Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 1445–1451 | Cite as

“To Cherish Each Day as it Comes”: a qualitative study of spirituality among persons receiving palliative care

  • Gudlaug Helga AsgeirsdottirEmail author
  • Einar Sigurbjörnsson
  • Rannveig Traustadottir
  • Valgerdur Sigurdardottir
  • Sigridur Gunnarsdottir
  • Ewan Kelly
Original Article



Spirituality is one of the main aspects of palliative care. The concept is multidimensional and encompasses the existential realm as well as value-based and religious considerations. The aim of this study was to explore spirituality from the perspective of persons receiving palliative care and examine their experience of spirituality and its influence on their lives and well-being.


Qualitative interviews were conducted with ten persons receiving palliative care from Palliative Care Services in Iceland. The interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed and analysed. The study is in the field of practical theology and used the theoretical approach of hermeneutical phenomenology.


Thematic analysis found that the spiritual dimension was of significance for the participants who understood it as a vital element connected to seeking meaning, purpose and transcendence in life. Religious and non-religious aspects of spirituality were expressed including strong spiritual components of family relationships, the meaning of God/a higher being and spiritual practices which served as a key factor in giving strength, activating inner resources and motivating hope. Nine of the participants expressed their spirituality as faith.


Spirituality was experienced broadly as an important dimension of how participants lived with terminal illness. Religious and non-religious characteristics were recognised which reveals the complex nature of the phenomenon. Faith was a significant part of the participants’ spirituality indicating the importance of attending to this aspect of palliative care. The study suggests the potential contributions of theological approaches which are relevant for palliative care research and practice.


Spirituality Palliative care Theology Qualitative research 



This study was supported by the Landspitali—University Hospital Research Fund and the Science Fund of The Icelandic Chaplaincy Association.

The authors would like to thank the participants in the study for their invaluable contribution and the health care professionals for their assistance.

Ethical approvals

The National Bioethics Committee of Iceland approved the study, reference VSN 06–078. The Data Protection Authority of Iceland approved the study, reference 2006/385. Permission was granted by the Chief Medical Executive of Landspitali.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest. The authors have full control of all primary data and agree to allow the journal to review their data if requested.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gudlaug Helga Asgeirsdottir
    • 1
    Email author
  • Einar Sigurbjörnsson
    • 1
  • Rannveig Traustadottir
    • 2
  • Valgerdur Sigurdardottir
    • 3
  • Sigridur Gunnarsdottir
    • 4
    • 6
  • Ewan Kelly
    • 5
    • 7
  1. 1.Faculty of Theology and Religious StudiesUniversity of IcelandReykjavikIceland
  2. 2.Faculty of Social and Human SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavikIceland
  3. 3.Palliative Care Unit Landspitali – The National University HospitalKopavogurIceland
  4. 4.Faculty of NursingUniversity of IcelandReykjavikIceland
  5. 5.Spiritual CareNHS Education for ScotlandEdinburghUK
  6. 6.Landspitali – The National University HospitalReykjavikIceland
  7. 7.The School of DivinityThe University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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