In the following story, we see how clinical professionals can help terminally ill patients to find the meaning of their lives through sometimes unconventional ways and help the patients define their lives as valuable and full.
Uncle Wang, a 67 year-old man with terminal liver cancer, felt that there was no point to carry on with his dull life and asked the nurses frequently: “Is there any way for me to die earlier pain free?”
One day I asked him: “Is there anything you would like to do and would feel happy that you have done it?”
“Yes,” he replied. “If I could have a taste of that oyster vermicelli from my childhood one more time, I would be very, very happy. I miss that taste a lot.”
The search team formed quickly and set off to Uncle Wang’s neighbourhood in search of the oyster vermicelli. Of course, the neighbourhood had changed a lot, and the oyster vermicelli stand had moved too.
With further investigation, the team finally learned that the food stand had developed into a restaurant. The search team told the owner the story behind their mission and the owner was very touched and wanted to offer oyster vermicelli for free.
In the end, the team brought back 20 bowls of oyster vermicelli to the ward. While everyone was enjoying this local gourmet, I asked Uncle Wang: “Why do you like oyster vermicelli so much?”
“My family was poor while I was young,” he replied, “but as long as I could have a bowl of oyster vermicelli, I felt like I have everything.”
He continued: “My family was poor and unable to provide me an education so I had to start earning money at a very young age. When I got married, I worked even harder so that my children could have a better childhood than I did and do something greater with their lives.”
“So are you happy and proud of your children now?” I asked.
“I am satisfied,” he said. “Nobody is perfect, though I do wish better for them. It is good to see they’ve all graduated from college, set up their own families and are able to support themselves, unlike me back in those days…”
“You seem to have devoted your life to make sure your children have a better future, and this is not an easy thing to do,” I interrupted.
“Really? It isn’t an easy thing to do?” He looked at me as if he wanted affirmation.
“No, this is not easy at all! Because of your hard work, you have significantly improved the financial status of your family. Not only have you gotten out of poverty, but also provided better living conditions for your children’s future,” I said.
“You really think so?” his changed intonation indicating excitement.
“Yes, of course. You can ask others and hear how they think about this.” By the time I finished my sentence, my colleagues echoed one after another: “You are such a wonderful father!”
In the days that followed, his spirit turned high because he had just realised that he had achieved a very important and meaningful task in his life; that is, he improved his family’s financial status and provided his children with more opportunities – this is the meaning of his existence.
This is an excerpt from a longer article entitled: How to Provide Spiritual Care to Terminally Ill Patients, in the Hospice Foundation of Taiwan newsletter.