Author Viktor Frankl, who was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Purpose and meaning are fundamental for human well-being.”
Sometimes, I wonder: “What do we really mourn when our loved one passes away – is it the loss of the person, or do we mourn the memories that we could have continued to create with our loved ones?” As a Medical Social Worker in HCA Hospice (HCA), I have come to appreciate that our patients and their families are our best teachers – nothing in my three years of studies in Social Work could have prepared me for the unique and meaningful work in HCA.
About a year ago, during the course of our work, I got to meet one of our patients, Mr Jim*. He was suffering from an end-stage terminal illness and was bed-bound. At the time of our meeting, Mr Jim was looking forward to Christmas, which was one week away. Mr Jim was excited to meet all his friends and family who would be coming to visit him, some of whom he had not seen in a long time.
At the same time, Mr Jim was also sad that this would be the last time that he would get to meet them and likely the last time that they would get to see him too. However, Mr Jim felt thankful for the time that he would get to spend with his family and friends.
Mr Jim also shared about how he was initially angry, then depressed, when the hospital told him that there was nothing more that they could do. He felt hopeless about life and wanted to end it all – at least it would end on his own terms.
Eventually, Mr Jim came to the realisation that instead of being angry and upsetting his loved ones, he would choose to accept what was happening in his life and be thankful for the time that he had been given to say goodbye to his loved ones. Mr Jim joked about how much worse it would be if he had been knocked down by a car or struck by lightning, as he would not have a chance to say goodbye to his loved ones.
Mr Jim shared that at this stage in his life, he had come to the realisation that all events in life are neutral in nature and it is we who assign meaning to them. He gave an example of the time he lost his mobile phone: he shared that losing the mobile phone was a neutral event and he could actually choose how he wanted to feel – upset that his phone was missing or choose to feel a sense of happiness that he would no longer need to be a slave to the phone.
Mr Jim went on to share that there is meaning in every moment of life, even in suffering and death. The important thing is what meaning we want to perceive at every moment in life.
*not his real name