Michael Kearney

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise


This book concerns the care of dying persons. Hospice care provides a multidisciplinary approach to caring for the whole person, including his or her physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Often, however, discussion about hospice or palliative care tends to focus almost exclusively on relieving physical symptoms. Kearney tells us a number of dying patients' stories. Some die at peace, in seeming fulfillment. Others die in great distress, with what Kearney calls "soul pain," a deep existential anguish that is not relieved by symptom control or social support.

Kearney proposes two complimentary models to describe what occurs in dying persons whose "soul pain" is relieved. For the first, he recounts the Greek myth of Chiron. The wise centaur Chiron suffered from an incurable arrow wound inflicted by Hercules. Chiron learned that if he would be willing to sacrifice his immortality on behalf of Prometheus, he would be freed from his suffering. After he did this and descended into the underworld, Zeus raised him to the heavens, where he became a constellation.

Thus, the mythological model has a hero who is wounded, struggles, makes a choice, then descends into the depths, and finally returns transformed. The second, psychological model portrays the mind as having a surface rational part (where the ego resides) and a deep symbolic and intuitive part (where the "deep center" resides). The relief of "soul pain" lies in choosing to reject the ego's resistance and "letting go" to get in touch with the deep center.

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