When the Worst Happens
The story of a young girl’s stirring faith
OUR daughter Elise was born in 1962 in Helsinki, Finland. Her coming brought much joy to us and her older brother, Esa. Elise was eager to learn, and my husband and I taught her to read before she went to school. Also, she had musical inclinations, as have the rest of our family.
At three we enrolled Elise in a musical kindergarten. By the age of eight she was accomplished enough on the violin to play Vivaldi’s Concerto in A-minor at weddings. We formed a family orchestra. My husband played the viola, Esa the cello and Elise the violin. It looked as though Elise would become an exceptionally talented musician.
Interested as we are in music, we laid even greater stress on our daughter’s spiritual development, studying the Bible with her from infancy. Thus, by the time she was five, on her own she would go from house to house and offer the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. One of our neighbors was a little irritated, for she did not think it right for such a young person to be doing this work.
The lady said to Elise: “The idea of a small girl like you coming to talk to me about the Bible! Why, you can’t even read those magazines yourself!”
“Oh, yes I can,” replied Elise, and proceeded to read and explain a paragraph from the magazine that she was offering. It delighted us when we heard about this. We were also happy to note her response when the congregation was planning to build a new Kingdom Hall. She drew her whole savings of 15 marks ($3.75, U.S.) out of the bank and donated it for this purpose.
A FRIGHTENING DISCOVERY
One day in the summer of 1972, when Elise was 10, we were returning home from a trip. I noticed a strange lump on her nose. It was quite small, but it began to grow. So I took her to the Medical Center in Puotinharju. A specialist told me that he had never seen a lump like this on a nose before, and advised us to go to the University Ear Clinic. A few days later we were relieved to hear the diagnosis: Not malignant.
Drugs were prescribed, with the assurance that the growth would soon disappear. But it did not. After two weeks without improvement, we again took Elise to the doctor. This time she was admitted to the hospital, and on September 24, she underwent surgery. It was then that we were given the painful news: “Your little girl has cancer.”
COURAGEOUS FIGHT FOR LIFE
It was suspected that the cancer had spread to Elise’s tonsils. So they were removed. Over the following months, as the cancer continued to spread, further operations were performed to try to stop its progress. Elise kept a diary, which we still have. She wrote in the fall of 1973:
“After having three operations I was waiting for a place in the plastic surgery department. I was soon admitted and it was miserable being in the hospital again. But there was one good pal, Ritva, who had an eye operation. We often played hide and seek with Pekka and Tiina. I gave Ritva three books, Listening to the Great Teacher, Is the Bible Really the Word of God? and The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. Ritva read them all. In my opinion this autumn has been the most miserable autumn in my life.”
You can imagine the distress that these repeated disfiguring operations caused all of us. Elise’s diary reflects her suffering and pain. Yet, at the same time, showing through is her strong faith and lack of fear. Her diary continues:
“In January  I had my fourth operation and quite a large cut was made on my cheek. For a few days my whole head, ears as well, was bandaged. There were fewer bandages on my left ear, and so I had to put the telephone receiver to that ear. When the bandages were removed I looked pretty terrible, and when the stitches were taken out near my eye I was afraid that my eye would be put out. I got out of the hospital on January 19. It was a happy day.”
All during this time our Christian brothers and sisters, including her fellow musicians in the convention orchestra, kept in touch and were encouraging. Also, her schoolmates and teachers were very friendly and helpful. They sent her many gifts, and did what they could to make her feel accepted and wanted. But Elise often did more to comfort her friends than they did to comfort her.
She would tell these ones that even though she might die, she would only be “sleeping” as for a moment and then would wake up in paradise. “The new world will begin as soon as I die, because no one knows anything about the passing of time when they sleep,” she would say. It was hard for her friends to control their emotions when they saw our daughter’s suffering, and yet heard her speak calmly and with such confidence regarding God’s promise of the resurrection.
We did not give up hope that the cancer might somehow be arrested. Treatment with cobalt rays was begun in March of 1974, followed by treatment with drugs. Elise also spoke about this in her diary:
“Due to ray treatment I became very weak. This continued for three weeks. The worst, however, has still not been told. The day before school broke up in May I was given drugs that made me so weak that in the whole of June there did not seem to be the slightest ray of hope. I hardly ate anything for three weeks and hardly had the strength to get out of bed. I lost five kilograms [11 pounds] and all my hair fell out. But there was the playhouse; it was really great when Daddy built it.
“Fortunately in July I was somewhat better and was able to attend the district convention. I felt well during the assembly and from that time on my spirits were quite good. In August I had another week of medication, but I did not get so sick this time. My medical treatment is planned to last for two years.”
However, all these efforts had only limited success, and Elise’s condition worsened. As she realized that she would soon die, she parceled out her playthings to her friends. She reminded them that she would see them again when she was resurrected. She kept her violin, however, because she hoped that she would be able to play in our family orchestra again in the new system.
Also, throughout this period Elise did a lot of witnessing to her teachers, schoolmates, doctors and nurses. She left 12 copies of the book Is This Life All There Is?, inscribed with her own signature. After her death, she wanted them to be given to medical personnel who had a part in treating her. Elise’s case became widely known in Helsinki. But finally she died, while not yet 14, on January 4, 1976.
A SURPRISE MEETING
A year and a half later my husband and I were attending the district assembly at the Ice Stadium in Helsinki, when a person approached us, asking: “Do you remember me?” We were at first puzzled, but then recognized the man as a doctor who, at one stage, administered treatment to Elise. He looked different without his white doctor’s coat, and he had shaved off his beard. What had happened?
Elise had spoken to him, as she had to all the other doctors, and he was very friendly and seemed to show some interest in the Bible. So we, too, gave him a witness. We had taught Elise to pray for her friends and those she liked, and in our evening prayers she often mentioned this doctor, praying that he might learn the truth about God’s purposes. Well, now this doctor was telling us how the faith of our daughter during her terminal illness had made a deep impression on him.
“She gave me the book True Peace and Security,” he explained, “but I was busy and put it on the bookshelf. At the time, my marital affairs were not going along very well, and in an effort to improve matters, I decided to make a break away from my heavy responsibilities at the X-ray clinic in Helsinki. So we moved to Åland, where I took up general practice at the Health Center.
“The move did not in itself improve our family relations, but soon a local Witness called on my wife, and she accepted some literature. Then she remembered that we had the book that Elise had given me, and she got it down from the bookshelf and read it through. She was at once convinced that this was the truth, and the local Witness began a Bible study with her. At first, she was a little afraid to tell me about it, thinking that I would refuse to let her study. But I said: ‘Anything that will help our family relations is good.’ I wanted to meet the Witness, and soon this was arranged. The result was that I eventually joined in the study too. Bible principles improved our family affairs and gave us a new outlook on life’s values. In 1976 we were baptized and my wife is now a regular pioneer. Three of our four children are publishers of the ‘good news,’ and the youngest, aged seven, accompanies us regularly in the field service.”
You can just imagine how encouraged we were to hear this! Our daughter’s prayer seemed to have received the best possible answer. If only Elise knew of it! When the resurrection takes place, there will be very pleasant things to tell her.
Although the darkest day of my life was when the doctor said, “Your little girl has cancer,” Elise’s fight to live nonetheless was encouraging. It was heartwarming to see how firm faith in Jehovah God and his Bible promises can so strongly govern even a young child’s life. I will never forget Elise’s saying: “I will only be sleeping as though for one night, and I will wake up in the new world.”—Contributed.
[Picture of Elise on page 24]
[Picture on page 24]
The sun seemed to darken when a doctor said: “Your little girl has cancer.”