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The contribution of silence to spiritual care at the end of life: a phenomenological exploration from the experience of palliative care chaplains

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/03/2018
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal for the Study of Spirituality
Issue number1
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)34-48
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date25/02/18
<mark>Original language</mark>English


At the end of life, silence often takes increasing prominence in caregiving encounters. Valued in spiritual and religious traditions, silence lends itself to the spiritual and existential dimensions of healthcare but lack of familiarity with the phenomenon can lead to anxiety or avoidance. Greater understanding of the contribution of silence to care may support professional caregiving practice. This paper reports research that explored the nature, meaning and value of silence in palliative spiritual care. In a two-phase phenomenological approach, data were gathered through self-inquiry and unstructured interviews with 15 palliative care chaplains. A descriptive and hermeneutic analysis facilitated explication of the lived experience to produce an interpretation of essential qualities of silence in this context. ‘Spiritual caregiving silence’ emerged as a person-centred phenomenon that supports patients and their relatives. It is described as a way of being with another person, complementary to speech and non-verbal communication, which evokes a sense of companionship and connection. The caregiver takes both active and participative roles in the silence to create an accompanied space that allows the other person in the relationship to be with her or himself in a way that may not be possible when alone. This demands engagement and commitment. Silence provides a means of, and a medium for, communication that is beyond the capacity of words and has the potential to enable change. This insight into the specialist experience of chaplains may resonate with the experience of other professional caregivers to stimulate reflection and discussion, and to benefit patient care.

Bibliographic note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal for the Study of Spirituality on 25/02/2018, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/20440243.2018.1431034