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Do hospices promote despair?

Posted on 25 January 2011, 14:19

In the Foreword of his recently released book with a lengthy title, Nondenominational Quantum Spirituality Lay Manual for Hospice Patients & Their Families: how sciences proves there is an afterlife, T. Lee Baumann, M.D. states that he was shocked when he attempted to volunteer his “science and spirituality” expertise to a hospice in his hometown in Birmingham, Alabama and was turned down.  In effect, he was told that there was “no need.”  Likewise, I was very surprised a few years ago when, while undergoing a weekend of hospice training, I was informed that spiritual matters were not to be discussed with patients unless they brought them up and then it was something that should be referred to the hospice chaplain.

I was further surprised when I attended a talk given by an experienced hospice worker on the subject of “compassion in dying.”  She told the audience that the key is “making the most of each day.”  Those in the audience, responding like a bunch of unthinking robots, nodded their approval, as if the speaker had provided sage advice. My reaction at the end of the presentation was one of bewilderment as the speaker never once touched upon the spiritual aspects of dying.  She never even alluded to the possibility that consciousness survives physical death.  It may be that she did not feel comfortable introducing spiritual matters to a secular audience, or it could be that she had no strong spiritual belief.

When I offered to give a talk about near-death experiences, a subject which I had become very familiar with and written extensively on, to two hospices in my home state of Hawaii, I didn’t even receive the courtesy of a reply from either of two hospice directors.   

While hospice supposedly administers to the spiritual needs of the dying patients, the problem, as I see it, is that “spirituality” seems to be translated to “peace of mind” and otherwise left to the interpretation of hospice directors who must tippy-toe around specific belief systems and leave it to their chaplains to address. Unless one really relishes the idea of total extinction, true peace of mind can only result from a conviction that consciousness survives physical death.  While the majority of hospice chaplains may accept survival, very few are – assuming they are representative of orthodox religions – prepared to go beyond the “blind faith” they espouse and offer the dying patient any real comfort in this respect. 

Searching the Internet, I came across an article by Larry Beresford of Oakland, CA at  Beresford is a journalist who has been writing about hospice care for some 20 years and also wrote “The Hospice Handbook” for volunteers.  In the article, Beresford mentioned that the spiritual aspect of hospice is being diluted.  “If my hypothesis is correct, that this essential spiritual aspect of hospice is being diluted, what might be threatening hospice’s ability to normalize death, facilitate the search for meaning, and help dying patients get their affairs in order in the broadest and most spiritual sense?” he asks, going on to say that the rapid growth of hospice caseloads may be responsible.

I gave Beresford a call to discuss the matter with him.  He pointed out that hospice now has 1.4-million patients a year and the fact that Medicare is now paying for part of the care has added to the administrative burden, especially since the Federal Government is now policing the bills. “When it comes to spirituality, there has been a real effort on the part of hospice not to impose any brand of spirituality on them,” Beresford explained.  “Generally, the chaplains will ask about religious beliefs and ask if they can help the person, but they have to be really careful in that regard.”  He also said that hospice directors are leery of the “born-again” types coming in and scaring the patients by telling them that they are going to burn in hell if they don’t accept their belief system.

Beresford’s comments certainly make sense. There is so much diversity in religious and spiritual views that someone who thinks he is privy to the truth of what follows death might only serve to further confuse the patient and lead the dying person astray.  Certainly, most hospice directors or chaplains wouldn’t approve of any Tom, Dick, or Harriet coming in to a hospice and offering spiritual views that might upset or frighten the patient.  And while some chaplains may remain objective and open to the lessons of the near-death experience and psychical research, I ‘m sure there are many who would see it being in conflict with their orthodox beliefs and thus discourage it.  And so, the hospices seem to do the politically correct thing by avoiding the whole subject as much as possible.  Indications are that many hospice volunteers are able to discuss spiritual matters with patients as long as it is informal and out of earshot of the administrators and chaplains who may not agree with what they have to say.

