My sister-in-law, Lynda, is dying of cancer. It was in remission for eight years, but has now returned and is in her bones. Last Sunday, my husband, father-in-law, and Lyndaâ€™s husband gave her a blessing. I found myself thinking, â€œIf it was Jesus blessing her, she could be healed. She WOULD be healed.â€? But I could not make the leap of faith to believe that this blessing, or any other, would heal her. I started to wonder if I am a secret skeptic whose skepticism doesnâ€™t really show itself until moments of crisis, when someone with more faith would simply await the miracle.
When I told my husband some of my thoughts, he got quite angry and accused me of â€œwriting Lynda off.â€? Eventually, he calmed down and articulated his feelings, admitting that he was angry with God, and that he couldnâ€™t understand why this was happening to his baby sister. He begged me to make space for the miracle, which I said Iâ€™d do. But I must confess, I find it very difficult to truly and sincerely make that space.
I do have faith that comfort can salve the most wrenching of heartaches, that there is life after death, that the gift of enduring is probably greater than the gift of being healed. But these seem rather paltry compared to the kinds of faith expressed in the New Testament: â€œLord, if thou wilt, thou canst heal me.â€? I am like Peter, falling into the water time and again as my doubts manifest themselves.
But there is another side to this question of faith. There is the mask of faith which merely conceals despair. The best example I have is when a twenty-year-old relative of mine passed away, also of cancer. Her grandmother was determined that a new combination of herbs would cure her, and her mother instructed the hospice nurse (who happened to be my sister) to not use the word â€œdeathâ€? in the house. They were determined that this child would be curedâ€“not just by priesthood blessings but by apricot pits, aloe vera, mega vitamins, etc. They clung to the testimonials various infomercials offer.
My sister, in her role as hospice nurse, approached the dying girl and asked simply, â€œDo you know whatâ€™s happening?â€?
The girl replied, â€œYes. Iâ€™m dying.â€?
â€œHow do you feel about that?â€? my sister asked.
â€œItâ€™s all right.â€?
Then my sister called me to see if I could find some way to get the grandmother out of the house. This girl needed a peaceful transition, and the family deserved to be a part of her sacred moment of departure. The grandmotherâ€™s frantic denial was electrifying the air, so peace was not possible. Nor, strangely, was death.
When the grandmother finally left, the girl was able to begin to die. There were still some last efforts to bring her back and try just one more cure, but the dying was ultimately peaceful.
Surely it wasnâ€™t faith which made that particular family so desperate to keep their daughter. But neither was it faith for me to deny the possible miracle which a priesthood blessing could bring to passâ€“even one given by mortal men.
I suggest that faith is not where weâ€™d most expect to find it. For me, as I write these words, it seems elusive. I am trying to frame it right, but it seems to slip away and reveal the depths of water Iâ€™m sinking into. (â€œPeter, why didst thou doubt?â€?)
As Latter-day Saints, we certainly accept death as a part of life, but when it comes right down to it, and when itâ€™s one of OUR loved one dying, it is so hard.
â€œLord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.â€?