We are embodied souls. Our souls live in a body that touches, tastes, sees, hears, feels, and thinks. Our soul and our flesh are not separate entities. They are intertwined. When someone is at the end of life, we take care of the physical body; however, the soul needs care as well.
Several ways to care for someone’s soul at the end of life exist. Each individual will have particular ways that care needs to be administered; however, some general ways occur. General ways to be considered include ministry of presence, art of listening, skills of coping, and maintenance of relationships.
The ministry of presence is a gift to someone at the end of life. Ministry of presence means to be physically present and attentive to someone. Just to be with them brings comfort to their souls. Sometimes silence will occur as we wait on someone to process thoughts and feelings. Waiting patiently honors them.
The ministry of presence includes techniques that communicate attending. Attending can look like facing the person, establishing eye contact, leaning posture, calming movements, and maintaining sincerity. The physical things we do can minister greatly to someone’s soul.
The art of listening facilitates entering into someone’s world and hearing their heart. Listening can be active or reflective. Active listening is the “ability to focus completely on the speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information, and respond thoughtfully.” Techniques include verbal affirmations, open-ended questions, empathy, nod, smile, and eye contact. Reflective listening involves communicating with sentences like “What I hear you saying is…” and “What I feel you are saying is…” Listening has the purpose of hearing someone’s heart which ministers to someone’s soul.
The skills of coping are “methods a person uses to deal with stressful situations. These may help a person face a situation, take action, and be flexible and persistent in solving problems.” Encouraging someone to remember God’s truths will be foundational in coping with end of life. Reminding them of God’s presence and help can facilitate someone determining to end well. Helping them identify what brings them joy (such as praying, music, journaling, or reading) can facilitate coping. Skills of coping provide practical means to influence the state of omesone’s soul.
The maintenance of relationships encourages healthy souls at the end of life. Laughing, crying, hugging, and remembering will sustain and enrich relationships. Ira Byock wisely advises to frequently say and hear four phrases at the end of life: “I love you. Thank you. Forgive me. I forgive you.” Encouraging someone to engage with loved ones in healthy ways will minster to their souls.
The end of life can be a beautiful event as we come alongside to care for their souls. Taking the time and effort to be with someone through the ministry of presence, art of listening, skills of coping, and maintenance of relationships will minister to their embodied souls.
Who does God want you to provide soul care for as they exit this life on earth?
For your further consideration: Ira Byock’s book Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life, New York, New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.
 Chaplaincy Care: Volunteer Training Manual, 2nd ed., (New York, New York: HealthCare Chaplaincy Network, 2017), 21-23.
“Active Listening Skills: Definitions and Examples,” Indeed Career Guide, 2019, accessed July 3, 2019, www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/active-listening-skills.
“Coping Skills,” National Cancer Institute Dictionary of Cancer Terms, accessed July 3, 2019, https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/coping-skills.
Ira Byock. Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life, (New York, New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), 140.