If you want to know the truth, ask a child.

A palliative pediatrician from Cape Town in South Africa asked the terminally ill children in his care what they had enjoyed in life and what gave it meaning.

Their responses are a lesson in what’s really important in life.

And it’s not Facebook or smartphones or TV.

Alistair McAlpine, from Cape Town, took to Twitter where he posted some of the responses of his young patients, aged between four and nine. The thread is enough to bring you to tears.

McAlpine works for the non-profit organisation PaedsPal, McAlpine and cares for children with life-threatening and life-limiting illnesses. As an antidote to the general morbidity surrounding childhood terminal illness he decided to ask his young patients exactly what it was they enjoyed in life.

None of the children said they wished they’d watched more TV or that they should’ve spent more time on Facebook. None said they enjoyed fighting with others and none enjoyed hospital.

The only thing they seem to regret is caring what others think of them. They really appreciated people who treated them “normally”.

“My real friends didn’t care when my hair fell out.”

“Jane came to visit after the surgery and didn’t even notice the scar!”

These children who are staring death in the face, seem to care more about others than their own fate.

‘Hope mum will be ok. She seems sad.”

“Dad mustn’t worry. He’ll see me again soon.”

“God will take care of my mum and dad when I’m gone”.

For many of the children their pets mean a lot.

“I love Rufus, his funny bark makes me laugh”.

“I love when ginne snuggles up to me at night and purrs”.

“I was happiest riding Jake on the beach”.

Many of the children expressed how much they valued kindness, laughter and the love of their families.

“Mom and dad are the best!”

“My sister always hugs me tight.”

“No one loves me like my mummy loves me”.

“My granny is so kind to me. She always makes me smile.”

Mc Alpine shared how important laughter is to these little patients. One child recalled a silly magician whose pants fell down, and another confided how funny it is that the next patient had farted. Another said how he loved the funny faces his dad makes all the time.

All of them loved ice-cream, their toys and their superheroes. All the boys love Batman. Many of them love going to the beach, swimming and building sandcastles.

All of them also loved books or being told stories, especially by their parents:

“Harry Potter made me feel brave.”

“I love stories in space!”

“I want to be a great detective like Sherlock Holmes when I’m better!”

Completing the thread, McAlpine shared a take-home message distilled from the thoughts the children had shared.

“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,” he wrote.

“These are the things these kids wished they could’ve done more. The rest is details.”

“Oh… and eat ice-cream.”

McAlpine’s initial tweet went viral instantly receiving an incredible 61,000 likes, 41,000 retweets and more than 1,000 comments from people reacting to his tweets, one asking him how on earth he manages to keep his sanity working with kids who are terminally ill.

His reply to many of the people thanking him for posting: “It’s my pleasure and an honour and a privilege to work with these amazing kids and their families.”

This response to McAlpine’s tweets says it all: “You and people like you are God’s love in action.”

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