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Making meaning


As I mentioned before, for many years I worked in palliative care. I had amazing teachers throughout those years: patients, families and colleagues.

There is an urgency then that changes the experience of life. There is a heightened awareness of everything. The process of enduring suffering and trying to make sense out of the disease, the limitations, the loss of control among so many other losses can create a powerful atitude of self-love and lead the way in crafting new meaning in life.

It was a humble experience to be a witness of these journeys. It totally gave me a new perspective of life and what really matters.


Many times I questioned myself...Do human beings need this pressure in order to dare live the life they want to live?


When we think about disease, suffering and death, these are all subjects that we dislike. No way we enjoy having to deal with all these. Many times, people ask health care professionals who work with very sick people; why do they do it? it must be hard on them…how can they deal with it?


When I told my mom I was going to take a course on grief and bereavement, more than 10 years ago, she was puzzled, she said: Are you going to take a course on fight? (note: the word grief in portuguese is “luto” and the word fight is “luta”) Why don't you study something that can be joyous? It was her next question when I explained to her that it was not a course on wrestling or boxing.


I know that it may be difficult to understand how someone enjoys working with very sick patients. But even though it is an experience we don't like and do not wish for, it can be a process that greatly contributes to life with love, meaning and gratitude.


A lot of times, people who are dealing with a serious illness, are committed to living their lives to the fullest, whereas people who are healthy, going to the gym, having their protein shake and all, can find living boring and not really care for anything. They can care later.


When Viktor Frankl, Vienese psychologist who survived the Holocaust, said that as human beings, we ultimately need our life to have meaning, he nailed it. But we are immersed in a society that confuses us all by putting prices onto things making believe that the higher the price, the stronger the value. People get confused and aim at having the perfect body to be loved, the expensive car to be taken seriously. When someone is in palliative care it is easier to solve this puzzle and the reality of truly living a meaningful life appears. It becomes clear that life is more much interesting because of love, and that sums it.


The fact that we, as a civilization, insist in deny death impoverishes our capacity for meaning. Death is a force that pushes us to live. By now, you should know that one of my favorite poets is Ranier Maria Rilke. He said:


“whoever rightly understands and celebrates death, at the same time magnifies life.”


So, to answer the question above, about the pressure death can impose:

I believe that if we dare to live this moment respecting the pandemic, acknowledging that we have to be careful not to spread the virus, and that we can still make life possible and meaningful, we will become stronger, more compassionate and more in tune with who we truly are. The experience of witnessing so many deaths will not be to no purpose.


Photo by Nina Prade


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