Beresford also mentioned that a visitor in a Massachusetts hospice overheard a volunteer say something to a patient about “going into the light” and found it offensive enough to file a law suit.  Thus, he pointed out that such complaints and law suits are another concern.  While realizing that he was defending hospice practice in our discussion, Beresford was quick to point out that he understood my concerns about the lack of spiritual counseling in hospice but wanted to be sure I understood the other side of the coin.       

What could be more comforting to dying people than to know that they will live on in other dimensions of reality?  There is an approach to this that falls outside the dogma and doctrine of organized religions, although many religious leaders are not prepared to accept it out of fear that there will be some conflict with their teachings.  I’m referring to psychical research, including near-death studies, which suggests that we live on after death and further gives some indication as to the nature of the afterlife.  In his short but concise book, Dr. Baumann, mentioned in the first paragraph, explains how an understanding of quantum physics can point one toward an acceptance of the survival of consciousness at death.  He begins by discussing the nature of light and light waves and then goes on to discuss atomic decay and the laws of the solar system.  He further discusses how the near-death experience contributes to an understanding of the laws of quantum physics.  “Science demands that our souls have an existence beyond our worldly one,” writes Baumann, a former atheist.  “We don’t yet have all the answers, but are certainly wiser.  Science supports our spirituality.  Our souls do not disperse into nothingness.”

By itself, this short book will not likely convince non-believers, but it offers a starting point or core belief that one might begin with before going on to further studying the rich scientific evidence suggesting that we do live on.  No, there is no “absolute proof,” as the spiritually-challenged seem to demand, but the evidence at the very least meets the preponderance standard of the law and should offer much hope to dying people with no real conviction on the matter. 

I’ve often heard the “making the most of each day” advice.  It is sometimes expressed as “living in the present,” “living in the moment,” “living in the now” or “living life to the fullest.”  Nice advice if one has a lot of money and can take an around-the-world cruise.  But how many dying people are strong enough to do that?  Most people with only a few months to live require constant care and perhaps pain medication. Many of them don’t have the strength to leave the bedroom or house. What exactly does that person do to make the most of each day?  Watch more TV?  Escape into a novel?  Play crossword puzzles?  Go out into the garden and smell the roses?  Call up friends and engage in idle chit-chat?  Discuss last night’s game? 

When I put the question to a friend recently, he said he would spend more time with his grandchildren.  But how much time can you really spend with your grandchildren?  And what if you don’t have children or grandchildren or they don’t live near you?  And what if the grandchildren would prefer to spend time hanging out with their friends at the local   tattoo parlor than with you?  Moreover, is it really comforting to spend time with the grandchildren, all the time realizing that it will be all over in a month or two?  As the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James put it:

“The luster of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of possibilities it goes with.  Let our common experiences be enveloped in an eternal moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance; let Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their visits; let faith and hope be the atmosphere which man breathes in; and his days pass by with zest; they stir with prospects, they thrill with remoter values.  Place around them on the contrary the curdling cold and gloom and absence of all permanent meaning which for pure naturalism and the popular-science evolutionism of our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill stops short, or turns rather to an anxious trembling.” 

The hard-core non-believers often put up a brave front and say they are prepared to walk into the abyss of nothingness since they won’t know it anyway, but as Professor James saw it that attitude is just so much bravado that melts away with age and as the moment of departure nears.

When contemplating a move to another state or planning a trip to another country, the smart person plans ahead and finds out as much about that state or country as he or she can.  He checks out books from the library, buys books, picks up travel brochures, whatever, so he is fully prepared for the move.  The person doesn’t depart without knowing something about where he or she is going.  Shouldn’t it be that way with the transition called death?

One of the biggest problems we face in confronting death is that orthodox religion has offered nothing more than a humdrum heaven or horrific hell.  If the person thinks she is going to the humdrum heaven, it is pretty hard to get excited about floating around on clouds all day, strumming harps, and praising God 24/7.

If I were running a hospice, I would make sure it was filled with plenty of reading material about what the Other Side is like.  I would begin with the three Elsa Barker- authored books offered at this White Crow web site, as well as the Conan Doyle books.
I could make a list of at least 200 books which would go in the hospice library to either 1) help convince the patient that his or her consciousness will survive death, or 2) give the person a better idea as to what the afterlife environment is like.

