Death Imaginaries & Religious Affiliation in Contemporary Hospice Spaces
Last Name Dean-Haidet
Terminal Degree(s) BSN, MSN, MA, PhD Comparative Religion
Title/Position Program & Practice Development Coordinator; Integrative Mental Health APRN Consultant
Institution/Organization OhioHealth Hospice & Palliative Medicine
Spiritual care is a hallmark of hospice practice. Since a revitalization in the 1970s, hospice is defined as an ideal that espouses a total community of interdisciplinary clinicians, family members, and volunteers dedicated to honoring patient wishes for autonomy in dying, while providing care that acknowledges religious plurality. Excellent end-of-life care requires exquisite attention to the diverse values, beliefs, religious ritual, relationships, and death imaginaries of patients and their families. Death imaginaries are defined as the multi-variate sights, sounds, affects, places, activities, and relational connections contained in the hopes and dreams of human beings as they imagine themselves and loved ones after the transition of death. This paper analyzes ethnographic narratives that describe what hospice informants imagine follows death—as an ultimate horizon—paired with their reported religious affiliation.
Referencing over sixty ethnographic narratives collected in multisite hospice spaces, and citing scholarship from the study of religion, this paper suggests that spiritual care involves attention to the inherent worth of human beings within their ever-expanding webs of relation—a holistic model that acknowledges individuality and relationality in dynamic play. The majority of ethnographic narratives contain hopes for continued loving human relation after death, though these hopes are framed tentatively and with uncertainty. Surprisingly, death imaginaries often contrast orthodoxies of the informants’ declared religious affiliation.
Contemporary hospice care relies on an interdisciplinary team approach to whole person and family care at the end-of-life. Hospice practice lies at nexus of medicine and religion, embracing the individual and their relational connections or community. Provision of hospice care may require understanding the imaginings of human beings as they negotiate crossing boundaries between life/death or heaven/earth. Spiritual and religious care in hospice spaces involves keen attention to the ways that human relationships can support joy and help confront suffering during the dying process. Ethnographic studies that examine human hopes, dreams, and projected relationships after death may help guide clinicians in their work to assist patients and families towards a peaceful dying trajectory.