"Art, like writing, can be so frustrating," I thought as I trashed my third attempt of a sketch. "What am I missing? I love the challenge of faces. The planes, angles, contours, the tonal values..."
I studied the photograph from an upside-down position, noting how the shadows of my daughter's face accentuated her cheekbones."That's it," I thought, "I need to work first on the shadowy areas of the face, then move to the darker angles much like an abstract." As I picked up a pencil something within me whispered, "Nothing's ever black or white."
"Ramona, is that you? It's hard to know for sure with your mask on." Stepping away from the shelves lined with kidney and lima beans I didn't recognize the masked gray-haired woman standing two meters away from me, but I recognized her voice. "Joan! I haven't seen you in years. How are you?"
We reminisced about how she founded an organization in the 1980's for clients who were terminally ill and how her volunteers assisted family members with their loved ones who were dying in the hospital or at home. "Do you remember," Joan asked as she pushed the mask back up and under her glasses, "your interview for the position to teach 'Orientation to Palliative Care' so we would have enough volunteers to help with our growing caseload?"
"I remember being nervous, hoping I answered all the hypothetical scenarios correctly. When you later offered me the teaching position, I often wondered why you chose me."
By now we had left the aisle of tinned foods and found ourselves walking towards frozen pie crusts and pizzas. "Yes," Joan replied, "I saw you struggle to keep your personal opinions to yourself even when family members or a dying patient asked, "What do you think?" You wanted everyone to have the best death possible and it broke your heart when you couldn't fix the families' emotional problems or the messy death some clients experienced and all the while making sure you handled things professionally. You cared. "
"And I remember. Joan, what you would say to all of us in your tiny office after one of our clients had died. It's their story and journey not ours."
"Do you remember what you said to your students hoping you'd see it remembered and written down in their journals?"
While I closed my now open mouth, Joan laughed saying, "Yes, I often read your students' homework assignments and take-home exams. You were quoted to have said, "Nobody knows the whole story, and nothing is ever black and white. You would tell them about the elderly couple who had been married for sixty-five years. Both of them were suffering from two very different diseases. You had earned their trust and they wanted you to 'help' them die together at home."
Yes, I remembered how miraculously my shifts were changed and I never had to care for this couple again after our conversation. God released me from my need to say anything. And yes, there will always be people who are suffering or have a terminal illness. Christians will reach different conclusions on whether or not they wish to support assisted dying, but the Christian gospel of God's love transcends all such discussions. As Paul said to the church in Rome,
"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39 (NRSVA).
Ramona Furst lives with her husband in Northern Ontario. She facilitated a bereavement support group for fifteen years, taught Orientation to Palliative Care for ten years giving input for the program's "Biomedical Ethics" module for students.