The thought around the question is this:
EricEnfermero’s website (thank you by the way) makes the point that science is inclined to study religion while “In contrast, spirituality, and in particular, patient spirituality, has received greater attention in clinical practice.”
In other words religion, because it has doctrine and is written down, is relatively easy to study. Spirituality, on the other hand, is almost completely unique to the individual… which makes it extremely difficult to study.
Science, in that regard, is rather like the drunk who dropped a coin in the alley but looks for it under the street light… because he can see better there.
Additionally, one’s personal spirituality (pardon the redundancy) is often hidden… at least until dying process comes along, dissolves the façade and exposes it. Consequently, insight into spirituality usually falls within the purview of a select few; often, individual clinicians… the nurse who is present at 2 AM for example.
What science finds extremely difficult to study at all (and so far, has not) hospice nurses see all the time; i.e. human spirituality in the raw.
Which makes me wonder…
Would hospice nurses then not have some particular insight… some special understanding… of human spirituality? Including the difference between spirituality and religion?
And by extension, are they not aware of differences in how religion and spirituality play out in dying process?
Posts in response to this question are remarkably consistent. They are notable for their lack of dogma, indeed for a certain antipathy for dogma. The highly unique quality of spirituality is acknowledged (by experienced hospice nurses) and the conformity that is so often encouraged by religion is lamented.
All of which suggests that the supposed difficulty in making accurate observations of unique phenomena may not be so difficult after all. Experienced hospice nurses seem to draw very similar conclusions. To wit…
Dogmatic, closed-minded, know-it-all types have a harder time with their dying… whether they be of the religious or scientific variety. Dogma is dogma after all, regardless of its genus.
Dying involves moving into the unknown. To withstand the impact of the unknown one must be as open-minded as possible. Fluidity, adaptability and openness are the keys to success. Practicing and developing these attributes in life prepares one for more life.
We are inclined to think (so did I initially) that if a person is religious or smart, s/he should be better prepared. However, my experience ran contrary to that expectation. When it comes to predicting the degree of ease and grace with which a person will handle their dying, it is better to evaluate their openness than their religion or their intellect. Indeed, strict adherence to religious dogma or rigid intellectual constructs is more often a harbinger of angst than of grace.
A good example of this is a sixty-some year old patient I once had who was mentally retarded… not severely, but he was no Einstein. He was, interestingly enough, born and died in the same house, the same room and the same bed. He died very nicely. Shortly before he passed he saw things I could not, accepted them and moved on. He was open to his experience and handled it much better than most of the preachers and professors I have known.
What I am intensely curious about… and will probably never get the chance to study (at least from this side) is how hospice nurses die. Because they are the beneficiaries of extremely rare and valuable data, my theory is they should do well with their own dying. Do you suppose I will be disabused of this presumption too?