Between this world and the next: The lived experience of having a life-threatening illness
Dr. Janna C. Roop, PhD, RN, CHPN
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Wonderings about hospice patients' experience of dying evolved into the question, “What is it like to have a life-threatening illness?” That question guided this interpretive phenomenological inquiry. Phenomenology is a philosophy that seeks to rediscover the rich meaning lying hidden beneath the surface of everyday. Phenomenology's quest is to coax that which has been concealed out into the light. It is a call to re-dis-cover what Martin Heidegger (1959/1966) might call the mystery of Being. What is it that anesthetizes us to the wonder of our everydays? What is it about the ordinary that blinds us to its depth? We numbly plod or madly race along the surface of our lives, forgetting that great mysteries surround us, above, below and within. The discovery of a life-threatening illness is an unwelcome shock. It abruptly tears away the familiar and plunges a person into the unknown. Nothing is as it was before. And yet, almost everything is as it was before. For the ten participants in this study, encounter with a life-threatening illness propelled them into a journey that none would have chosen. Life felt very broken. My journey with the participants has suggested, however, that the irony may be that we are more broken when we are blissfully unaware. The pain and brokenness of illness can be catalysts that expand the spirit. For some, the encounter with illness—with the shadow side of health—became a deep and meaningful experience. The study uncovered new perspectives on what it means to be mortal, embodied beings. New meanings regarding the blessings hidden within suffering, re-ordering priorities, living with unpleasant symptoms, and relationships among friends, family and health care providers emerged. In the final chapter, the quest to consider the meanings that dwell beneath the surface of our lives was likened to an underwater dive. Like a dive, it requires preparation and effort. Like a dive, the effort can be sustained for only short periods of time because the ordinary concerns of life demand attention. Yet, like a dive, it revealed new and important perspectives on concerns that give essential grounding to our lives.
This dissertation has also been disseminated through the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. Dissertation/thesis number: 9916533; ProQuest document ID: 304466116. The author still retains copyright.
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