“What would Jesus have done?”
Heartbroken family of dying child denied wish to be buried together
David and Melody Engram say they never wanted to air their concerns in public; neither did they want to try to embarrass mem- bers of the Interfaith Cemetery Committee in Carbonear. But they were left with no other choice but to go public with their story.
The Engram’s only child Amelia has terminal cancer. The couple wanted to purchase three plots together at the town’s Interfaith Cemetery, but were flatly refused.
“ We’ve had our daughter Amelia with us for the past two years and spent every possible precious moment together, but in a short while we are going to lose her,” says David, pausing to compose himself. “We just want to be together once again... when we are all gone, for us to all be together, so we need three plots. This is not a huge request is it? We are begging and pleading here.”
A few weeks ago the couple asked the committee managing the Interfaith cemetery if they could buy three adjoining plots - one for Amelia and two others for themselves.
“Noel’s Funeral Home actually made the request on our behalf,” said David. That request was turned down. “We were outright refused,” said David. “A letter came back, signed by Milton Peach, chair of the cemetery committee, saying they only sell single and double plots - singles if a child dies or someone dies and they bury them in a single, and a double for a husband and wife,” said David.
According to the distraught father the committee gave them an option.
“They said we could buy two plots, one for Amelia and the other for us to basically share,” he said.
“The first parent to die would be cremated and their ashes kept until the other died and then buried with them. However we don’t want that, we want our daughter buried between us both.”
David and Melody feel the decision by the cemetery committee and the response by Peach was heartless and cruel.
“We would never wish what we are going through on anyone and it wasn’t our intention to disgrace or embarrass anyone, but they left us with no other alternative but to go to the media,” they said. “We don’t want to be talking about this, we want to be spending all our time with Amelia and that’s what we should be doing. But what choice do we have?”
Two-year-old Amelia was diagnosed with an aggressive malignant tumor when she was just 13 months old. At the time the family was living in Alberta.
In June 2008 she underwent surgery to remove the growth.
“We were told she was free and clear. We were elated, just jumping with joy,” said David. “In fact she was featured on the Alberta Telethon Network as a medical success story.”
Sadly the couple’s joy was short lived.
This past spring the cancer returned, this time with a vengeance.
“We found out around the end of May there was nothing else the doctors could do for her,” said David. “Our world ended there, it just fell right apart and will never be the same.”
The couple decided to leave their home in Alberta and move back to this province so Amelia could spend her last days with
her relatives and friends in Carbonear. David’s parents Audrey and Bill Engram reside on Willoughby Drive, while Melody’s parents Jerry and Marion Ryan live in Fermuse.
“We moved to Alberta nine years ago, but this is home. All our family is here and we wanted Amelia to be with them, to be surrounded by that love, in her last days,” said David.
On the day of The Compass interview both sets of grandparents are at William and Audrey’s home. Melody is lying beside Amelia on a bed and David is taking phone calls from the media and trying to keep his daughter’s mind off her pain by showing her photos of a trip to Florida the family took a couple of weeks ago. At that time Amelia was running and playing in the water and sand just like other two-year-olds.
“She has deteriorated really quickly,” says Melody, her voice breaking. “It’s hard to believe how fast. A week ago today we were in St. John’s and she was eating an ice cream at the mall, today she can’t eat, sit or walk.”
The slightest touch now evokes pain.
“She doesn’t want to be touched now, which is so different from how she was,” adds David, who refers to his daughter as Goosey. “She was very sociable, would just hug into you and always wanted a kiss and to be up in your arms... didn’t you Goosey?”
When she was 18 months old Amelia could speak in sentences, knew all her colours and could count to 19. She loves Dora the Explorer, Barney and Treehouse TV.
Amid all the concern and fuss over her last Friday she quietly says, “excuse me but I can’t see my show.”
Poppy Bill who is standing quietly by her bed adds, “you’d think Milton Peach and the cemetery committee would show a little compassion and grant this simple request to David and Melody. This family has enough stress on them, more heartbreak than anyone deserves and so many rough days ahead.”
On Friday morning June 19 The Compass attempted to reach Milton Peach, however he was somewhere in the Eastern School District carrying out his duties as chairman of the board of Trustees.
“I really pity the children of the Eastern School District,” adds David quietly. “If he (Peach) doesn’t have enough empathy or compassion to help a dying child or her family, then how can he be concerned about the educational interests of other children?”
In a telephone interview late Friday afternoon Peach told The Compass the cemetery committee feels it is inappropriate to comment on the situation any further.
“We are standing by our decision, however we feel the family needs time to be together and we should not be adding to their stress by responding to media interviews,” said Peach. “ We wish them all the best and understand their frustration.”
Chaired by Milton Peach, the Interfaith Cemetery committee is made up of representatives of three denominations: Bethany United, St. James Anglican and St. Patrick’s R.C. Churches. Committee members are: John Clarke, Harold Laing, John Colbourne, Roy Saunders, Rex Cotter, Bern Fitzpatrick, Mike Rodgers and Joe Griffin.
While the cemetery committee remained as quiet as a grave on the issue, it seems everyone else was talking about it. VOCM’s Bill Rowe opened his Friday afternoon Backtalk program by asking: Is this “officialdom or bureaucracy gone mad?”
CBC’s Here & Now, which first aired the story last Thursday, June 18, reported Friday the reaction to their website story was “off the charts” with their piece viewed some 16,000 times by visitors to their website.
Suggesting the committee is, “ making a big mistake, morally and ethically, Bob Ryan, Melody’s uncle, said, “ this has to change, there’s something wrong with this.”
And an internet campaign was launched on FaceBook calling for the committee chairman to be removed.
One of the comments posted on the Engram’s plight simply asked: “ What would Jesus have done?”
HEARTBREAKING - David and Melody Engram show their daughter Amelia a few photos of a holiday they had in Florida just two weeks ago.
This family photo of Amelia was taken less than a month ago (May 26) during a trip to Florida. At that time Amelia was running and playing in the water and sand just like other two-year-olds. But since then her mother says it’s hard to believe how rapidly her little girl has deteriorated.
AMELIA - At 18 months Ameila Engram could speak in sentences, knew all her colours and could count to 19. She loves
Dora the Explorer, Barney and Treehouse TV. The two-yearold was diagnosed with an aggressive malignant tumor when she was 13 months old.