At the 1978 annual meeting of the Engadin Colloquium, nurse Margrit Lüscher described the fate of a thirty-two-year-old patient, mother of two eight- and six-year-old children. Her husband was a factory worker and a secret alcoholic. When this woman learnt her diagnosis, i.e., metastasised thyroid carcinoma, she collapsed, lost hope, became depressed.
But after a few days she appeared to have changed: “I will not give up. I will fight, my situation is by no means hopeless. There is still a lot I have to do,” she said. In the little time she had left, she outgrew herself: she began to make her husband, the alcoholic, become aware of his responsibility for their two children, aged six and eight, who would soon have to continue their journey into life without a mother.
She had pushed her terminal illness into the background. She completely dedicated herself to her loved ones. Her thoughts and feelings were focused on this one task: her husband needed courage, faith in himself and strength for what was to come, for the open future of their children, whom she would soon have to leave and who still very much needed a mother. Every day she told her husband, when he visited his sick wife in her hospital room after work, “I believe in you.”
Her husband was an honest man, a hard worker, full of guilt about his alcohol abuse. At first, he seemed overwhelmed. But death did not frighten his wife, since she still had “a lot to do”, as she said. She did not mean tidying up, cleaning, writing bills or wills – external things. She did not want to leave her beloved husband unprepared. He would soon have to take over what his wife had been doing alone: raising and introducing their children to life. He would have to pass on life, hardly yet having redeemed this task, this invisible contract binding us humans whether we like it or not. The children were only six and eight years old. Their father was dependent on alcohol, he who needed so much courage, confidence, inner strength and self-confidence for what was to come; soon everything that had been their common task would inevitably lie on his shoulders alone: the family. “I believe in you”, with these words she instilled energy into him.
This loving woman had planted her hope on the grave. Each of her counted days had a great deep meaning. She was still able to give something, for now and for the future when she would no longer be alive. She was able to call something into being that would live on after her inevitable death, with continuing effects on the spiritual strength of her beloved husband and in the hearts of the three bereaved.
The nurse who had attended her described her feelings in the face of a person struggling with death, “then I feel like a straw to which the sick person is clinging for all he or she is worth”. And she described the core of this woman’s inner transformation: “I will not be able to take away the sick person’s fear by relativising it or by preaching hope, but only through my behaviour, my humanity, which can become hope for him or her and turn him or her into a hopeful person”.
Over and over again, the astonished husband heard these words “I believe in you” from his beloved and terminally ill wife. And he, who until now had tried to hide his weakness, began to understand what it meant that someone believed in him. That it was not only his beloved wife who hoped for his strength after her death, but that there were also these two children about to lose their mother. And he promises her to take over his duties towards their children.
Ultimately, the woman dies. But after her patient’s death, the nurse saw the widower walking with his two boys one day. “He seemed to have become a different person,” she reported.
His wife’s faith and her hope had become a sustaining force to him which let him hope and believe in the future, despite his grievous loss.
This means hope: even in the most difficult, desperate situations in life, we humans can still develop something positive if we know about our importance to others as fellow human beings. •
If you want to prevent the setting of cookies (for example, Google Analytics), you can set this up by using this browser add-on.