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Spirituality and caring

Difficult or traumatic events in your life might lead you to ask questions about why something is happening to you or why something happens at all. Similarly, when a person is ill or dying they might think about what their life means or what will happen after they die.

Spirituality, or looking for meaning in your life, is a personal thing. For some people it means religious belief, but many believe that spirituality doesn’t have to be religious. Listening to beautiful music or appreciating nature may be spiritual experiences for some.

For some people, awareness of their own or someone else’s mortality brings questions about life’s meaning and purpose. For others, spirituality might already play an important and guiding role in their life. Religious faith may help some people to make sense of their situation, but others might find that they begin to question the beliefs that they have built their lives on.

Having the opportunity to talk about spiritual issues can help carers and the people they care for to feel more at peace and better able to deal with what the future might bring.

Getting spiritual support in a hospital

Most hospitals have a chaplaincy or religious, spiritual and pastoral care department, with representatives from different faiths. Their job is to listen to and support anyone who needs spiritual help, no matter what their beliefs. Chaplains should not impose the beliefs of any religion on someone who asks for their support.

If you wish to see a chaplain, you can ask a member of ward staff to contact them on your behalf. Some hospitals have a chaplain on call 24 hours a day.

It might be that you just need some space. Hospital chapels are not only for people who have religious faith. If at any time you need a quiet place to think, to pray or just to be alone, you can use the chapel.

Spiritual support in a terminal illness

If the person you look after is terminally ill and receiving palliative care, and they would like spiritual support, this should be considered as an integral part of their care.

Along with medical and physical needs, palliative care aims to look after the emotional and spiritual needs of patients, families and carers. A member of the palliative care team will be able to advise you about how to get spiritual support that is appropriate for the person you look after, whatever their faith or beliefs. If they are in hospital or a hospice, and would prefer to talk with a spiritual adviser from their own community, it should be possible to arrange this.

If you need to get information about spiritual support in a particular belief or faith, the department of religious, spiritual and pastoral care of your nearest hospice or hospital will be able to give you the names of local contacts.

Religion

Many people’s personal identity is strongly connected with their religion and community. As a carer it is important that you are able to continue to follow a religious routine if you wish to. If you are caring for someone who is religious, you may need some additional help to allow them to continue their worship.

Many carers find that caring for someone can make their routines difficult, for example, praying at regular times during the day or attending a place of worship.

If you care for someone whose religion is different from your own it is important that you understand and respect their beliefs and learn about their religious requirements, such as diet.

Prayer

Some religions place importance on worshipping in a particular way, or in a specific place. Meeting at a place of worship can also provide people with a sense of community and may be a way for them to stay in touch with family and friends.

If the person you care for has a physical disability they may need help to carry out their prayer ritual or reach their place of worship.

If the person you care for needs help to attend their place of worship or has difficulty carrying out their rituals or prayers, mention this in your carer’s assessment. Similarly, if you want to attend a place of worship, but the person you care for doesn’t, then you should mention this in your carer’s assessment.

Places of worship

For many people, attending a place of worship is a vital part of their beliefs. This may be difficult if the person you care for has restricted mobility or if you have different faiths and don’t wish to attend the same place.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act (2005) places of worship must make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people to access their buildings and facilities. If they have made adjustments but the person you look after is still unable to access the buildings and facilities, you should contact them and advise them of your problem and how it might be solved.

Dietary requirements

As a carer, you should be aware of any medical dietary requirements the person you care for has and how these may conflict with their religious beliefs. This is especially important if you prepare their meals for them.

You should also be aware of how religious dietary requirements, such as fasting or avoidance of particular foods may affect their health. It may be wise to consult their GP to make sure it is safe for them to follow religious dietary requirements.

Support from your faith group

You and your family may regard your caring role as a duty. This can make it difficult to discuss any problems you have as a carer.

You may prefer to seek support from a local religious group. Many religions have organisations set up to help their members. This means that their focus is on your religion or culture and you can concentrate on the issues that matter to you most.

For information and support from these organisations visit our directory of services to find their contact details.

Religious festivals

Festivals are a vital part of most religions. If you need to attend a place of worship for a religious festival without the person you care for you will need to make alternative care arrangements for them. You can do this either with friends or family, or through your local authority. You should make your local authority aware of these needs when you have a carer’s assessment.

If the person you care for would like to attend a religious festival, you may be able to arrange for specialist transport to collect them and bring them home. Alternatively, you could attend with them, and you should mention this during your carer's assessment.

You should inform the assessor during your carer’s assessment of faiths and preferred practices for you both, so that relevant provisions can be made to help.

Respite care

If you wish to attend services without the person you care for, but are concerned about leaving them, you could look into short-term respite care. This is provided by your local authority, which will provide a sitting service so you can attend your place of worship.

Specialist transport

If you have problems with mobility then the local authority will provide specialist transport to your place of worship. Some charitable organisations and faith-based groups also provide transport in these circumstances.

You may also need to consider transport options if the person you look after or both of you intend to make a religious pilgrimage. For more information, see our pages on transport in England, and travelling abroad.

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Page last reviewed: 09/04/2014

Next review due: 09/04/2016

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Edna Graham, who cared for her mother through pancreatic cancer

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Read how Edna found support from her faith when she was caring for her mother who had terminal pancreatic cancer