A Faith Story – Part Five
Six months had passed since Dr. Tamara and her sister, Samantha, had met each other after thirty-five years of being apart. Samantha’s granddaughter, Faith, was a patient of Tamara’s at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, dealing with multiple health issues and still faced an uphill battle if she was to live. Faith’s mother, Sahara, was now facing the possibility of losing both her daughter and her mother as Samantha had been told by her doctor’s she had only about six months left before her disease would end her life.
While Tamara and Samantha had both experienced the death of their parents as young girls, Tamara had gone on to a successful career and marriage, while Samantha had been abused as a young teenager and had lived a life on the streets for many years before escaping them and managing to build a better life around her daughter and granddaughter. Not wanting to live through the final weeks or days of her life in a painful manner or unaware of what was happening around her Samantha had asked Tamara to help her with medical assistance in dying, which was now legal in Ontario. Tamara had rejected the idea and was struggling with her decision, drawing on her medical expertise along with her Christian faith in an attempt to find answers.
Tamara’s husband was an immensely successful businessman and philanthropist and Tamara could not have hoped for a better husband. They had no children of their own but were satisfied with their home life. While Tamara would have liked to have a child or two, her past history and work career kept her from allowing that to happen. Samantha had asked Tamara to become Sahara and Faith’s family when she was gone. Tamara had quickly assured her sister she would gladly do that and would make sure they were looked after and would want for nothing. But Tamara was still unable to agree to help Samantha with dying. While Tamara’s mind understood why Samantha would want to be euthanized, her heart could not accept it. She had turned to her church for help but discovered that it did not agree with the government’s decision to permit assisted death, claiming that God would never condone the taking of a life, no matter what the circumstances were. Finally, Tamara left the church her husband was a life-long member of and sought out answers elsewhere. Her husband supported her in her search, not letting his own beliefs get in the way of her faith journey.
It was a cool October day when Tamara sat on a chair beside Faith’s bed, chatting with her about small everyday things, when Faith suddenly said, “Aunt Tamara, are you going to help my grandma die?”
Shocked by her niece’s words, Tamara could only stammer, “Why do you ask that, honey?”
“Because I heard my mom and grandma talking about it,” Faith replied. “They thought I couldn’t hear them but I could.”
“What did they say?” Tamara asked.
“Grandma said she was going to die soon and asked you to help her,” Faith said matter-of-factly. “My mom started crying. She does that a lot lately. I wish she wasn’t so sad and worried about us.”
“That’s only because she loves you and your grandma so much,” Tamara said, reaching out and taking hold of one of Faith’s hands.
“I know,” Faith said, “but I don’t know why everyone is so afraid of dying. Whenever I ask Mom or Grandma about it they start talking about something else so I’ve stopped asking them. But you’re a doctor, Aunt Tamara, so maybe you can tell me. Does it hurt to die? Should I be afraid of it?”
Tamara had to look away to hide the look of despair on her face from her great-niece. Composing herself, Tamara drew her chair closer to Faith and took both of her hands in her own. Looking her in the eyes, Tamara said, “I wish I could tell you that dying doesn’t hurt but I can’t because I’ve seen too many children like you die. But we do everything we can to keep it from hurting those children. Often, dying seems to hurt the parents and family of those children more than it does the children themselves.”
“Why would it hurt them more?” Faith asked. “Do they feel the needles and medicine that the doctors give to their children?”
“Yes and No,” Tamara replied. “They don’t feel the prick of the needles on their own skin but they feel the needle inside them because they love their children so much. I’m sure that those parents would gladly have the needles put in them instead of their children if that would work, but it won’t. The medicine has to go into the children who are sick, just as we have to put needles and medicine into you to help you get better. But I know that your mom and grandma would take that medicine for you anytime if they could. What they’re afraid of is that you might die. That scares them a lot.”
“Is Grandma afraid of dying?” Faith asked.
Tamara paused before answering then said, “No, I don’t think she is. That’s why she’s asked me to help her die. You’re grandma is a very brave and loving woman. She wants to do what she thinks is best for you and your mom.”
“But that’s going to make Mom unhappy. I can tell because every time Grandma mentions it, Mom cries. It makes me feel sad, too,” Faith said.
“I know, honey,” Tamara said softly. “It makes me sad, also. That’s why I’m not sure I can help your grandma die. I don’t want her to die, even though I know she is going to. I’ve tried everything I can so that she won’t die, but there’s nothing I or other doctors can do anymore.”
“Is there anything you can do to keep me from dying?” Faith asked innocently, not realizing how difficult it was for her aunt Tamara to listen to these words and try to answer them.
“Yes, there are many things I can do to keep you from dying,” Tamara answered firmly. “You are going to get better and go on to live a long life with your mother and with me and a whole lot of other people. There are so many people looking into ways to help you and so many people praying for you.”
“Do you pray for me?” Faith asked quietly.
“Yes, I do,” Tamara answered.
“What do you pray for? Do you pray to God? Does God answer you?” Faith said, rhyming off one question after another.
“Yes, I pray to God,” Tamara said, “but God doesn’t answer me with words. I ask God to heal you and to help me and other doctors and nurses find the right medicine to make you better.”
“Do you pray for my grandma, too?” Faith asked. “Or is she too sick to pray for? You said she won’t get better no matter what you do. Does that include praying for her?”
Tamara sighed quietly to herself, staggered by the questions her young niece was asking her. How could someone so young get to the heart of the matter so easily while adults danced around such questions, afraid to face them head on. Finally, seeing the look on Faith’s face, one that expected answers, Tamara said, “No, I haven’t prayed for your grandmother. At least not for her the way I have for you. And it’s wrong for me not to. I’ll start praying for her every time I pray for you.”
“What will you pray for?” Faith asked, the questions seeming to come to her instantly, as though given to her by some unseen wisdom far beyond her years.
“I’ll pray for her happiness, “Tamara answered, without even thinking about her answer. “I’ll pray for your happiness too, and your mom’s and mine and my husband’s. And I’ll pray for healing for every one of my patient’s and help with my work so that I can be a good doctor. I’ll pray that only good things happen and that I’ll be a good aunt for you and your mom when your grandma dies.”
“Aunt Tamara,” Faith said, interrupting, “why would you pray for that? If you pray for Grandma’s healing, why will she die? Doesn’t God hear your prayers?”
“Oh, Faith,” Tamara said, slumping in her chair. “I wish I knew how to answer that, but I don’t. I’ve been asking the same question for a long time now. I think it’s time for us to take a break from this and for you to get some rest. But I want you to know that you will be loved and looked after no matter what happens to your grandma. I’ve promised her that you and your mom are always welcome in my home.”
“I’m glad,” Faith said. “I like you.”
“I like you, too,” Tamara said, letting go of Faith’s hand and standing up. Now you get some rest and I’ll see you soon.”
As Tamara turned and headed for the door, Faith called after her, “I hope you help my grandma die, Aunt Tamara. She would like that.”
Tamara closed the door softly and hurried down the hall. She made her way as quickly as she could to the small chapel that the hospital had on the premises. Sitting on a chair in the corner of the room, Tamara laid her arms on the chair in front of her and buried her head in her arms. Over and over she repeated the same words, “Why, God? Why? Are you listening? Are you even there?”