Saying Goodbye

My American friends weren't the only ones I had to say goodbye to this month.


Over the past month, I had the opportunity to become close to a very special girl; we'll call her Polly. My friend Gretchen wrote a beautiful post about her on her blog a few weeks back. She is someone Dr. Rusty has been caring for over the past several years, through many painful and life-threatening illnesses. Recently, she was admitted to the local hospital for severe anemia and an incredibly painful lupus flare. We recruited people to donate blood for her. There is no national blood bank here. Friends and families who have matching blood types have to volunteer to give blood for patients, and normally it is given straight the patient while still warm in the bag.

When Dr Rusty and his family left, Polly was doing ok, and we were hoping to send her home within the week. However, when I visited her in the hospital last Friday, she had rapidly declined, and I knew immediately that she didn't have long.

The feeling of inadequacy and the inability to do anything to help is so strong. I know that if we were in the United States, there would be an equipped intensive care unit, specialists, and plenty of medicine to make her better. But she was born in Cambodia, functionally orphaned at a young age, crippled with illness, and now dying in a rural hospital with absolutely zero hope for recovery, outside of God.

So I began to pray - that God would relieve her suffering. Whether through death or miraculous healing, I honestly didn't care. I just wanted Polly to know healing. 

So last Sunday, while in church, I wasn't surprised to get the call that she had passed. We rushed to the hospital immediately, and I comforted her wailing sister as best I could through my own tears. Funerals are held very quickly here. That afternoon, we drove to her home and sat with her family through a Christian service. Andrew drove the truck with a makeshift coffin in the back down a rough dirt road. They covered her body with logs and lit it on fire, burning away every physical trace of her existence within 8 hours of her death.

Why does suffering exist? I could give so many academic and theological reasons. But when I ask, why did she, specifically, have to suffer? In my work in the emergency department, I asked that question almost every day. Why did that car have to pull out at that exact moment the boy was riding his bicycle past? Why did that child slip and fall, hitting her head at just the right angle to cause a fatal bleed? I can rationalize the intentional violence or neglectful parents - sin turned at its worst towards the innocent. But it's the seemingly random assignment of illness and accidental deaths that leave me bewildered and without answers.

I know God has a reason, but that it's beyond my understanding right now. I have faith that one day, I'll know the answer. Or maybe I'll get to heaven and realize it doesn't matter any more. But I've decided that, while I may not know the answer to Why?, at least I have an idea of what to do about it.

And the King will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
Matthew 25:40