The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Another epic obituary! I am much more boring than this, but this inspires me to become a happier, exuberant woman. Watch out kids!

Richard (Rick) Rice (59) walked with God Saturday August 15th, 2015. Rick died from complications resulting from being stubborn, refusing to go to the doctor, and raising hell for nearly six decades. A pulmonary embolism also played a minor role in his demise.

Rick was born and raised in Yakima, WA and spent over 40 years here in the valley before moving to Cincinnati, OH, Bakersfield, CA and eventually settling in Edgerton, WI.

Rick was widely recognized as the leader in his industry but his MOST cherished accomplishment was by far his three daughters, his “girls” Jeni Rice of Yakima, Diedre Twitty of Stanwood, and Shayla Cox of Renton. His girls were his whole world.

Rick never let an opportunity to laugh slip by. His witty humor greased his way through many a sticky situation. Oh the stories he had to tell! He orchestrated a truly legendary life. Never a dull moment with that man. Always dreaming. Dreaming of the future, dreaming of his next project, the wheels in his visionary mind never came to a stop. From his trips through the Amazon jungles searching for new super fruits to his endless lifetime of shenanigans – well everywhere he went. He lived his life to the fullest and he did it HIS way. With style and class baby!

Rick had IT. He exuded charisma, charm and style. Women noticed. Rick was married to Tea Rose (Rice) in 1977 and spent the next 25 years in a whirlwind love affair.

He was an avid competitor, earning a Golden Glove in boxing, black belt karate instructor for the police departments, received a wrestling scholarship to South West Oregon Community College and spent over 30+ years playing basketball at the YMCA. He was known by “Coach” Rice to some as he started his own youth wrestling team at Washington Middle School in the late 90’s and took his team to state.

His generous spirit knew no bounds.

Rick was survived in death by his three daughters, Jeni, Diedre, and Shayla, current wife Lynn Rice of Edgerton, WI, five grandchildren, brother Jerry Rice of El Segundo, CA, and sister Betty Rosencranz of Green Valley, AZ. Rick is reunited with his parents Sidney and Ella along with his bother Jim.

In lieu of flowers, Rick would be honored if you would do the unexpected and unsolicited act of kindness for someone else today in his name.

There will be no viewing since his family refuses to honor his request to have him standing in the corner of the room with a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand so he would appear natural to visitors.

Services will be held Saturday at August 29th at the Seasons Performance hall at 2 pm; he would be delighted if you come and share a story. A celebration of his life will follow.

Rick would like you to remember him in all his glory, drinking Grey Goose, laughing and telling lies. His larger-than-life persona and trademark jack-assery will not be forgotten.

THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND. YOU ARE OUR WORLD AND WILL BE MISSED MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE. LOVE YOU DAD

It Gets Better

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mark Zilberman
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mark Zilberman

Dear Sir in the cemetery,

I saw you last Sunday.

I was driving home from a church in the northern part of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

You were visiting a different kind of church. Wearing a dark suit, you stood at the foot of what appeared to be a fresh grave in a quiet, sunny cemetery. You looked younger than me, but your face and posture breathed experience.

You were alone.

I admit that my heart suggested I slam on the brakes and approach you. But my mind argued otherwise. Yes, I did pull into the cemetery’s side entrance, but I observed from a safe distance and did not leave my car.

As I sat, I reminisced about my own graveside visits to those I’ve loved and lost. And I lingered on three words heaven has whispered to me over and over again.

It gets better.

Obviously, I do not know the circumstances of your loss, your relationship or your grief. You might have been there to mourn a mother who lived to 82, a brother who perished at 52 or a wife who passed at 32.

Or, perhaps most tragically, a toddler taken at just 2.

As an adult, you probably already know that the grief for every kind of death is distinct, like crayons in a box that are all the same size and shape, but when streaked across the paper are unique.

But perhaps in the postscript of a funeral, you don’t yet know that those three words are as real as the pain you feel.

It gets better.

I’m almost certain people who’ve been there surround you on all sides. Maybe not living the exact same shades of grief, but they’ve likely lost someone they loved more than anyone or anything. When you wonder about tomorrow, you wonder if they believe in those three words, too.

If my assumptions are correct and your own loss is recent, the grief might feel like a bright billboard that no matter where you turn or how fast you drive, is always right in front of you. It seems inescapable. Even when you close your eyes, even when you dream, your personalized shade of sadness finds you.

That’s part of the plan. Though today it may sound out of tune, grief is good. It means they lived, it means you loved, it means they left behind a piece of their soul inside yours.

