Research project and book: Zeugnisse Sterbender: Todesnähe als Wandlung und letzte Reifung [Testimonies of the Dying: Approaching Death as Change and Final Personal Growth] (2000/2005)
Data acquisition period: 18 months
Clients: dying persons and their relatives
Hospital setting: Department of Oncology at the
Kantonsspital St. Gallen, Switzerland
Subjects of the study: 80 dying persons
The study deals with the inner experiences of the patients, e.g. whether they signalized emotions of transition and agony or whether a change in perception towards a spiritual opening took place. What went on in patients, who on the verge of death, simply could not die? What helped to cope with despair and impotence? Was there an urge towards final personal growth, an inner “tidying up” and getting ready for an encounter with the ultimate? I was also interested in communication with these people. How could incoherent speech, so-called terminal communication or symbolic gestures be decoded and made comprehensible?
Three important results of the project:
- 33 of the 80 patients documented signalized that they could hear - even in a somnolent state
- 25 worried desperately about a problem child and suffered from family taboos. They could be helped by family processes and communication.
- 43 signalized a “spiritual opening” in the face of death. The other 37 possibly experienced something similar but it was not discernible to us. Despite all our notions of experiences on the verge of death, death itself remains a mystery!
The book does not only “count”, but recounts. It does not only speak of the dignity of these women and men, but represents it in many examples. The revised and enlarged edition 2005 also has an addendum with the ten most important questions to the theme, a manual on communication for relatives and carers as well as some advice on how to cope with difficult and overwhelming situations. The experiences of over 400 dying persons and their relatives are taken into account in the new edition of 2005.
Research project and book:Grenzerfahrung Gott: Spirituelle Erfahrungen in Leid und Krankheit [Spiritual Experiences in Illness and Affliction] (2003)
Project period: 2½ years
Data acquisition period: 1 year
Clients: seriously ill patients
Hospital setting: Department of Oncology at the Kantonsspital St. Gallen, Switzerland
Subjects of the study: 251 seriously ill patients (Some died during the project period,
others could return home again)
This project investigated the form, content and effect of spiritual experiences. As a result 135 patients (out of 251 patients, who were either religious, unreligious or uninterested in God) had spiritual experiences.
Spirituality and spiritual experiences can be perceived by their effects. They move deeply. All 135 patients felt different both physically and mentally, in their temporal and bodily presence, in life and death. The patients signalized changes of attitude towards their illness (71 times), towards life and death (62 times), towards God (68 times).
Spirituality is an energetic reality adding impetus and creativity to healing and dying processes. It tends to turn unrealistic hopes into fundamental hope and enhances emotional and mental well-being amidst illness. Patients find to a more essential self and identity.
Spiritual experiences can not be made but they can be substantially assisted in their formation process. Such supportive interventions included “Klangreisen” – a sort of music-mediated active imagination with music/relaxation/silence (98 times), pastoral care (80 times), deep empathy, i.e. existential compassion as therapeutic presence in the sense of empathy and sympathetic interest (84 times), formal meetings of relatives with experiences of reconciliation (40 times).
Can spiritual experiences be compared and categorised? The book proposes five different modes of experience of the One Holy Whole.