Spiritual and Religious Care team supports family with the first Puja Hindu prayer ceremony at SickKids
When Melinda Mahabir and her husband Kelvin S. Kerut wanted to host a religious ceremony at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) for their six-month-old daughter Meliyah, they turned to staff for help.
“SickKids has been Meliyah’s home, and her room on 4D is the only home she has known so far,” says Mahabir. Collages of family photos line the wall behind Meliyah’s crib. Beside the crib, strands of her bravery beads hang from the machinery that is keeping her alive.
After many years of trying to conceive, and losing a pregnancy in 2013, Mahabir considers her daughter to be her miracle baby. “Meliyah is a happy and cheerful baby, with a bold personality. She is known as a princess warrior. So far, Meliyah has been beating all odds that have come her way.”
In July, Mahabir and Kerut decided they would like to perform a sacred Puja Hindu prayer ceremony for Meliyah. The ceremony is intended to celebrate the birth of a child in the family, to bless a child with good health, and to call upon the strength of the Divine to bestow the child with power and strength and help overcome obstacles in life. It is traditionally held at home but as SickKids is Meliyah’s home, it would need to be held here.
After asking a Paediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT) team member for help, they were connected with the Spiritual and Religious Care Department. Chandra Ram, Interfaith Chaplain, and Fred MacKay, Supervisor of Spiritual and Religious Care, were happy to oblige.
“Our work in spiritual care is around the patient, family and the extended community,” says MacKay. “We strive to provide spiritual care to those who need support. Toronto is a huge multicultural centre, with many different belief systems. We need to honour and respect what our families need to feel supported.”
“Melinda described what she would like in the ceremony and what her needs were,” says Ram. “There were some challenges, in that the ceremony requires the use of fire, they needed room for over 50 family members and they needed the space to be sheltered.”
But this did not deter Ram and MacKay. After some initial ideas didn’t work out, MacKay considered the Gerrard St. patio beside Tim Hortons: the large space is outside, with a cement floor and a roof. “We struck a mini work group of sorts, and @yourservice staff, Protection Services and the Office of the Fire Marshal all worked together to make it happen,” says MacKay.
The ceremony became a reality in August and was the first one of its kind held at SickKids. It was attended by approximately 70 family members, families who have children on 4D and 4D staff. The Fire Safety Coordinator was on hand with a fire extinguisher and two security guards were onsite as well.
The intricate ceremony, conducted by Pandit (Hindu priest) Herralal Sharma, lasted four hours and included a Kirtan, or a singing group. The ceremony ended with an abundance of food and sweets for all to share, and Mahabir and Kerut made sure the staff on 4D were brought treats as well. The Pandit also blessed the children who were patients on 4D. Meliyah left the unit and joined in for part of the ceremony accompanied by unit staff.
“It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had,” says Ram, who attended. “It went so smoothly. It was quite a spectacular scene to witness, the detail and intensity of the ceremony, the decoration of the patio, the colourful dresses of the guests, and most of all the support of families who had patients here and those who are still here.”
Mahabir and Kerut are grateful to SickKids for making this happen. “I wanted to have God’s blessing for Meliyah when she’s intact with the body that God gave her,” says Mahabir. “We will have another Puja after her transplant and bless her new heart.”
Mahabir has had her faith restored, drawing strength from the ceremony and having loved ones gather to celebrate Meliyah. “I think she’s going to be fine,” she says. “She is doing a really good job staying healthy. And seeing friends go home from 4D gives us hope. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.”
“This is what we do to support families,” says MacKay. “We have an obligation to help people to take hope and support from their faith. If that means a ceremony, we need to do it. We can’t change her heart condition but we can ease the stress and anxiety of the situation by doing this for the family.”