Many years ago I invited one of my brothers to visit my father’s grave with me. Unlike the grave you watered with tears last week, our dad’s has seen only rain and sprinklers for a long time. My brother smiled and reminded me what I already knew. “He’s not there.”

I realized that day that for my brother, it got better. And, eventually, it got better for me, too. We miss him, of course, but our grief has turned into brighter shades of memories: the cheesy T-shirts, the bad jokes and a thousand lessons learned.

During this Holy Week, the days that lead to the victory of Easter morning, I’m reminded again of the many visits to gravesites that tugged at my heartstrings. I remember how cemeteries can be peaceful, healing settings and I don’t regret a single second spent there.

I also remember the billboard I couldn’t escape. I recall the pain that waited for me each morning like uncomfortable shoes at the side of my bed.

Perhaps like you, I wondered if the sun would ever rise again.

In time, I learned the most foundational and fundamental truth of eternal life.

The sun will rise again, because the Son rose.

Friends come and go, families grow, relationships end and 101 hearts are broken and healed every second of every day. But this Easter truth is constant.

He is Risen.

Just like Mary who sat outside an empty tomb, the graves we visit are simply symbols. The only life there is our own. The ones we mourn, the one you miss, is not there.

No, they’re not yet risen. But they will be!

Because he was.

And even though I don’t know you, because he is risen, I know these other three words are also true.

It gets better.

When I’m Gone

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Beverley Goodwin
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Beverley Goodwin

When I’m Gone 

via this site

Death is always a surprise. No one expects it. Not even terminal patients think they are going to die in a day or two. In a week, maybe. But never this week.

It was no different with my father. He was gone at age 27. He was young. Way too young. I was 8 and half, old enough to miss him for a lifetime. Had he died before, I wouldn’t have memories. I would feel no pain. But I wouldn’t have a father in my life. And I had a father.

I had a father who was both firm and fun. Someone who would tell a joke before grounding me. That way, I wouldn’t feel so bad. Someone who kissed me on the forehead before I went to sleep. A habit which I passed on to my children. Someone who forced me to support the same football team he supported, and who explained things better than my mother. Do you know what I mean? A father like that is someone to be missed.

He never told me he was going to die. Even when he was lying on a hospital bed with tubes all over him, he didn’t say a word. My father made plans for the next year even though he knew he wouldn’t be around in the next month. Next year, we would go fishing, we would travel, we would visit places we’ve never been. Next year would be an amazing year. We lived the same dream.

I believe — actually I’m sure — he thought this would bring luck. He was a superstitious man. Thinking about the future was the way he found to keep hope alive. He made me laugh until the very end. He knew about it. He didn’t tell me. He didn’t see me crying.

And suddenly, the next year was over before it even started.

My mother picked me up at school and we went to the hospital. The doctor told the news and my mother cried. She did have a tiny bit of hope. As I said before, everyone does. I felt the blow. What does it mean? Wasn’t it just a regular disease, the kind of disease doctors heal with a shot? I hated you, dad. I felt betrayed. I screamed with anger in the hospital, until I realized my father was not around to ground me. I cried.

Then, my father was once again a father to me. With a shoebox under her arm, a nurse came by to comfort me. The box was full of sealed envelopes, with sentences where the address should be. I couldn’t understand exactly what was going on. The nurse then handed me a letter. The only letter that was out of the box.

“Your dad asked me to give you this letter. He spent the whole week writing these, and he wants you read it. Be strong.” the nurse said, holding me.

The envelope read WHEN I’M GONE. I opened it.

Son,

If you’re reading this, I’m dead. I’m sorry. I knew I was going to die.

I didn’t want to tell you what was going to happen, I didn’t want to see you crying. Well, it looks like I’ve made it. I think that a man who’s about to die has the right to act a little bit selfish.

Well, as you can see, I still have a lot to teach you. After all, you don’t know crap about anything. So I wrote these letters for you. You must not open them before the right moment, OK? This is our deal.

I love you. Take care of your mom. You’re the man of the house now.

Love, dad.

PS: I didn’t write letters to your mom. She’s got my car.

He made me stop crying with his bad handwriting. Printing was not easy back then. His ugly writing, which I barely understood, made me feel calm. It made me smile. That’s how my father did things. Like the joke before the grounding.

That box became the most important thing in the world for me. I told my mother not to open it. Those letters were mine and no one else could read them. I knew all the life moments written on the envelopes by heart. But it took a while for these moments to happen.

My teenage years and my mother’s new boyfriend triggered what my father had anticipated a long time before. My mother had several boyfriends, and I always understood it. She never married again. I don’t know why, but I like to believe that my father had been the love of her life. This boyfriend, however, was worthless. I thought she was humiliating herself by dating him. He had no respect for her. She deserved something a lot better than a guy she met at a bar.

