Liminality in Pediatric Palliative Care

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Abstract

Palliative care for infants, children, and adolescents encompasses numerous transitions and thresholds of uncertainty that challenge conventional clinical medicine. Palliative care clinicians have opportunities to be more comfortable amid such challenges, or perhaps even overcome them, if they are attuned to the unique times and places in which patients, their families, and caregivers find themselves throughout illness and recovery or transitioning toward the end of life. Patient–clinician encounters often dwell in these liminal places. The concept of liminality gives validation to the patient or family’s being “stuck in places betwixt and between” a past life rich with relationship and purpose and an acute, chronic, or critical illness. Or having resolved the acute crisis of hospitalization that place between the past bounds of illness and the uncertain path forward, perhaps even toward death. Liminality provides a framework for addressing the unbound spaces that patients and families occupy: What is past is behind—the present place is tenuous and temporary, and what is ahead uncertain. This place is where palliative care clinicians can offer clinicians and families guidance.

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