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Emotional-Spiritual Issues in Serious Illness

As we face the possibility that we are in the last chapter of our lives, our priorities suddenly change. Life's details may fade to the background, and we may find ourselves looking at its deeper meanings. Old conflicts pale in importance, and the desire to resolve difficulties with family relationships often comes to the fore. Serious illness presents an opportunity to evaluate one's life. People often reflect upon their accomplishments and even humbly acknowledge their regrets. When facing a serious illness, we commonly think about what remains undone and focus on addressing those issues one day at a time.

Luis is a 68-year-old man who has advanced diabetes. His kidneys are starting to fail. When he is honest with himself, he realizes that the dialysis is only a temporary solution. Although he was religious in his youth, he has not been to church in many decades. As he concedes that his illness is quite serious, spirituality is becoming more important to him. He spends quite a bit of time seeking his own interpretation of the meaning of life.

As the days and weeks pass, Luis goes back and forth between periods of hope of recovery and periods of letting go. Both he and his family are grieving, yet they have also become aware of the gifts his illness has revealed. For instance, Luis has been able to mend some of the rifts in his relationships and has resolved a long-time family conflict with his daughter that separated them for more than 15 years.

Although they are uncomfortable thinking about his death, his family caregivers know it is inevitable and are doing their best to make him comfortable. Still, it is extremely difficult to watch someone you care about gradually decline, with little hope of getting better. His children are also concerned about their mother. They hope that when the time comes, they will be able to band together and support her, and each other, in their mourning.


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"We all know we're going to pass some day, but we don't like to think about it. A diagnosis like this, though, suddenly makes it real. I've found that it's changed the way I feel about myself, my family, my place in the world. I've had to rethink what it all means."