I still remember the slap she gave me after I pronounced the word “bar”. I’ll admit that I deserved it. I learned that over the years. At the time, when my skin was still burning from the slap, I remembered the box and the letters. I remembered a specific letter, which read “WHEN YOU HAVE THE WORST FIGHT EVER WITH YOUR MOM”.

I ransacked my bedroom looking for it and finally found it inside a suitcase on top of the wardrobe. I looked through the letters, and realized that I had forgotten to open WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR FIRST KISS. I hated myself for doing that, and I decided that would be the next letter I’d open. Eventually I found what I was looking for.

Now apologize to her.

I don’t know why you’re fighting and I don’t know who’s right. But I know your mother. So a humble apology is the best way to get over this. I’m talking about a down-on-your-knees apology.

She’s your mother, kid. She loves you more than anything in this world. Do you know that she went through natural birth because someone told her that it would be the best for you? Have you ever seen a woman giving birth? Do you need a bigger proof of love than that?

Apologize. She’ll forgive you.

Love, dad.

My father was not a great writer, he was just a bank clerk. But his words had a great impact on me. They were words that carried more wisdom than all of my 14 years of age at the time. (That wasn’t very hard to achieve, though).

I rushed to my mother’s room and opened the door. I was crying when she turned her head to look me in the eyes. She was also crying. I don’t remember what she yelled at me. Probably something like “What do you want?” What I do remember is that I walked towards her holding the letter my father wrote. I held her in my arms, while my hands crumpled the old paper. She hugged me, and we both stood in silence.

My father’s letter made her laugh a few minutes later. We made peace and talked a little about him. She told me about some of his most eccentric habits, such as eating salami with strawberries. Somehow, I felt he was sitting right next to us. Me, my mother and a piece of my father, a piece he left for us, on a piece of paper. It felt good.

My father followed me through my entire life. He was with me, even though he was not near me. His words did what no one else could: they gave me strength to overcome countless challenging moments in my life. He would always find a way to put a smile on my face when things looked grim, or clear my mind during those angry moments.

WHEN YOU GET MARRIED made me feel very emotional. But not so much as WHEN YOU BECOME A FATHER.

Now you’ll understand what real love is, son. You’ll realize how much you love her, but real love is something you’ll feel for this little thing over there. I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. I’m just a corpse, I’m not a fortune teller.

Have fun. It’s a great thing. Time is gonna fly now, so make sure you’ll be around. Never miss a moment, they never come back. Change diapers, bathe the baby, be a role model to this child. I think you have what it takes to be an amazing father, just like me.

The most painful letter I read in my entire life was also the shortest letter my father wrote. While he wrote those four words, I believe he suffered just as much as I did living through that moment. It took a while, but eventually I had to open WHEN YOUR MOTHER IS GONE.

She is mine now.

A joke. A sad clown hiding his sadness with a smile on his makeup. It was the only letter that didn’t make me smile, but I could see the reason.

I always kept the deal I had made with my father. I never read letters before their time. With the exception of WHEN YOU REALIZE YOU’RE GAY. Since I never thought I’d have to open this one, I decided to read it. It was one of the funniest letters, by the way.

What can I say? I’m glad I’m dead.

Now, all joking aside, being half-dead made me realize that we care too much about things that don’t matter much. Do you think that changes anything, son?

Don’t be silly. Be happy.

I would always wait for the next moment, the next letter. The next lesson my father would teach me. It’s amazing what a 27 year old man can teach to an 85 year old senior like me.

Now that I am lying on a hospital bed, with tubes in my nose and my throat thanks to this damn cancer, I run my fingers on the faded paper of the only letter I didn’t open. The sentence WHEN YOUR TIME COMES is barely visible on the envelope.

I don’t want to open it. I’m scared. I don’t want to believe that my time is near. It’s a matter of hope, you know? No one believes they’re gonna die.

I take a deep breath, opening the envelope.

Hello, son. I hope you’re an old man now.

You know, this letter was the easiest to write, and the first I wrote. It was the letter that set me free from the pain of losing you. I think your mind becomes clearer when you’re this close to the end. It’s easier to talk about it.

In my last days here I thought about the life I had. I had a brief life, but a very happy one. I was your father and the husband of your mother. What else could I ask for? It gave me peace of mind. Now you do the same.

My advice for you: you don’t have to be afraid

PS: I miss you

Can Broken Be Better Than Whole?

