Terminally Ill Children Share What Makes Life Meaningful

by Angelica Lai

Photograph by Twenty20

If you've fallen into the daily grind of parenting, drop that unfinished pile of laundry for a second and read this Twitter thread. A doctor's recent tweets are reminding parents that what kids value and remember run deeper than frozen dinners and school drop-offs.

For an assignment at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Dr. Alastair McAlpine asked his young terminally ill patients what they enjoyed in life and what gave their lives meaning. McAlpine, who works at the pediatric palliative care center, PaedsPal, shared the kids' profound answers. (Get out the tissues, if you haven't already!)

First, the pediatrician made it clear that none of the kids wished they had watched more TV or spent more time on Facebook. Instead, they talked about their pets, swimming at the beach, and their favorite toys and superheroes.

But what really got us was how many of their first thoughts were about their parents. The kids hoped their moms would be OK or their dads would stop worrying, confident they would meet again soon. They recalled the inspiring stories their parents read to them, from tales of space to the "Harry Potter" series, which one said encouraged bravery.

Significantly, "many wished they had spent less time worrying about what others thought of them, and valued people who just treated them 'normally,'" McAlpine wrote.

These dying wishes went hand in hand with the qualities they valued most: kindness and humor. Whether it was a sympathetic friend who offered half of his lunch or a funny magician, the children's accounts reminded us that teaching kindness and practicing kindness can go a long way. It's important to take the time to be silly and laugh as a family, to spend as much time together as possible. Because as McAlpine's last point showed, "They all valued time with their family. Nothing was more important."

"Take-home message: Be kind. Read more books. Spend time with your family. Crack jokes. Go to the beach. Hug your dog. Tell that special person you love them. These are things these kids wished they could've done more. The rest is details. Oh ... and eat ice cream," he ended. (Apparently, they all loved ice cream.)

Please excuse us while we go buy some triple chocolate ice cream (to share, not so we can eat our feelings, we swear!).

Thanks, kids, for some much-needed perspective on what really matters.

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