may reflect back on decisions they made in their lives, question their choices, and wrestle with guilt about things that they said or did. They may ask “What if?” and try to imagine how their life might have played out differently.
Depending on their spiritual and religious beliefs, a person may desire to feel closer to their higher power. They may want to attend religious services more often or have a spiritual leader visit them to provide guidance and comfort.
On the other hand, if they are grappling with anger about their death, they may feel distanced from their spiritual center and may not wish to engage with their religious practice.
Related: Powerful Advice From a Dying Man
If a person’s religion has traditions for the dying, they may wish to begin taking part in them. They may also want to discuss how they would like their spiritual life to be reflected throughout the dying process and the period after.
The spiritual and existential needs of people who are caring for loved ones who are dying must also be considered.15
Just as a person who is dying might seek comfort from religious leaders or texts, those who are caring for them may benefit from reaching out to their spiritual or religious community.
Although it might not be foremost on someone’s mind, addressing the practical aspects of death, dying, and grief is an important part of the process. It’s also one that you can plan ahead for.
People often find it difficult to discuss end-of-life plans, living wills, and funeral arrangements, but these are elements of the dying process that you can discuss long before they are needed.
Once you and your loved ones have spoken openly about your preferences, you can involve professionals such as accountants, funeral directors, lawyers, doctors, and other healthcare professionals to ensure that your wishes will be honored.
While the conversation and documentation involved can be overwhelming, and the requirements will depend on where you live, there are many resources available to help you get started.
Related: Top 5 Regrets of The Dying
Once the task is done, you’ll hopefully feel reassured that you have what you need to make the process as easy as possible when the time comes.
Setting up a system of friends, neighbors, and community support ensures you are prepared for the time you have left with your loved one. Your mind will likely be far from thoughts of laundry and grocery shopping during this time, but these practical concerns still need to be addressed.
Having someone to help with cleaning and meal prep will allow you to focus your time and energy on being with your loved one in their final days.
We all will have experiences with death, but we won’t all experience death and dying in the same way. Our unique experiences may even change as we age and are confronted with death more often.
How we feel about death, what we will need and want during the dying process, and the way we grieve when we lose someone we love is influenced by our beliefs and experiences.
What’s important to know is that many of the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of dying that are distressing and confusing are actually normal.
While you can’t always control the circumstances or even know for sure how you will react in a situation, there are aspects of the dying process that you and your family can plan for.
Discussing your preferences for end-of-life care, setting up a support network, and reaching out to your spiritual community are all ways you can empower yourself to face death openly and honestly.
Whether you are confronting your own mortality or caring for a loved one who is dying, it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to do it alone. In addition to your friends and family, grief counselors, support groups, religious communities, and health care providers can also provide resources and support.
How do you deal with the feelings of death? Leave a comment below.
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- Harvard Health. Beyond The Five Stages of Grief. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Published December 2011.
- Kübler-Ross E. On Death and Dying. New York: Simon and Schuster; 2011:37-133. 9781451664447
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- The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. Grief and Bereavement. American Cancer Society. Updated May 10, 2019.
- Borgstrom, E., 2017. Social death. QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 110(1), pp.5-7.
Written by: Mark Stibich, PhD
Originally appeared on: Verywellmind
Republished with permission.