British Columbia

Palliative care volunteer collects beauty in the last moments of life

Chian-Li Hsu, a palliative care volunteer at Vancouver General Hospital, is sharing his knowledge on what a "good death" means in his book "Being With You Till the Last Moment."

Chian-Li Hsu has helped hundreds find their way to a "good death" by listening to their stories

Chian-Li Hsu will present his book at the TaiwanFest on Saturday afternoon to share what he considers a 'good death'. (TaiwanFest)

Chian-Li Hsu, a palliative care volunteer at Vancouver General Hospital, is sharing his knowledge on what a "good death" means in his book "Being With You Till the Last Moment."

Over the eight years he spent at the bedsides of patients in their final days, he learned that just sitting with them, holding their hand, and listening to their final thoughts is what helps people find the most peace when being ushered toward death.

"Some people have lived a fulfilled life and they are well prepared for the journey and they can live a good death, the term I use.

For others, there is unfinished business or some regrets or they are so afraid and they don't understand where they're going, so I think that fear does them in a lot of the time," he said.

The book is formed from stories collected during his time providing care at VGH and at Saint Mary's Hospital in Luodong in Taiwan. 

Hsu says that although his job can be difficult and emotional, he always tries to take something away from each patient he helps.

"I have to keep reminding myself what I'm there for. I'm not only there to provide comfort, to provide my service, but also I'm very grateful that it's an opportunity for me to learn."

A sense of spirituality acts as a central element in how Hsu approaches his time with patients.

He says that, while religion is not important in his job, he asks his patients to have an open mind and to try not to see death as the end.

"When they are prepared, and when they understand that they are going somewhere after they are finished their life on this earth, they understand that death is not the finish. It's the beginning of a new journey," said Hsu.

The job of palliative care in Canada is much more established than the position in Taiwan, according to Hsu.

Nurses and doctors at the hospital he volunteered at in Taiwan were more open to alternative methods of healing like massage.

He shared a story about a tradition in Taiwanese care wards, explaining that once a patient dies and the stretcher is rolled out of the ward, all of the nurses will stand at their station and attendants with no pressing duties will follow the stretcher to the elevator.

"When the elevator doors close, they bow to say goodbye and to say thank you to the patient they've served. That's really touching."

Hsu has had the opportunity to share some of the practices used in Taiwan with the team at Vancouver General Hospital and believes that by understanding the methods used in other parts of the word, palliative care workers can provide a more peaceful experience and a "good death" for more patients.

"I think it's a very wonderful thing. That kind of exchange and sharing is very wonderful and it will benefit both sides."

Chian-Li Hsu will be presenting his book, written in Chinese, on palliative care at this weekend's TaiwanFest.

His talk will take place at 2 p.m. PT on Saturday on Granville Street between Smithe and Robson.

With files from the CBC's On The Coast

To hear the full interview listen to audio labelled Palliative care volunteer presents stories collected from the last moments of life.