Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 203–215 | Cite as

The pendulum time of life: the experience of time, when living with severe incurable disease—a phenomenological and philosophical study

  • Sidsel EllingsenEmail author
  • Åsa Roxberg
  • Kjell Kristoffersen
  • Jan Henrik Rosland
  • Herdis Alvsvåg
Scientific Contribution


The aim of this study was to gain a deeper understanding of the experience of time when living with severe incurable disease. A phenomenological and philosophical approach of description and deciphering were used. In our modern health care system there is an on-going focus on utilizing and recording the use of time, but less focus on the patient’s experience of time, which highlights the need to explore the patients’ experiences, particularly when life is vulnerable and time is limited. The empirical data consisted of 26 open-ended interviews with 23 participants receiving palliative care at home, in hospital or in a nursing home in Norway. The theoretical frameworks used are mainly based upon K. Martinsens philosophy of care, K. E. Løgstrup phenomenological philosophy, in addition to C. Saunders’ hospice philosophy, L. Feigenberg’s thanatology and U. Qvarnström’s research exploring patient’s reactions to impending death. Experience of time is described as being a movement that moves the individual towards death in the field of opposites, and deciphered to be a universal, but a typical and unique experience emerging through three integrated levels: Sense of time; where time is described as a movement that is proceeding at varying speeds. Relate to time; where the awareness of limited life changes the understanding of time to be more existential. Being in time; where limited time seems to clarify the basic living conditions and phenomena of life. The existence of life when the prospect of death is present is characterized by emotional swings that move within polarizing dimensions which is reflected in the experience of time illustrated as the moves of the pendulum in a grandfather clock. The diversity of the experience of time is oscillating between going fast or slow, being busy or calm, being unpredictable but predictable, safe or unsafe and between being good or bad, depending on the embodied situation of the individual.


Experience of time End of life Palliative care Phenomenology Philosophy Phenomena of life Polarizing dimensions 



Thanks to respondents who shared valuable time and stories and to staff who organized the selection of respondents and facilitated conditions so that it was possible to conduct an interview. Also thanks to thanks to Librarian Anne Berit Lie for support searching for relevant literature and to Professor Wilfred McSherry, and Associate Professor Vigdis Brekke for valuable commentary and undertaking English language manuscript preparation. The research is funded by Haraldsplass Deaconess University College with a Research Fellow position.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflict of interest. The authors alone are responsible for the content and writing of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sidsel Ellingsen
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Åsa Roxberg
    • 1
    • 3
  • Kjell Kristoffersen
    • 4
  • Jan Henrik Rosland
    • 5
    • 6
  • Herdis Alvsvåg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Nursing and Health CareHaraldsplass Deaconess University CollegeBergenNorway
  2. 2.Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Faculty of Medicine and DentistryUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  3. 3.School of Health and Caring SciencesLinnaeus UniversityVäxjöSweden
  4. 4.Department of Psychosocial HealthUniversity of AgderKristiansandNorway
  5. 5.Sunniva Centre for Palliative Care, The Medical DepartmentHaraldsplass Deaconess HospitalBergenNorway
  6. 6.Department of Surgical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and DentistryUniversity of BergenBergenNorway

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