Sandy Reynolds, spiritual health practitioner, reflects on the care she provides to seniors who have concerns about facing death.
Sandy Reynolds is the spiritual health practitioner on Seniors' Langley Integrated Network of Care (LINC) team. Here she reflects on on the care she provides to seniors who have concerns about facing death.
As a spiritual health practitioner, I journey with seniors (70+ years of age) in the last stage of life, and provide a relationship of care and support in this precious life stage. We support clients who are often wrestling with loneliness, isolation, and the profound loss that occurs with aging (loss of home, partner, friends, social circles, income, mobility, independence).
Their untold concerns often include facing death as partners and close friends are also dying. Although many facing this reality think about dying, they often do not share how this impacts their world or process their thoughts and feelings around their own death.
A former nurse who had worked in maternity and palliative care was one such senior who was having a difficult time with her ongoing sickness and the thought of dying. “I have helped many people when they were dying but I am having a really difficult time with my own,” she shared.
As we journeyed through her grief and fear of death and dying, we discovered she was working very hard to control her death by taking a clinical and scientific approach: obsessing with her medical care, trying to control medications, making her own diagnoses. She also shared that she tried not to think about those in her care facility who were dying. “Every time I go to eat I wonder which plate setting will be missing because someone died since the last meal. I want to leave because this place is death and I am not ready to die.”
In contrast to this reality, she also shared her experiences of visioning family members who had died that brought her comfort and peace: a visit from her deceased husband sitting at the end of her bed to let her know he was okay; a near-death experience of “an enormous warm yellow ball of joy (her) soul was going to join until she got yanked back to life," and the disappointment she felt upon coming back. She also shared a beautiful experience when her mother died and she saw her lifted to heaven, which shifted her thinking about what happens to us spiritually when we pass.
By focusing on connecting her peaceful and comforting experiences with her current view of dying, the spiritual care I provided was able to bring her peace and hope. I compared dying to a birthing process to the next life, she, as a previous maternity nurse, could relate to. She reconciled and reframed her understanding that the pain and tiredness she felt was her body getting ready for a new birth. She concluded that we cannot control death, and that she was focused too much on controlling the physical reality of her death and not enjoying the remainder of her life.
Thanks to spiritual care, this client became less anxious and began to view her care facility as being filled with birthing rooms for new life. She was able to let go of a tremendous amount of fear and worry about who was going to die next. As our spiritual care visits concluded she felt at peace, hopeful and was no longer scared to die.