“Yesterday is History, Tomorrow is a Mystery”: Dying in South African Frail Care


  • Casey Golomski University of New Hampshire




dying, end-of-life, nursing home, temporality, immanence, South Africa


What happens when we die? This article traces answers to this question posed to staff and residents of a nursing (frail care) home in small-town South Africa run by a Christian women’s charitable organization. The religious, cultural, and racial diversity of staff and residents, along with their different medical understandings of declining health and death constellate expansive perceptions of dying and life after death. Staff and residents share certainty about the continuity of a soul or spirit after death through a Christian God, although precise locations and modes of egress for these spiritual entities are uncertain. Heaven and hell are not strongly defined or taken for granted realities. A presentist rather than historical orientation strongly shapes the rhythms of daily life and the end of life in the home. Residents aim to find meaning in daily life and staff aim to find meaning in aiding residents in the final moments of life by being tenderly co-present. Overall, peoples’ perceptions of spatiotemporal transitions from life to the immediate after-life effectively complicate notions of immanence in the anthropology of morality, ethics, and religion. To use one informant’s terms, the end of life is “a mystery” which residents and staff engage in delicate orchestrations of carework.

Author Biography

Casey Golomski, University of New Hampshire

Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology and Core Faculty in Women's and Gender Studies


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