Why Would God Take My Whole Family, Yet Spare Me?
by Diane Downey
God didn’t promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, or sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.
I grew up, the youngest of 5 (all much older than I) in the home of an East Coast family with an Irish Catholic Mom who ruled the roost! She was as tough as nails and as strong as an ox, both in stature and in her faith. At 29, I lost my Dad to heart & stroke and 4 years later a sister to lung cancer, followed by my brother to complications from Diabetes. I watched my Mom weaken and wither from the losses… When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and subsequently passed because of it, I stopped attending Mass. I lost faith in God. In the meantime I went to Sudbury to spend some time with my sister who wasn’t well and while there I myself was diagnosed with Nasopharyngeal Cancer. The ‘nasopharynx’ is the upper part of the throat behind the nose. It was inoperable. I spent 3.5 years in Northern Ontario going through radiation & chemotherapy treatment at Laurentian University Hospital & Cancer Centre. During that time I learned I’d better pray for healing and pray I did! My sister lived in Sudbury so I stayed with her and her husband, but with her unwell herself, we struggled along together. I attended appointments every 6 weeks for scans and scopes and tests for a full year after ending treatment and when my checkups were changed to once every 3 months. I was elated and I cried my heart out, because I knew that this meant that I could finally go home! Home was here, where my children were. Where my life was. By then I was coming home for weekends every couple of months, but needed cataract surgery on both eyes resulting from the radiation treatments. Driving from Sudbury to Hamilton was interesting wearing two pairs of glasses (one on top of the other) in order to be able to see road signs. The drive through Toronto was always a bit scary, visually! Arrangements were made for me to see a specialist in a hurry and I had cataract/implant surgery within a month. Two months later, I’d rented a truck, packed all my earthly belongings and headed home with clear sight, both visually and in faith. I was transferred to an Oncologist at Juravinski Cancer Centre and continued appointments now only every 6 months! I was only home ten months when my oldest sister who had been diagnosed two years earlier with Alzheimer’s, passed away. A year and a half later my only remaining sibling who I’d been visiting in Sudbury when I got sick, suffered a massive coronary and she too, was gone. Today still, I wonder why? Why would God take my whole family, yet spare me?
During all of that time, I realized that there were only two things that kept my head above water. The first was my children and the second was my faith. No matter what I’d endured; the loss, the hurt, the pain (both physical and emotional) I always prayed. I prayed for mercy. I prayed for healing. I prayed for my boys. I prayed for those that I’d lost and I prayed for renewed faith! I prayed for the day that I’d hear the words “you don’t need to come back, not for tests, not for scopes, not for scans, not even to say hello” and on March 15th, 2013 those are the words that he uttered. I have no words to describe how scared I was with the loss of security, nor the feeling of elation and what it meant.
Today, now 5 years after losing my last sibling and coming up to 10 years since I was diagnosed with Cancer, I realize that instead of crying over my losses (even that of my job, 3 months ago), I smile for all I’ve gained and been blessed with instead of what I’ve lost. I’ve been given an opportunity to carry on watching my children grow & the possibility of grandchildren one day. Even though I’ve lost siblings, I have friends who I can call sister. I have family who give me parental guidance and brotherly love. I have places like St. Patrick where I come to give of my time, if for no other reason than to help others. I know that those who rely on the outreach services have also prayed for something better. For kindness and a caring heart. They too come to St. Patrick looking for it. The De Mazenod Door Outreach program is exactly where I need and where I want to be. Both Father Tony & Father Jarek as well as the staff & volunteers have given more to me than they could ever possibly know. They aren’t just helping those marginalized in our neighbourhoods. They’re helping lost souls with broken faith to those like me who were/are searching. New friendships have developed. My heart is wide open to opportunity. I’ve spent my entire career working in different social service environments and know that this is the place meant for me. I feel it, way down deep. I’ve attended Mass a few times at St. Patrick Parish. It feels good to be there. So comforting. So healing. There is a ton of love to be had within those walls and I am forever grateful to be a recipient, if even by chance.
My prayer today is that we will recognize and embrace the potential for growth and spiritual maturity that comes through suffering and challenges instead of seeing them merely as obstacles.