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hospice patients, qualitative research, spirituality, uncertainty



  1. Stephenson, Pam Shockey PhD, RN, AOCNS
  2. Sheehan, Denice PhD, RN
  3. Hansen, Dana PhD, APRN
  4. Mayo, M. Murray PhD, RN


People with protracted and life-limiting illness engage in end-of-life transitions as they prepare for death. The end of life is a time of mystery that elicits uncertainties in the form of questions, worries, and doubts. If not managed properly, uncertainties can contribute to emotional distress and feelings of lost control. Currently, uncertainty occurring at the end of life is underresearched. Phenomenology was used to explore the experience of uncertainty for 6 hospice patients using semistructured interviews. A 4-member, interpretive team analyzed the data. The participants were asked to describe the uncertainties that they had while they were dying. Interestingly, most of the stories about uncertainty were spiritual in nature. An overall theme of "uncertainty as a bridge" emerged from the data as the way uncertainties affected their dying. Two subthemes of "uncertainties about dying" and "uncertainties about important relationships" also emerge as the areas of greatest concern for participants. These findings support uncertainty as an important phenomenon for people preparing for death and one that providers of end-of-life care should understand.