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/Mike Kamerman
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/Mike Kamerman

I bought my best dishes at an estate sale, they are creamy and simple and old and the tall stack of dinner plates matched my goal of someday having a large family all gathered around our table.  As the years have passed it is obvious that a few of these dishes have been broken and repaired.  The glue used to fix the plates wasn’t noticeable in the early years but has turned a darker color over time and now there are small seams of glue running through a few of the dishes.  The cracks bothered me until I read about a practice of repair that originated over a thousand years ago in Japan.  It is called Kintsugi.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold two
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold two

Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken or chipped pottery and ceramics by repairing each crack and filling the voids with a resin containing gold, silver or platinum dust. Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally accentuated by the precious metals.  The break is illuminated!  It is an art that takes a broken object and gives it new life, some would say that the repair lifts it into the sublime.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold

When someone mended my china, they tried to repair it as seamlessly as possible, hoping that the dish would look like it had never been broken. But the art of Kintsugi strives to do the exact opposite. It acknowledges the brokenness and actually ends up highlighting the break. Through the gold veins, the vessel regains its original purpose but in a more beautiful way, more beautiful than the potter’s original idea or intention.

So, the next time you feel regret over mistakes you or others have made, remember these broken vessels. The imperfections to which all humans are prone, are made clearer through the cracks, the chips, and the breaks which, in the hands of an artist, become more beautiful than before they were broken.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold three
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold three

Please don’t be discouraged by your own imperfections and, just as importantly, don’t worry about the flaws that are so visible in others placed about you.  Instead, give yourself, symbolized by the broken vessel, into the hands of God who created you and included every imperfection.

Hiding the broken cup, throwing it away or trying to mend it on our own will never bring into being the beauty that God can forge.  Realize that He uses our weaknesses as the raw materials in creating a work of art!

Let our Savior mend the broken you and create a receptacle of beauty and practicality.

 

Her Son Went to Harvard and Duke and Penn

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Derek Bruff
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Derek Bruff

This is so precious! No one asked us if we wanted to donate organs when our son died, and I don’t know how I would have felt about it then. But after reading this I know how I feel now. Isn’t it amazing how much we can learn from each other? Thank you Sarah.

When she found out early in her pregnancy that one of her identical twins would die at birth, Sarah Gray began a five-year journey that culminated last week in Philadelphia.

She had to carry the sick baby to term in order to protect his healthy twin. And she also looked into organ and tissue donation.

 “Instead of thinking of our son as a victim,” she said, “I started thinking of him as a contributor to research, to science.”

On March 23, 2010, Thomas and Callum Gray were born at Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. Callum, perfect, was five pounds, 10 ounces. Thomas, four pounds, was born without part of his brain. His mother nursed him, diapered him, cradled him.

He died after six days – five years ago on Sunday. Within hours of Thomas’ death, his eyes and liver were recovered and sent – along with umbilical cord blood from him and his brother – to researchers.

But that wasn’t the end of it for Sarah Gray.

She often wondered – what became of his eyes, his blood, his liver?

The Grays had received a thank-you letter from the Washington regional transplant organization, telling them their son’s corneas had been sent to the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, and his liver and the cord blood to Duke University in North Carolina.

Two years later, on a business trip to Boston, Sarah Gray called the eye institute, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

“I donated my son’s eyes to your lab,” she said on the phone. “Can I come by for a tour?”

The receptionist said she had never had such a request. “I’m not sure who to transfer you to,” she said, “but don’t hang up!”

The next day, Gray met James Zieske, the institute’s senior scientist, who told her “infant eyes are worth their weight in gold,” because, being so young, they have great regenerative properties. Thomas’ corneas were used in a study that could one day help cure corneal blindness.

Thirteen more studies had cited that study. Gray felt a new emotion: pride.

Before leaving, she bought a Harvard T-shirt for Callum, and decided she was going to go with the whole family to North Carolina, where Thomas’ liver and the cord blood had been sent.

Zieske also wrote her: “Your visit helped to remind me that all the eyes we receive are an incredibly generous gift from someone who loved and cared about the person who provided the eyes. I thank you for reminding me of this.”

A few months later in 2012, the Grays went to the Duke Center for Human Genetics in Durham, N.C., where even though the twins were identical, scientists found epigenetic differences in their cord blood, research that could one day help prevent Thomas’ fatal defect, anencephaly.

Sarah Gray bought Callum a Duke T-shirt.

The couple then drove down to the road to visit Cytonet, a biotech company that had used their baby’s liver in a trial to determine the best temperature to freeze liver tissue.

Already in the nonprofit public relations field, Sarah Gray became director of marketing for the American Association of Tissue Banks.

