Dwelling in the realm of death: The lived experience of counsellors’ encounters with mortality in a palliative care context




Breiddal, Susan Mary Fownes

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This research explores the lived experience of encountering mortality in the palliative care context. Six counsellors included in the study had served on a Palliative Care Crisis Team in the community and/or the in-patient unit of a hospice in a mid-sized Canadian city. Conducted as a phenomenological study, all co-participants electronically or face-to-face, answered 18 questions that were generated from an initial open-ended question, and answered other clarifying questions as requested. The author also tracked the experience of the experience, of encountering mortality, by creating a Sacred Mandala––a painting that involves a particular structure, meditation practices, and journal work––and analyzed her notes as part of the data. Themes identified were: responding to the call; the realities of death; being in the know and the impact of knowing; relationships–intensity, intimacy, connection and identification; the gift of stillness; encountering mortality can be mundane; being of service; finding balance between giving enough and receiving enough; being in the face of D/death; staying awake; and living life. It was found that encountering mortality is paradoxical, and that the struggle of holding opposing forces is necessary for transformation toward wholeness but requires structured support that needs to be offered when caregivers are entering the field and throughout their careers. Support also needs to provide discipline and structure that is complex enough to encourage, contain and support participant’s expression of strong emotion, exploration and self-reflection of practice, sharing with others, and being witnessed.



death, lived experience, Mandala, mortality, palliative care curriculum, phenomenology, self-care, social worker's experience, creative expression, counsellor's experience