As Sweet as Honey
In memory of Etil Matamoros, born April 30, 2002, died July 9, 2017.
The letter she wrote to God read, “Lord, I know that I have disappointed you, please forgive me,” and I thought to myself, “How could this fifteen year old girl have disappointed God? It couldn’t be an infraction more serious than a terse word to her mother, Teresa, in a moody adolescent moment, or toward her sister Maria, to compete for the attention of her loving grandparents...
The humility of this child to recognize her condition as a sinner and to desire forgiveness first, before asking God to heal her cancer, tugs at my soul even today and makes me feel the need to humble myself before the feet of our Lord and seek him avidly.
Sure she was of her salvation, of this I have no doubt, and I watched her, surprisedly, walk without fear to her end in this world. Looking at me straight in the eyes, she asked more than once, “How much more time?” and in my heart I knew that the real question was, “ How much longer will I suffer, and how close am I to death?”
With a trembling voice because my emotions were strangling me in my throat, but overcome with love for this child and mirroring the strength I saw before me, I was able to tell her with a contrived smile, “Very little, small one.”
The last time that I saw her alive, twelve hours before she passed, I was beside her bed, and she asked me to sing her favorite song, which I sang with all my might. Part of it goes,
In everything God has a solution, From the ashes man calls out and God attends him, protects him, defends him, with his powerful hands. The truth is my trial is bitter but today my victory tastes as sweet as honey.
Listening to this song on Etil’s lips was so confusing, for a moment I could only feel pain and sadness, and I asked myself, “How can she sing this song, live this truth?”
Due to the terminal prognosis, we had all prayed with faith for Etil’s healing and now we were watching her die. Is it that God was unjust for not healing her? Why had God healed my childhood cancer, but not hers? This last question turned over and over in my mind because I can testify that I was healed of lymphatic cancer eighteen years ago, diagnosed about the same age as Etil and like her, full of dreams and goals that I, unlike her, have been able to fulfill.
My soul was saddened at the gloomy scene before me, and it was not until a few days after that I was able to understand that Etil saw with her spirit her victory, her saintly eternity. Then I could understand her experience - the sweetness that is seeing yourself enveloped by the love that emanates from the presence of Jesus Christ.
I came to the conclusion that Etil saw her death as the key that would open the doors of heaven to her, to extend her wings like a butterfly leaving a cocoon, the dry casing that is life on earth, rising in flight to eternal life. Arriving there she would be face to face with her Savior, and the splendor of his glory would be so grand that it would obliterate once and for all the fleeting memory of suffering that was once called "terminal cancer."
When Etil came to our clinic we knew immediately that something serious was going on and that we needed to take her as soon as possible to receive specialized attention. We were hoping that there might still be treatment options for her. But after her diagnosis, she lived a little less than one month. The cancer was advanced and had metastasized in multiple places, so that the only treatment option was helping her to die well. She spent eighteen days in the hospital in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of our country.
Etil began to have symptoms and signs of this illness six months before her death, and on three separate occasions she was evaluated in different public hospitals where she received deficient care and attention; where they gave her absurd explanations while the tumor in her left knee kept growing, undiagnosed.
During her hospital stay, Etil’s constant petition was to return home, to be surrounded by her family and her friends from Sunday school. Three years prior Etil chose Christ in baptism and ever since put her energies and enthusiasm in her church. “With her big eyes and contagious smile, you couldn’t help but hug her” remembers her pastor.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Instead, set an example for the believers through your speech, behavior, love, faith, and purity. I Tim 4:12
Etil’s mom coordinated her return from the capital to the local hospital closest to their town, Cedeño, but the high number of patients and scarce resources do not make for ideal hospice care. To make sure that Etil would be treated with dignity we assisted with her transport, but once there, Etil asked, again, to be taken home. I don’t know which was worse, to see this girl’s cancer-ravaged body at the public hospital or to see her lying down on a rickety bed at home with a thin worn mattress that only covered half the metal frame, so that part of her body rested directly against the cold metal. We took her home.
Helping Etil pass from this life as comfortably as possible surrounded by loved ones became our goal as Mission Lazarus, and we did not take it lightly. Twenty-four hours later, thanks to the help of many, Etil was transported home, in the company of a hospice nurse, supplemental oxygen, special diet and medications. Her humble family, dedicated to fishing and farming, could not believe the miracle that was occurring. All of this was possible through donations that demonstrated a love for Etil, without even knowing her. This is the “magic” that happens on earth because of the love of Christ - He transforms us into a grand family of brothers and sisters that love without thought to distance, borders, race, or language.
A friend loveth at all times; And a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17
The moment came to say goodbye. Etil began, one by one, to address her loved ones. She asked her mother to lie down beside her, and she lay with her arms around her for nearly an hour. Teresa shared that she used this time to tell Etil how much she loved her, and prayed for her, saying, “God, here is my daughter, I put her in your hands as an offering.” Then Etil squeezed her mom’s hands in approval.
As I said, she was prepared to leave because she had a ticket to glory.
The process of “see you soon” lasted two hours more. The last thing Etil saw before she went to sleep was her eight year old sister, as she put a picture of a butterfly on the wall in front of her, perhaps as a sign that this day, she Etil, a little butterfly, would embark on her greatest flight ever toward a brand new birth.
This letter was found in one of Etil’s notebooks, just a few days after she passed away.
Lord, today I want to give you thanks for a new day, for giving me another day of life — thank you for the air that I breathe, for this and more, Father, I give you thanks.
I am sorry for all that bad that I do, Lord, forgive me. Father, I know that I disappoint you and I ask you to forgive me and stay right next to me. I want to ask you something that I know I have been asking for a while, and it’s that you heal me, please, I ask you alone because You are powerful and strong, and I can ask no one else, because there is no one like You.
This is all I want to ask of you. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Lord.
Note: In memory of sweet Etil, and with her family's blessing, we gave our crossbody bag her name. You can see it here.