Mexican Americans: Death and Dying
Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the United States, and the majority of them are Mexican in origin (Kemp, 2001). The Roman Catholic Church plays a vital role in the culture and daily life of many Mexican Americans. Consequently, healthcare personnel must become culturally competent in dealing with the different beliefs possessed by these individuals. Nurses must have the knowledge and skills necessary to deliver care that is congruent with the patient’s cultural beliefs and practices (Kearney-Nunnery, 2010). The ways that a nurse cares for a Mexican American patient during the process of dying or at the critical time of death is especially important. The purpose of this paper is to examine Mexican Americans’ beliefs concerning terminal illness and death, explain the role of the nurse desired by Mexican Americans, and discuss how the knowledge gained will be incorporated into future nursing practice.
Mexican Americans have strong beliefs about how to care for a loved one during times of terminal illness. Health and illness is often attributed to the will of God. Mexican Americans typically feel as if they are being punished by God or that it is simply fate that they are terminally ill (Kemp, 2001). Therefore, Mexican Americans typically take a passive role with regard to treatment options. For example, Mexican Americans seldom voice problems with pain while in the hospital due to a high value being placed on stoicism. Consequently, studies show that they receive inadequate analgesia more often than any other population. Life-sustaining measures may also be requested by family members if there is any hope that the ill loved one will survive. However, Mexican Americans believe that these measures should never be stopped once began (Taxis, 2008).
The role of the family and religion is greatly emphasized during times of terminal illness in Mexican American culture. Multiple family members gather together to give care to the loved one from far and near. The father or the oldest male relative holds the greatest power in most families to make health-related decisions for an ill loved one. Family members feel responsible for bathing, changing, and feeding their loved one daily even during hospital stays (Taxis, 2008). In addition, prayer and ritual are also critical components of the dying process. Family members may pray with the patient at the bedside, at a home altar, or at church. At times, candles are kept lit for 24 hours a day as a symbol of continuous worship. Clergy members may visit to offer spiritual support. As the ill loved one approaches death, the sacrament of anointing of the sick is administered by a priest or lay member (Kemp, 2001). Mexican American families use religious beliefs in the afterlife to help them cope with this emotional process.
When death occurs, Mexican Americans are not uncomfortable with the presence of the body of a loved one. Frequently, family members desire to...