Dear Barbara, How important is spirituality and how do you reach out to a non-religious person who believes the end is the end?

One of the “End of Life Rules” in supporting someone is to accept them with their belief system. It is not our place to try to share our beliefs, only to support theirs. I let a patient know I will talk about anything, just ask me, but what I’m really doing is getting them to talk, to tell me their beliefs, concerns, and ideas. This is not about me and my beliefs. It is about the patient and family’s belief. I always say if someone believes pink elephants are coming through the door to lead the way, I’ll hold the door open for them to come in. 

So, to answer your question, “How do you reach out to a non-religious person who believes the end is the end?” You don’t. If they want to talk about it they will reach out to you. And then—- We listen. We do not share our beliefs or try to change theirs. 

You ask a good question, “How important is spirituality?” I will add to your question what does the word really mean? I went to my favorite internet friend, Google, and got a variety of definitions:

* Spirituality involves the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory experience and that the greater whole of which we are part is cosmic or divine in nature.

* Shamans, healers, sages and wisdom keepers of all times, all continents and all peoples, in their ageless wisdom, say that human spirituality is composed of three aspects: relationships, values and life purpose.

* The quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.——Signs of spirituality: asking deep questions about topics such as suffering and what happens after death; deepening connections with other people; experiencing compassion and empathy for others; experiencing feelings of interconnectedness, feelings of awe and wonder.

* AND my favorite: What’s the difference between religion and spirituality?

Religion: This is a specific set of organized beliefs and practices, usually shared by a community or group. Spirituality: This is more of an individual practice, and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose.

It is in this definition, “Spirituality: This is more of an individual practice, and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose” that I find our mission of end of life support and guidance. It’s not about our beliefs, our opinions, or even our concerns. It is about supporting and guiding the person facing the end of their life to see they had a purpose and to experience a sense of peace in that purpose being at its end. I believe it is in that definition we find the spirituality of our work.

Something More…  about Reaching out to a Non-Religious Person At End of Life

I write about the hospice philosophy and the different roles hospice staff provides patients and families in my book, THE FINAL ACT OF LIVING.  And here is another blog article that has similarities to this topic- Initiating Religious Talks In Hospice Care.


Originally Published on

Barbara Karnes Registered Nurse

Barbara Karnes, RN Award Winning End of Life Educator, Award Winning Nurse, NHPCO Hospice Innovator Award Winner 2018 & 2015 International Humanitarian Woman of the Year

While at the bedside of hundreds of people during the dying process, Hospice Pioneer Barbara Karnes noticed that each death was following a near identical script. Each person was going through the stages of death in almost the same manner and most families came to her with similar questions. These realizations led Barbara to sit down and write Gone From My Sight, "The Little Blue Book" that changed the hospice industry.