I would invite speakers from various groups, such as the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) or the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies (ASPSI) to give talks to the patients as to what to their understanding of death is all about. I’d also make available a number of DVD’s about the Near-Death experience and make sure that all patients watch the new BIO channel special “I Survived:  Beyond and Back” on Sundays.

Unless the chaplain had an open mind toward these things, I’d probably fire her or him.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.



I believe that all who are at the precipice of ‘death’ should at least have some verisimilitudinous, empirical evidence of survival available to them, should they be inclined to review it. It would be patently wrong for terminal patients to be denied the opportunity to review objective empirical evidence based on subjective orthodox beliefs. Make it available and let the patient decide. Even the dying should be entitled to retain their freedom of choice.

Dr. Ken S., Sun 27 Mar, 02:02

“I have met many persons whose lives have been deeply affected by how they had died in their past lives.”

This is exactly one of the reasons why hospice will not allow this type of thing, and they shouldn’t. They are correct not to. You have met many who are affected by how they died in their past lives? Well, speaking from experience, I claim to know that so called past lives are nothing but a myth. A fantasy dreamed up by the humna mind. Which of us is correct?

Hospice knows there is no shortage of people who will “enlighten” someone to “reality”. Problem is that EVERYONE is convinced that what they are saying is “reality” with a capital “R”.

There is no shortage of bums who will either put someone in eternal torture or reincarnate them as someone else or some other animal or object…all under the slogan of “reality”.

NDEs “prove” eternal torture, fundamental Catholicism, liberal Catholicism, fundamentalist Christianity, liberal Christianity, Hinduism, the new age, that Yama & Yamatoots really exist, Judaism, and on and on. Exactly what is this supposed to prove to anyone? To the ignorant, who don’t realize all of this, it might prove something except it only “proves” it because of their ignorance.

After all, it’s just what someone who has blood coming out of their nose and mouth needs to when some jackass tells them “relax, it’s just their karma, they got what they deserve”.

Grow up people. At least make it believable. And stop thinking you know some secret “knowledge” because you are so “enlightened”.

There is no shortage of “teachers”. The world needs less of those, not more.

Randy, Sat 12 Mar, 08:24

This is so disheartening. I’ve had the experience of watching a dear friend go through the slow and painful process of dying from cancer. Strangely enough, some parts of that time were amazingly touching and beautiful. My friend knew that I was an NDEr. I didn’t even know it was called that back then, but I had told her about my experience long before she became ill. She saw angels and spirits who were there for her during her last year of life. It was important for her to talk about dying. She had questions, expectations and fears about what might be happening to her. But she never once doubted that it was just a transition, not an end. I’m really glad that we shared that time together. I know many of her friends and family stayed away because it was just too hard to watch her condition deteriorate. She understood and never held it against them.

In many ways the experience of helping my friend made it easier for me to live on. I still feel terribly homesick for what it was like to be dead. I sometimes get frustrated and angry that I was sent back. Like maybe I did something wrong. But being able to give comfort to my friend when she needed it helped make some sense of why I had to come back. Because if I had been given the choice to give up the NDE place long enough to help my friend, I would have say “yes” in a heartbeat.

I can’t imagine having to go through what my friend did without being able to talk about it. She couldn’t talk to her kids or her parents about dying. I would imagine most people need someone outside the family to talk to because telling the ones you love “yes, I’m dying” isn’t always possible. It’s sad that just talking about death is considered “religious” or somehow contentious since we all have to deal with it at some point. It shouldn’t be a taboo topic.

Sandy, Fri 4 Feb, 06:12

Yes Paul, this is true that we all survive, but as I understand Mike’s article, this is not the gist of it. To me it is about the uplifting anticipation of death that can be a part of dying vs. the conditioned desolation or horror of it.
And I am not so sure how quickly we get over the part of dying. I have met many persons whose lives have been deeply affected by how they had died in their past lives.

