Last week, my brother and I set ourselves to the humbling task of helping another brother in declining health move cross-country. Our ill brother is in his sixties, the oldest in our group of siblings, and we moved him from one nursing home to another.
He is suffering from a progressive, debilitating disease that attacks both body and mind. We lost our father only 13 years ago, and for one of us to be seriously ill so soon seems premature, especially the funny one, the one whose spirit and personality have always been happiest, the one most likely to make light of a situation.
A large cast of caregivers appears in the first days after arriving at a nursing home: the nurse who received us, a variety of aides in vibrant blue scrubs, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist. One afternoon, a calm and friendly woman whose title I’ve forgotten asked to take a personal history.
This brother and I were not always close, especially in the last decade. I did my best. Former occupation? Saddle maker. Music? Seventies — Rollings Stones and David Bowie. Habits? Loves talk radio, NPR, liked to draw and read, metal working. Religion? No.
We were not a religious family. In adulthood, some of us have made forays into Christianity or Buddhism or both. But, as far as I know, not this brother. I’ve been mulling over that last answer for a few days. I worry that answering “no religion” might prevent the staff from engaging with my brother on a spiritual level.
A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that fewer and fewer Americans identify as religious. Belief in God has dropped from 71 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2014.(3) But most of us practice some form of spirituality.
In 1999, The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in an effort to educate medical providers on how to more compassionately engage with patients at the end of life, addressed the issue of spirituality.
“Spirituality is recognized as a factor that contributes to health in many persons,” they wrote. (1)
The AAMC defined spirituality as an individual’s search for ultimate meaning through participation in:
1) Puchalski, Christina M., M.D., M.S. uab.edu. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
2) Frankl V: Man’s Search for Meaning. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984, p. 135.)
3) U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious. PewForum.org. Retrieved November 2, 2016.