Caring for the Whole Person: Spiritual Life of Patient Plays a Crucial Role

Article excerpt

THE SPIRITUAL LIFE of a patient who is dying or has a life-threatening illness plays a crucial role in his or her sense of well-being. "In this room that is old news," said Dr. Balfour Mount, founder of McGill University's programs of integrated whole person care, to a meeting of 1,200 Canadian and American chaplains. "In most lectures, when I say that, half the room faints," he said.

The quality of life of someone who has cancer or another life threatening disease is not defined solely by his or her physical well being, he said, offering two examples to explain his point. One patient was a young man, a leader in high school, a success in business and a great athlete. He had cancer and the treatments had not stopped its growth. One day, the patient told Dr. Mount that the past year had been the best of his life. He had had a wonderful life but had never stopped long enough to look inward. During the previous 12 months he had had the time, and it was a most exciting year.

The second patient was an older woman who had a form of cancer that should have been easy to control but continued to spread. Perplexed, Dr. Mount asked her when she last felt physically well. She replied that she had not been well a day in her life. She had always been sick in mind and spirit. Two people, Dr. Mount said, a man dying at 30 with little suffering and a woman dying at 70 with a life script that assured suffering.

During his wide-ranging talk at the joint conference of the Canadian Association for Pastoral Practice and Education and its three American counterparts, Dr. Mount touched on several aspects of caring for the whole person. These included spirituality, the healing power of listening and caring for caregivers.

The spiritual makes a difference because spirituality is about relationships -- with oneself, with others and with God, the Other, the Transcendent or Ultimate Meaning. …