Hania, Mon 31 Jan, 12:53


Thank you for your comment. But try to tell someone who is a “short-timer” in this plane of existence that and it is not very comforting.  An atheistic neighbor who died of throat cancer that took several years to kill him appeared in complete despair during the dying process.  One can say “What’s two years of pain in the great scheme of things?”  but when one is undergoing the pain and dicomfort it is not all that simple.  Moreover, as I am sure you know, the evidence suggests that we take our beliefs with us.  Thus, the person who doesn’t believe that his consciousness will survive may well not realize that he is “dead.”  He might very well experience a “fire of the mind” for some time after his passing, however time is played out in that realm.

Michael Tymn, Mon 31 Jan, 03:31

While I have no experience with hospices per se, I do know how comforting a knowledge of the afterlife and the fact of survival of consciousness can be. On the other hand, I also
realize that it doesn’t matter, ultimately: we all
survive, no matter what our beliefs, and the process of dying is relatively short compared to
“forever”! We get over the dying part very quickly.

Paul D. Biscop, Ph.D.,, Mon 31 Jan, 01:21

Mike, I read your article on hospices and agree 100% with everything you say.  Throughout the years I had worked and volunteered with many inpatient hospices. My experience has been exactly as what you describe. Actually here in Albuquerque I encountered s o m e hospice nurses very open to spirituality but not so the doctors. never the doctors. Medical model has no room in it for spirituality. My only hope is that the new doctors will be less indoctrinated in this demeaning way of approaching life.

While my own mother was dying and we had hospice nurses come to her home, I had some profound spiritual experiences connected with my mother. As I felt an overwhelming need to share these experiences with someone, (and the nurses were the only ones available to me at that time, as friends ran away in their fear of death and pain) when I mentioned these experiences to the
nurses, I was advised that stress can produces many strange experiences and to stay cheerful. I later became aware that they also talked about me that I was “splitting.” Oh well, who cares now - but it would have been certainly very sweet to have someone listen to me then.

Hania Stromberg, Sun 30 Jan, 12:28


Thank you for your comments.  I agree to some extent, but word limitations usually require a generalization.  I could go on and on about the exceptions, but, as they taught us in journalism school, you have to get to the point and let the reader come up with his own exceptions. 

I used to fancy myself a stoic in my distance running days.  Stoicism is a “grin and bear it” philosophy.  It might not involve bravado, but it doesn’t bring the necessary peace of mind.  But, again, I am generalizing.  I am sure there must be exceptions, although I suspect there is a lot of rationalization going on with those exceptions.  But what do I know?  Thanks again.

Michael Tymn, Sun 30 Jan, 07:04

Cyrus, what you say is true in part. But unfortunately, panic attacks, anxiety and depression can afflict spiritual people as well as the unenlightened. These things can be caused by neurological chemical unbalances and damage that have nothing to do with ultimate spiritual truths. Such human badness is the inevitable result of the inevitable bodily and emotional suffering that is part of life. Most humans even those who know or at least try to believe in survival and ultimate good cannot rise above suffering just by realizing that it is temporary, and that we are not the body, but an immortal soul that cannot be damaged or destroyed.

davidm, Sun 30 Jan, 01:06

It’s this attitude about death which is my greatest motivator to be part of the solution versus the problem. Exactly, in a world WITHOUT continual progression what IS there to do? Idle chit chat and escapism? This is why people in our physicalist culture suffer anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and a crushing sense of darkness.

Cyrus, Sat 29 Jan, 17:37


I agree with most of what you say above, especially the importance of openness to the spirtual beliefs of those in the last stages, but I have to say you seem to be doing what you accuse skeptics of doing: caricaturing opposite views.

Spiritual traditions, especially from the east, make it evident one does not have to have a lot of money or amuse oneself to “live in the moment”, and I don’t think bravado is the only resource disbelievers have to approach death with.  There is also stoicism.

Coyd Walker, Sat 29 Jan, 01:39

My, how fortunate my husband and I were then, when a wonderful Hospice nurse was on the same page with our spiritual views of death and the afterlife. My husband made his transition peacefully and with a firm belief in the afterlife which was supported by his nurse.

