Living with Dying

Religion, faith and philosophy

Many people we talked to had a philosophy, faith or belief that made it easier for them to come to terms with terminal illness, death and dying. For example, some people firmly believed in Jesus Christ and life after death.

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One woman said that she was a 'true Christian believer' and had no fear of death. She was convinced that when someone dies the spirit leaves the body. When she felt very ill she said that death would be welcome. One man asserted that a belief in life after death could help him face death without fear. He finds it very important to pray for this belief.

Some people were unsure about the future, opting to keep an 'open mind'. One man hoped that there might be something 'behind the curtain', but found it hard to believe in life after death and wondered if he were simply 'clutching at straws'.

A woman with cancer of the kidney explained that although she described herself as a humanist, rather than a Christian, she found it comforting to know that others were praying for her. A man with mesothelioma also said that he wasn't religious, but was glad to know that others were praying for him, willing him to get better.

A woman with bowel cancer suggested that great comfort could be drawn from other religions too.

A few people said that they lost some of their faith when they became ill. For example, a Jewish man said he felt 'betrayed' and 'let down' by his religion because even though he had been told there was eternal life he had just found happiness in this life but couldn't appreciate it because he felt so ill.

A man with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma did not believe in life after death but he believed in a superior 'power'. He pointed out that if you have a family your genes continue even after death. He also stressed that in this life we can influence other people, and the way they live their lives, and thus leave a legacy in that way.

A woman with a strong moral sense that people should treat each other well, not because of religion but to 'make the world a better place' said that she could believe in spacemen or aliens more than she could believe in God. Another person said she hoped she had been a good influence on her family. She wanted to contribute to the Healthtalk website partly because she saw it as a form of legacy she could be remembered by.

Most people who had no religious beliefs and didn't believe in life after death, recognised the comfort that others might draw from their religion and were careful not to offend them. However, one man noted the hypocrisy of some religious people and the harm that religion does in the world as a focus of conflict.

People who had seen death, either of people close to them or because of their work, often said that it helped them to see death as a natural process and nothing to be afraid of. One man said we should accept death as 'part of life'. Another man, a scientist and atheist, said that he wanted to be buried so that he could be 'recycled' to help whatever came along, 'whether the worms or whatever'. He certainly didn't want life hereafter but understood that people who had such beliefs found them comforting.

A woman whose father had died of motor neurone disease said that she found it hard to comfort him because his logical mind and background as a scientist prevented him from having a faith in any religion or a belief in an afterlife. She said that her father was very frightened of dying, but emotional and spiritual support was lacking. She had long conversations with him about death, and as a result her own religious faith was strengthened. She wanted to pass on a message to others that they should not be afraid of death.

Some people described themselves as 'fatalists'. A man with prostate cancer said he didn't believe in life after death, but accepted the situation, and suggested that there was no point in 'moping'; that it was important to have good quality life for as long as possible. Another man, who believed that fate was somehow genetic, said that he must have served his purpose on earth.

Older people suspected that they found death easier to accept than younger people, whether or not they had religious beliefs. As one person in her seventies said, her views about death being natural and expected would have been very different in her 20's or 30's.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated May 2010.

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