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Spiritual Support for a Dying Person of a Different Faith

Dear Barbara, Can you recommend a book guiding a new hospice volunteer (me) with spiritual support to a dying person whose views are very different from my own?

I do not have a book to recommend that tells you how to support a patient with spiritual views other than your own. BUT I can tell you what I think.

 A person doesn’t have to believe what we believe for us to support them in their journey. As a volunteer, or as a professional, our spiritual views are our own and kept to ourselves. We do not share them with patients or their families. 

If you can’t do that then you are in the wrong job. 

We support others in their belief system no matter what we believe. It is not about us. 

If a patient were to ask outright “What do you believe spiritually?” you should respond: “This is not about me and what I believe. Can you share with me what you think happens? What do you believe?”

A conversation is started as they sort out their beliefs and you listen. You do not add “Have you ever thought about this?” That is the job of clergy.  That is the time you suggest that perhaps they are having questions and thoughts that a chaplain could help them with.  Ask “Can I help make the contact?” 

End of life work is sacred work. Everyone’s belief is sacred.  Yes, as end of life approaches we will have many life questions to consider: life’s meaning, purpose, and our beliefs. And yes, the patient may ask anyone who happens to be close by and who they feel comfortable with what they think. 

Our job is to gently redirect the question back to them and their thoughts, not share ours, AND to offer to bring in someone more trained than we are.

About our own beliefs, I can tell you my spiritual beliefs are what directed me to end of life work. Because of my beliefs I felt I could support others as their lives came to a close, not support them WITH my beliefs, but BECAUSE of my beliefs. 

My beliefs are not for sharing with others. They are to get ME through the night and to help ME live my best possible life.

Something More…  about Spiritual Support for a Dying Person of a Different Faith

Here are a couple other blog articles on the topic:  Faith and the Dying Process  & Dying Without Faith

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.

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