Espiritismo: The Case of Mrs. J

Mrs. J

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Espiritismo (Spiritism) is rooted in the belief system that the spirit world can intervene in the human world and is widely practiced in Puerto Rico and among Puerto Ricans on the mainland (Nunez-Molina, 1996). In an analysis of Puerto Rican espiritismo, Nunez-Molina (1996) indicates that espiritismo can function as a religion, as a healing system, or as a philosophy or science for those who are academically oriented. There have not been specific studies on elderly Puerto Rican’s use of espiritismo.

However in the case study of Mrs. J on the use of hospice, one Puerto Rican caregiver describes using an espiritista for her ill husband (Talamantes, Lawler, Espino, 1995). This case study also reiterates the theme of faith in God and hope of God’s healing presence similar to studies of Mexican American elderly in previous studies (Applewhite, 1995; Hunt et al., 2000; Villa, 1991).

Mrs. J is a 54 year old Puerto Rican who cares for her 65 year old husband with end stage Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Mr. J. had this disease for about 15 years, however, only in the past four years had his health begun to deteriorate. Throughout the course of his illness, Mr. J. had been seen by several neurologists in Puerto Rico and North America. Mrs. J’s relatives brought over an “espiritista” (spiritual healer) to rid Mr. J. of “evil spirits”. Mrs. J. said that later these espiritistas realized that her husband did not have evil spirits but rather a serious disease.

Mrs. J had four children, two who lived in Puerto Rico. These adult children provided minimal support: Mrs. J reported “Tienen sus familias y sus problemas, no pueden ayudar” (They have their families and their problems, they can’t help). Although Mr. J expressed a wish not to be on a respirator and to die at home with his family, they could not comply with his wish when he could no longer breathe and they saw him suffering too much.

Eventually, Mr. J’s lungs collapsed. He was taken to the emergency room and put on a respirator. A neighbor (who had four children of her own) spent the nights with Mrs. J and provided significant help with the total care he required.

“Pedia a Dios que me siguiera ayudando”. (I prayed to God to continue to help me) “Dios pide mucho y Dios ayuda mucho).” (God asks for much and God gives much.) Mr. J’s health worsened and he developed a fever. He was taken to the emergency room and admitted with pneumonia. Mrs. J’s brother who was a physician advised her to prepare herself for his death. Mrs. J could not believe that he was in the end stages of death.

“Yo creia que el no iba a morir porque tenia el ultimo modelo demaquina para respirar. Yo todavia tenia esperanza que iba a mejorar pero ya estaba muy malo”. (I did not believe that he was going to die as he had the newest respirator. I still had hope that he would get better but he was very sick).

Questions for Discussion

Questions for Discussion

1. What types of interventions could be used in order to provide Mr. and Mrs. J with supportive services? In what ways would a family meeting help out Mr. and Mrs. J?

2. What percent of Hispanic/Latino elders utilize Hospice and home health care services?

3. How could providers have approached Mr. and Mrs. J about hospice, home health and end of life issues?

4. How can providers find out more about Espiritismo and the role that Espiritistas in the Puerto Rican community?

5. What are some questions that providers can ask their Puerto Rican elders regarding their use of folk healers and folk healing practices?

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