Helping others: When less is actually more

Yesterday, I received a WhatsApp message. Initially, I thought it was some kind of hoax but I soon found out it was for real. It told the story of a seven year old boy called Marco who had been suffering from cancer ever since he turned one year old and who was too tired to fight against the disease. He wanted to give up. No more therapies and surgeries. Just some amusement parks, football games, candies and enjoying the last days with his parents. Unfortunately, his parents are not very well off as I found out. His dad is a shoemaker and decided to close his shop, because he wants to spend quality time with his son before he dies. But he already owes several months of rent. His neighbors sat down, wrote an SMS appeal and started sending it out to all the people they knew. That’s how I received their message. It ended up in of the school mothers` chat groups and soon they were all discussing what we could do for little Marco. A tombola is going to be organized on the main square close to the butchery, charity pot luck lunch packages will be sold and envelopes with money will be handed over to the boy’s family.

I try to avoid arguing in phone chats, because it won’t get you anywhere. Yet, I had to barge in yesterday when a mother wrote that she was thinking about baking a cake for Marco, but wondered whether he could eat sugar (as sugar nourishes his tumor). I replied that a dying seven year old boy should be entitled to have all the sugar in the world, if that’s what he wants.  Within minutes, there were dozens of answers. It was not ethical, the parents have to be asked first, didn’t I know how bad sugar was for cancer patients, yes, he should eat sugar, no he should eat healthy food only until he dies, maybe a miracle occurs and he survives, you never know, therefore no sugar, discuss the cakes ingredients with the family in detail…and so on…

It reminded me of the time when my grandfather was dying of pancreatic cancer. He loved his cigarettes and we let him have them. We knew that he was terminally ill and there was no point in denying him those last pleasures. In the years before though we had been fiercely trying to convince him to give up smoking.

I was trying to put myself in the situation of Marco’s parents, who together with their child have come to the difficult decision to stop his treatments and wait for his death – by celebrating life for the last time. They even risk their economic security to give the best the world has to offer to their son. I am sure they don’t worry about food issues anymore, they are way beyond these concerns. Fundraising for their benefit is a great idea.

My advice would be to go to the fundraising event, spend as much money there as you can afford and leave. Nothing else is expected of you. Bothering the parents with questions about sugar is silly though. I might be wrong, but I have the feeling that this is more about sententious self-importance than about actual support. And, again, it amounts to being aware of the needs of those you want to help and to do what you are asked to do – no more, no less.

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