Pastoral care of the dying is a special type of counseling by chaplains, pastors or other religious leader to dying persons and also their friends, families and relatives. The pastor or the chaplain provides comfort, hope as well as assurance during a time of uncertainty. We all know that death is the ultimate conclusion to our earthly life and it is a phase that every living being has to go through some day or the other.
However embracing one’s own natural death or accepting the loss of a dear one is much difficult and so in such a situation we turn to religious teachings and religious leaders to find solace. The subject of death, both physical and theological has been the center of attention in the Bible. The main essence of pastoral care of the dying is showing spiritual love for fellow humans and forms an integral part of Christian teaching.
For a professional person who provides emotional and spiritual support to the dying it is very important to have a proper understanding and realization of thanatology. A person who is in his death bed looks to the chaplain or pastor for spiritual assurance and company to overcome loneliness and fear. The pastor or chaplain should help the dying person to communicate with his loved ones. The minister should also help the dying man to reflect on the quality of life that he has lived and at last prepare the person to face the final transaction of leaving the earthly body. The duty of the minister or pastor does not end here as he also needs to act as a pillar of support for the dear and near one of the dead person. The pastor can also help the bereaved family members to make various arrangements like burial, funeral planning etc.
The question of when to call for pastoral care of the dying may arise in our mind. There can be no single definite answer to this question. Pastoral care of the dying can be called for when a patient is informed of having some serious illness like cancer, AIDS etc. This type of help can be called for if a patient is in his death bed or is worried about some surgery that is going to take place in the near future. Pastoral care of the dying can be called for if the family member of a patient who is seriously ill wants spiritual guidance and support.
In the western countries pastoral care ministers constitute the health care departments of most hospitals so patients as well as their families can easily ask for their guidance. Different people have different point of view regarding death. Some view death as an unwanted intruder that hampers the natural process of life while some view death, suffering and pain as integral and unavoidable aspects of living life and a suitable ending to the journey of life. The view of a person regarding death is largely molded or shaped by different factors like social customs, religious faith or belief, cultural background, personal way of thinking etc. People who believe in the existence of God or are followers of Christianity generally call for pastoral care when they or some of their loved ones are nearing death.
For a dying man and his family a pastor or chaplain is not only a spiritual bridge with God and after-life but also a social supportive agent. When a man nears death his opinion of life can greatly change, all the materialistic things that seemed very important to him at one point of his life may then seem to be of no great importance. The person may feel a great desire to purge himself of all the sins that he has committed in his life time and so getting pastoral care for the dying can be of great help. In such critical situations friends and family of a dying man feel very close to the pastor. They start relying on the pastor for his guidance and help. The pastor may be requested to give his opinion regarding crucial matters like family, medical, moral and ethical issues. Many people believe that religious faith can work miracles where medical science fails and so they can call for pastoral care of the dying during such situations.