Benny is a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Greenwich & Bexley Hospice and has been a nurse for over 20 years. In this powerful piece, Benny talks about her longstanding Pentecostal beliefs, how she integrates this with her clinical experiences and she calls for more Pentecostal Christians who are approaching the end of their lives to accept what is happening to them, in order to achieve a peaceful death.
When did you become interested in working in palliative care?
I have always had a special interest in palliative care, hence my decision to follow this path after the death of my younger sister to breast cancer at the age of 34.
Tell us about the Pentecostal faith and what it means to you
As a family, we are all Pentecostal Christians. We praise and we worship. Pentecostals believe in the intervention of God, the Holy Spirit.
I believe that God will heal but there is a time to be born and a time to die. We all have different paths, and we are all on a journey. When we reach our bus stop, we get off – it doesn’t matter when you joined. Everyone has a beginning and end. God uses people to heal – clinical professionals, for example. This is why it’s important for me to encourage patients to be open to clinical interventions that are offered, because they don’t know what God’s plan for them is. But some Pentecostal Christians refuse treatment because they believe that God will heal them and they leave it in the hands of God.
In my sister’s case, like the rest of my family she had strong religious beliefs and faith in healing. She did not believe that she should or would die, she believed that she would be healed supernaturally.
Can you share your thoughts about the inner conflict that some terminally ill Christians may experience as they approach the end of their life
Pentecostal Christians believe there must be healing when they are terminally ill. When someone is nearing end of life, there is often an inner conflict between the knowledge that God can heal and cure their disease miraculously and the realisation that they are deteriorating and may not get better. As times goes on, disappointment can set in because the ‘prophetic words’ promising healing don’t seem to be fulfilled.
During the end of life phase there are also times when the patient’s determination to cling on to their faith for his or her healing can hinder the process of letting go and preparing for death.
Similar to my sister’s case and in my experience of caring for African Pentecostal Christians, I believe in and support the ministry of healing. I am confident that we all need to be asking God to heal us, far more than many of us do.
Nonetheless, Christians must accept that death is a mystery and inevitable. There is a difference between ‘healing’ and ‘cure’. God sometimes chooses to cure miraculously and deliver from death. However, we must not forget that this is always only a temporary result, we will all die one day.
The sanctity of life
As Christians our understanding of end of life revolves around holding onto the sanctity of life. Similarly, they believe that they were made in God’s image and that God honours, respects and loves them, so dying in whatever age is not their portion. Most patients and or family members believe that they are made in God’s image, God loves them and has promised them healing in his word, therefore accepting that they will die is not God’s word. Therefore most will exercise their faith to bring forth healing until the last day. Christians believe human life is precious and holy, this is why some reject any shortening of life by anyone except God, however when terminal illness is diagnosed, it is still hard to get the family or patient to engage with end of life care.
Palliative care input and acceptance at end of life
I am quite concerned when Christian patients do not want to engage with palliative care. They do not want to talk about death and they are frightened, as though death is the ultimate disaster. As a result of being in denial or being overshadowed by religious beliefs, they often lose the opportunity to plan with their loved ones or share their last desires or wishes.
Based on my personal and clinical experience, it is advisable to accept death when all medical results indicates a patient is approaching end of life, and talk to their loved ones about their wishes and spend that precious time making memories rather than to live their last days in denial.
I am advocating for more Pentecostal Christian Nurses to join Palliative Care Teams so we as a collective, can support the spiritual care of Christian patients and create more awareness of the importance of palliative care at end of life. This would enable both the patient and family members to find peace and make the best of the remaining days they have together with their loved ones.
With the word of God we are uniquely equipped to speak the truth into issues around end of life care to our patients.
In conclusion, it is important to point out that palliative and end of life care is a challenging role that requires empathy, compassion and understanding of the needs and beliefs of the patient and their families. A Palliative Care Nurse must have a passion for this role in order to work effectively and maintain their own wellbeing while caring for their patients. As Christians in this area of Nursing, we have to be secure in our hope in Christ because death and dying creates fear.
When I visit Pentecostal Christians my hope is to enable them to find acceptance of what is happening to them and achieve a peaceful death. Hebrews 2:15 talks of ‘those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’. The world believes that physical death is the worst thing that can happen to a person but some people believe that life without a purpose and loss of dignity could be worse.