Offering Spiritual Support for Family or Friends

People who are very ill often ask spiritual questions, in seeking comfort, meaning and hope. While clergy, chaplains and other spiritual leaders may play an important role in spiritual care, family and friends can offer important spiritual support too.

If you have the opportunity to provide spiritual support for someone living with an illness, here are some suggestions:

Explore your own beliefs and values before you talk to others.

To support others spiritually, it’s important to understand your own spiritual beliefs about illness. Think of a time when you faced a major life transition, change or loss.

  • How did it affect you spiritually?
  • How did your spirituality affect the experience?
  • Did you discover spiritual strength during that time?
  • Did you ever question your faith?
  • How did you want to be supported spiritually?

If you have not been diagnosed with a serious illness yourself, exploring these questions will help you understand your spirituality when facing life-changing situations.

Even within families, among friends and in faith communities, people’s spiritual beliefs and experiences may be very different. Be clear that your beliefs and values reflect your own beliefs and yours alone.  Just as you would want another person to listen to you with respect and understanding, your family member or friend wants you to listen to them with respect and understanding as well.

It is common for people living with serious illness to ask themselves questions. As a “spiritual companion,” you can best support others by helping them explore these questions rather than providing the answers.

Be aware of spiritual pain and suffering.

Spiritual pain and suffering is as real and powerful as physical or emotional pain. There are many spiritual and religious issues people who have a serious illness may face and struggle with including the following:

  • Meaning and Purpose:Many people who are very ill question what their life means. They may wonder if they have done anything positive or lasting with their life. Some people ask “Why me?” or “Why now?” or “Why this illness?” The search for meaning and purpose may bring up a wide range of emotions, from anger and loss to relief and peace. Struggling with these questions can be a normal part of dealing with illness.
  • Guilt and forgiveness:As people face illness, they may reflect on difficult situations and experiences in the past. They may feel guilty about or blame others for things that have happened.
  • Loss of faith:Living with a serious illness can cause people to question their spiritual beliefs or faith. They may explore thoughts and feelings that differ from long-held beliefs. They may become angry with God, their religion, themselves, or with others who think they should believe a certain way.
  • Issues with faith tradition or faith community:Faith communities may be able to provide support from clergy or members by offering prayer, visits, sacraments or rituals. While some people find these to be very helpful when they are very ill, others may feel their traditions or community do not provide them with the support they need.


Remember that you are not in this alone. Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice offers a full continuum of high quality medical, emotional and spiritual services to hospice patients, their family members and the community. If you need help offering spiritual support to a friend or loved one consider talking to one of our chaplains who have expertise in spiritual care. They can give you guidance on offering support and understanding for someone who is very ill.

Posted in Press Releases.