In all the caregiving I have done with my husband (cancer), brother (end stage renal failure), and mom (congestive heart failure), I have asked them if they wanted to say a prayer while I visited, or when I was leaving. They always said, ‘yes’. The fear of death in a terminal illness sometimes leads to either: 1) being mad at God or 2) leading them to God in terms of redemption and forgiveness. My family opted for the latter, after questioning many times, of course, why this was happening to them as any normal patient would do.
My brother Ron (inspiration for RonWear Port-able Clothing) once told me, “I love when we pray. It gives me hope”. With all my family, I would keep the prayers short and ask God to heal as He see’s fit, and ask God to offer comfort and peace with the situation. Sometimes we would watch a modern day program on spirituality like Joel Osteen or even EWTN-TV if there was something good on that related to the patient. I would walk at their pace, as it is their journey. Their relationship with God is personal one. Each person’s journey is different, but can be influenced by those around them who ‘offer’ prayer, or ‘offer’ a religious figure (priest, rabbi, minister, etc) to speak to– if they are willing. “Offering” is not pushing–its giving the patient the option of their spiritual choices in their end-stage of life, when sometimes, they need help in making decisions, also.
Sometimes a prayer before a meal with the patient is an easy way to invite support through prayer. That may be a less ‘threatening’ way to offer consolation through the prayer that the caregiver or friend could lead. Words could be offered in a meal prayer that could ask for comfort and peace and give hope to the patient, giving them a feeling of relief internally; knowing that there is someone asking for things that maybe they just do not know how to ask God for themselves.
In turn, it was consoling for me as a caregiver, that I potentially helped lead my loved ones to the right spiritual path before they died–specifically my brother and husband, as they came full circle in their faith. My mom was always spiritual and taught me throughout my life by her example. In her last years, I would make sure I got her to Mass or had a priest come to give her the Eucharist (we are Catholic) and she was grateful, especially at the very end, where it was obvious that she waited for the priest to come for her last anointing. She was totally alert, but passed 20 minutes after the priest left. This was what was important to her throughout her life, and especially in her death.
When offering prayer or a pastoral visit to a patient, that offer is more likely to be taken up by the ill patient now, than any other time in their life. We should not be afraid to ‘offer’. If the answer is ‘no’, it’s ok! It is the patient’s spiritual journey, not yours. Their choices in their spirituality- as were the choices in their treatment– are their own. Your spiritual support as a caregiver or friend may bring your terminally ill loved one to total peace and comfort before their death. Don’t be afraid to make the ‘offer’ to someone before you who is passing. In the end of their time, it just may be the thing that changes their entire life! (and possibly yours for doing so!)