Laurence has been St Gemma’s Spiritual Care Lead since last summer. He wanted to share his story to raise awareness of how the Spiritual Care team help people on an individual basis, whether they are religious or not.
“It’s not really surprising that people think about religion when they hear the words ‘spiritual care.’ While people who practice a faith will understandably see a strong connection between their spiritual practises and their religion, at St Gemma’s we look at spirituality more broadly and inclusively. The root word of ‘spirituality’ is the Latin word for breath. From this, we can ask: what is it that breathes life and meaning into this person? How do they make sense of their lives, of the world and their relationships with other people? In this sense, spiritual care is about what matters most deeply to people, whether they are religious or not.
“When I talk with someone, I consciously try to make no assumptions about them or their lives. Rather, I invite them to tell their own unique story. We might find ourselves thinking about their home, their work, their important relationships, their hopes, their passions or their dreams. We may find ourselves reflecting on key moments or turning points in their lives. Some patients may find difficulty sleeping as they think about their past, or worry about the impact of their illness or death on close friends and family members. Prayers and ritual are available and will always be important for a number of our patients, but these commonly take up only a part of the overall work of spiritual care.
“Most people I speak with are looking back at their lives, perhaps thinking of happy memories, past regrets or both. Most human relationships experience strain at some point, and it is common for people facing end of life to think deeply about these experiences. In spiritual care, we have the privilege of being alongside patients as they recall these experiences and try to make sense of them. We try to help patients identify the things that they have contributed to the world, and to the lives of their friends and family members. This is so important in helping people prepare for death.
“Some people may ask me to pray with them. Others need me to listen deeply, or just be there with them. We might sit together in silence, without the need to talk. Many people desire deeply to have their life stories heard and recognised – ‘witnessed’ by another human being who will listen and not judge. I can’t fix things from their past or take away their illness but I can be alongside them, recognising their truth.
“Spiritual care involves walking alongside a patient as they approach the end of their life, or sometimes alongside a family member as they try to makes sense of impending bereavement. Each journey and each person is unique and different. Some may feel relief as they approach the end of life, while others feel disempowered and out of control. However they feel, I am there to support them in whatever way they find helpful. Before meeting a new patient, I ask myself, “How can I support this unique, amazing person so that their quality of life is as good as it can be?” There is so much overlap between physical, emotional and spiritual care at the end of life, and being part of a passionate and committed team at St Gemma’s leaves me with a deep sense of privilege.”