She was very supportive of both of us through the “dying” process and I am very grateful.

Our experience made me think it was the norm.

How sad to find that it is not.

Yvonne Limoges, Thu 27 Jan, 21:13

Dear Mike I agree with everything in the article and comments of others.  I was reading one of your articles a week or so ago in preparation for my spirituality group.  This isn’t on the topic of hospice but certainly the military is another area where life after death could be so helpful.  There were and have been so many after death stories of soliders in war time I coudln’t help but think about how exciting it would be to go to a VA hospital and volunteer to read some of these stories to the survivors who have so much guilt about how their buddies died - the peace and how the ghosts of the soliders were still on the battlefield when the enemy came - the white light - all the beauty they felt and saw while their commrades are thinking they had such a horrible death. 

It is like a plague that people don’t want to just listen to these stories in our institutions.  They would bring such peace to those who are alive.  Blessings to all, Karen

Rev Karen E Herrick PhD, Wed 26 Jan, 21:30

how enlightening… I had no idea hospice was so gutless… how sad.

Alex Tsakiris, Wed 26 Jan, 18:49

Those are my findings as well and I feel the same way. And I get the part about not wanting people coming in a forcing their beliefs on others when they are so vulnerable, and I don’t, unless I’m sure they are open to it (and no one else is around). I’m a near-death experiencer and a 20-year hospice volunteer which I thought was a great combination only to find that hospice wants me to keep that comfort to myself. It is changing. 20 years ago I was told not to mention it. My current hospice finally let me do a volunteer in-service a couple of months ago about my book, “Beginner’s Guide to Conscious Dying,” in which I explain how people can prepare themselves using guided meditation for a peaceful transition to the Light. I’ve been pushing to do some community presentations to open the conversation and involve physicians and chaplains so we’ll see if that happens this summer. Meanwhile I’m revising the Beginner’s Guide by adding some material from my Transition Guide Training manual and the new book will be titled, “Transition Guides: Companions for the Dying.” There are some alternative hospices in the country offering some of the healing arts, like massage, yoga, energy work, hypnotherapy—those are the people I want to train as Transition Guides so it becomes a natural part of their work with the dying. I envision soul healing centers where people come to make their transition.

Diane Goble, Wed 26 Jan, 11:30

Mike, I’ve been a hospice volunteer for four years and I can tell you that most of what you’re saying here is absolutely correct. There are very strict guidelines for discussing spiritual topics with patients and families, and these can only be discussed if the patient/family clearly asks your opinion and insists on hearing your views. The only person in a hospice who is allowed to talk about spirituality is the hospice chaplain (which is why I’m in school getting a degree in Divinity so I can become a hospice chaplain. But even then, the idea is always to let the patient lead the way. And I actually agree with this approach.

Nobody is going to change their beliefs at the end of life, and it’s not our job to change anything at all about the way the patient creates his or her own transition experience. We have to “meet them where they are,” and support them in whatever way they need. The only time I would ever intervene in a patient’s views is if they’re terrified of judgment and hell, and in that case I would offer some alternatives via guided meditations to take them to the higher realms so they can see for themselves that there is no hell.

Spirituality definitely needs to be a bigger part of hospice care, and there are some hospices that embrace this,and some that don’t. You’re right about the reason… there are fundamentalists who will scare patients about hell and salvation, and anybody who does that in a hospice would be fired immediately. But so would someone who tries to talk a Christian out of their beliefs. The bottom line is that we don’t try to tweak people. What I do is help them open up, let them talk, and determine where their mindset is, and then I find books to read to them that are metaphysically accurate but religiously neutral, such as the Emmanuel Books (which are channeled, and brilliant). I find that most of the patients love this. And then of course, when they’re “actively dying,” almost all of them see their dead relatives, or angels or other visions. We are allowed to support and encourage this, but sadly, the family members and some of the medical staff will call it “hallucinations.”

I could write volumes about this!

Terri Daniel, Wed 26 Jan, 06:19

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