Fear of death, mortality communication, and psychological distress among secular and religiously observant family caregivers of terminal cancer patients

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Abstract

Previous research suggests that caregivers and terminally ill patients face substantial difficulties discussing illness and death. Existing research, however, has focused primarily on the experience of patients. The current study compared responses as well as the relative strength of association between mortality communication, fear of death, and psychological distress (i.e., depressive symptomatology, emotional exhaustion) among secular and religiously observant family caregivers of terminally ill cancer patients. A total of 236 participants were recruited over 18 months within the first year of caregiver bereavement. Retrospectively reported mortality communication was statistically greater among secular caregivers; in contrast, both fear of death and depressive symptoms were greater among the religiously observant. Path analyses subsequently revealed notable differences between groups. Among secular caregivers, a significant inverse relationship between mortality communication and the two indices of caregiver distress emerged. In contrast, the association between mortality communication and psychological distress among the religious was moderated by these caregivers' fear of death. The results of this study suggest that fear of death is a significant predictor of psychological distress among religiously observant caregivers of terminal cancer patients (i.e., fear of their own death as elicited by the caregiving role). Fostering morality communication between secular caregivers and patients would appear to be one means of reducing the likelihood of clinically significant psychological distress. This may be insufficient among religiously observant caregivers, however, for whom fear of death may first need to be redressed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-187
Number of pages25
JournalDeath Studies
Volume35
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2011

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