Mary Jordan looks at the importance of finding emotional and spiritual peace as end of life approaches.
Everyone reacts differently to the news that end of life is near. Some are upset, some are sad, some are perhaps philosophical. However nearly everyone who knows that they are approaching end of life feels a need to ‘tidy up’ to ‘tie up loose ends’. For some people this need takes the form of taking practical steps to make sure that the family they leave behind will be financially secure or well looked after (making a will, arranging guardianship of children). Others may wish to leave a legacy in the form of tissue or organ donation, or in the form of a ‘life story’ written down. Some people like to plan their own funeral or memorial service.
For some people however these practical matters take second place (or perhaps equal place) to the need to re-address unresolved conflicts in their past, to rebuild a shattered relationship, to put right a wrong done in the past or in some other way to make peace both with themselves and with those connected to them.
Spiritual beliefs and the dying process
When Gallup International Institute carried out a national survey (1997) on ‘Spiritual beliefs and the dying process’. It was found that when considering questions about life after death the reassurances that gave people the most comfort related to these concerns:
- Desire for reconciliation with those they have hurt, or who have hurt them, and
- The belief that death is not the end but a passage.
People at end of life often feel the need to reconnect with family or those who were once close friends with whom they have lost touch. Whenever it is at all possible it is a wonderful gift to help someone achieve this. With the help of the internet and social networking sites it is easier than ever to find a way to reconnect with lost associations. Sometimes just a telephone call from a relative or friend who has long been out of touch may make the person at end of life feel as if they have ‘reconnected’.
Similarly elderly people often get great joy from seeing grandchildren during their final days. Sometimes it is felt that young children will be frightened at seeing Granny or Grandad in hospital, or will become upset at the sight of medical equipment (such as oxygen masks) in use. Actually children are very matter of fact about things which may upset adults. Partly this is because they do not understand the implications of drip tubes, breathing apparatus and so on; partly it is because children seem to have a natural ability to ‘screen out’ things which might otherwise disturb them.
Reconciliation and peace
If you are caring for someone at end of life you may feel that contacting someone with whom there has been a ‘falling out’ may resurrect bad feelings and open up wounds and cause further unhappiness. In truth there is seldom a need to discuss an incident from the past. It is often enough to say ‘I would like to see you again’ or simply, ‘I am sorry we disagreed’ to open the way to a reconciliation and give peace of mind to the one nearing life’s end.
If you are asked to visit someone who is dying and who perhaps wishes to make their peace with you, remember that there is no need to apportion blame, discuss a wrong or be burdened by guilt. The past is the past and just as the person at end of life may want peace and reconciliation so you too may need the comfort of knowing that you overcame bad feelings at the end and offered what comfort you were able.
Read more about making peace in my books, End of Life – The Essential Guide to Caring (Hammersmith Press) and The essential Guide to Life After Bereavement (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
You may find these related downloads helpful
Have you considered writing an advance decision (or Living Will)? This template can help you outline your care preferences to share with your loved ones.
Writing a death plan
A death plan allows you to relieve the burden of decision making from the shoulders of those you love and creates the opportunity for a peaceful end of life.