Impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the relationships between people have become curiously both estranged and yet more intimate at the same time. The alienation relates to the connection with the outside world, while the intimacy relates to one’s own family members living under the same roof and recognizing the opportunity to cherish the moments. However, this pandemic has also caused many regrets and deaths. For this reason, Hospice Online Chat Room produced a special program called Healing Hearts and Communities in accordance to the theme initiated by the World Health and Palliative Care Day (WHPCD), which calls on everyone to be a warm and healing presence, so that the brokenhearted can be comforted.
For most people, death is still a taboo that is neither easily nor willingly confronted with. The topic of death tends to ignite deep, hidden fears and anxieties. For this reason, the Hospice Foundation of Taiwan has launched the Hospice Online Chat Room program. Each episode focuses on a different topic with special guests, who are invited to purposefully and casually talk about their experiences regarding life and death in hopes of helping the audience face death more positively. The October 2022 episode echoes the theme of WHPCD as entertainer Ms. Bowie Tsang Po Yee and ICU (Intensive Care Unit) physician Dr. Kim-Tan Che were invited to chat with everyone, and discuss how to discover more gifts in loss of life situations. These are soothing conversations intended for everyone in these challenging times.
Regrets and Gifts Arising from Loss
Ms. Bowie Tsang, a popular Taiwanese TV host, singer, actress, and writer, first learned what unconditional love is really about from her grandfather. He was that special person, who brought her to school every morning when she was little, and also met her in the afternoon to bring her home from school. As Ms. Tsang grew up and gained fame, he also became her most loyal fan. However, he left this world without warning in 2011. She describes how this loss hit her like a “loud alarm clock," which rang a great impact into her life. She questions, "If the person who loves me unconditionally in this world is no longer with me, then who will love me?" After more than ten years of torment in her soul, she happened to read a sentence in a book that spoke to her: Every loss of life is a gift for the living. That’s when and how she began to find healing within herself, day by day, little by little. In the process, she finally realizes, "Grandpa is always here with me, and I will continue to live with his love in my life."
Dr. Kim-Tan Che, who also lost a close relative, has gone through his own period of hardship and pain. He says, "The gift my mother left me is regret." His mother had quietly withdrawn from this world when he was just 17 years old. At that time, he was too busy preparing for an exam and did not even have time to say the last goodbye to her. It caused him to live a life filled with regret, anger, and remorse for many years into his adulthood. In response, he worked especially hard to become a doctor for the purpose of finding a cure for his mother's illness. Eventually, Dr. Che married and found healing through the patient listening and company of his wife. Slowly, the pain in his heart gradually dissipated. Because of this experience, he was able to sympathetically understand the difficulties and pains of his patients and their families. Finally, although the loss was great and profound, he discovered that it was actually the most precious gift left behind for him by his mother.
Having sailed through seas of tears and grief, both Ms. Bowie Tsang and Dr. Kim-Tan Che have realized the same thing: They have learned how to better cherish the past moments and memories in life, and embrace the time they spend with the people around them now. "Take every day as if it’s the last day," advises Dr. Che.
Ms. Tsang shares, "The most important thing in the grieving process from feeling hurt to recovery is the ability to be self-aware, paying attention of the gift that is always there." Though in the past she may have regarded death as a rude deprivation, but through continuous exploration and self-talk, she is now aware that death can result in a beautiful gift as well.
From Loss to Understanding
Having gone through the turning point in this long soul journey, the two guests have found ways to heal themselves and help others in their healing processes, too.
"First of all, you have to admit that pain and sadness really do exist," acknowledges Ms. Tsang, who believes that one should treat oneself with tolerance and be one’s own best companion. In her healing process, she continuously pursued the outlet of life through travel and reading, and then, with tolerance, granted herself more time necessary to understand and digest her grief. Then, when she suddenly became enlightened, she was filled with gratitude for her surrounding environment, people, things, and experiences. As Ms. Tsang reflects, "Only when you lose it will you realize that you have owned it.” Tempered by time, the pain of bereavement has transformed into a deeper blessing for her.
For someone like Dr. Che, who is at the front line of life and death, his own past life experiences have enriched his current professional practices. For example, he always adheres to the belief of: Save not only the patients but also their family members. This belief is directly derived from his trauma of the past dealing with loss. With empathy, he has learned to resolve the conflicts at the hospital bed time and time again; and has also witnessed the family’s thought process on whether they want to do more for the patient or if it is time to say goodbye. In the busy and high-pressure field of care, Dr. Chen does not shy away from saying, "This may not be what medical staff members are required to do," but he is willing to give more for his patients because he expects that when family members look back on their deceased relatives, they will be able to better grieve their loss with a warm heart. Furthermore, the gratitude expressed from the families also enables the medical team to be encouraged, and thus, create a cycle of kindness to one another.
In the end, Dr. Tsang talks about his deep feelings during the pandemic, "In the past two years or so, I can sense that people are slowly regaining their care for the people and things around them." The pandemic continues to change the relationships in the community as people adapt, but while the beginnings of the pandemic may have caused confusion and misunderstanding, it is now turning into mutual support and compassion. Perhaps it is the circulation of resources and information, which has strengthened the connection with each other, yet he is optimistic about these changes. Dr. Che, taking himself as an example, says that isolation has created rare family reunion times on ordinary days, something unheard of in the pre-pandemic days, so it is actually a good thing.
In addition to the pandemic, Dr. Che reminds everyone to complete the Four Paths to plan their end-of-life now, and not wait. "Timely preparation for one’s death allows us to potentially gain more than expected, to hold on tightly to the time we have, and to cherish each day that we still have."