Her mantra has become donate, donate, donate, and not just for transplant, but also for research. Even if nobody asks you – doctors are often uncomfortable when a child is dying – bring it up yourself, she says.

At a conference last summer, by coincidence, Gray learned that the Old Dominion Eye Bank in North Chesterfield, Va., had shipped Thomas’ retinas to Philadelphia.

She couldn’t believe she’d never known this. She immediately wrote to the researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who used the donation in her efforts to cure retinoblastoma, the most common form of eye cancer in children.

Two days later, Gray got a reply from Arupa Ganguly, who runs the lab and is a genetics professor at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“It is almost impossible to obtain normal retina from a child,” Ganguly wrote. “The sample from Thomas is extremely precious for us.”

Ganguly sent Callum a Penn T-shirt.

They arranged to meet last Monday.

First, Sarah, Ross, and Callum Gray went to the National Disease Research Interchange in Center City, which Sarah Gray calls “the Match.com of science.” The interchange connects hospitals that supply organs and tissue with researchers who request it.

“This seems to have brought you a lot of peace and joy,” Bill Leinweber, the interchange’s president and CEO, told Sarah. “You’ve been such a strong advocate for research and such an eloquent spokesperson for the value of research.”

After a visit there, the Gray family went to Penn to meet Ganguly and tour her lab.

Sarah Gray saw the marbled composition book in which the receipt of retinas was logged on March 30, 2010, the 360th specimen to be received. They became “RES 360,” short for Research 360.

“Is this the log book?” she asked. “Oh, my gosh.”

Gray ran her index finger over the cursive of Jennifer Yutz, the lab manager who recorded the entry.

“Ross, look at this! Med 360!”

Her husband took a look. Callum, then 4, hugged an inflatable Godzilla as tall as he is, a gift from Ganguly, bouncing it on the lab floor.

“Wow,” Sarah Gray continued. “Can I Xerox this?”

“We have a copy for you,” Ganguly said.

Penn also gave the Grays a copy of the Fed Ex packing slip confirming arrival, which Sarah Gray said she would “treasure like a war medal.”

Thomas’ retina tissue is so rare, so precious, Ganguly and her team are still saving some of it for future research. Ganguly’s staff led Sarah Gray into the hallway, where a refrigerator, innocuous and ordinary, stood across from student lockers. Yutz unlocked it.

Inside were hundreds of 1.5 milliliter tubes – smaller than cigarette filters.

Yutz pointed to two.

“There it is,” Yutz said.

“Oh my gosh!” Gray said. She couldn’t touch them. The tubes were frozen at minus-80 degrees centigrade (minus-112 Fahrenheit).

“It’s the RNA isolated from the retina tissue,” Yutz said.

Call it what you will, that was a piece of Thomas Gray, her son.

Ross Gray has long supported his wife’s journey.

“It helped her get over the loss,” he said. “It was part of the healing process, seeing that there’s still research going on five years after. His life was worthwhile. He’s brought a lot of good to the world.”

“The way I see it,” Sarah Gray said, “our son got into Harvard, Duke, and Penn. He has a job. He is relevant to the world. I only hope my life can be as relevant.”

Spiderman Obituary – How Will You Be Remembered?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Movement Six
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Movement Six

People like to send me obituaries – I suppose it is my fault because of what I named my blog. Reading them always causes me to reflect on the uniqueness of each one of us. In the grand scheme of things we could feel small and unimportant but the dignity of love and life rubs off on our lives. Makes each individual of infinite worth. Especially people who live and die like this:

Purmort, Aaron Joseph age 35, died peacefully at home on November 25 after complications from a radioactive spider bite that led to years of crime-fighting and a years long battle with a nefarious criminal named Cancer, who has plagued our society for far too long. Civilians will recognize him best as Spider-Man, and thank him for his many years of service protecting our city. His family knew him only as a kind and mild-mannered Art Director, a designer of websites and t-shirts, and concert posters who always had the right cardigan and the right thing to say (even if it was wildly inappropriate). Aaron was known for his long, entertaining stories, which he loved to repeat often. In high school, he was in the band The Asparagus Children, which reached critical acclaim in the northern suburbs. As an adult, he graduated from the College of Visual Arts (which also died an untimely death recently) and worked in several agencies around Minneapolis, settling in as an Interactive Associate Creative Director at Colle + McVoy. Aaron was a comic book aficionado, a pop-culture encyclopedia and always the most fun person at any party. He is survived by… first wife Gwen Stefani, current wife Nora and their son Ralph, who will grow up to avenge his father’s untimely death.

I am sure that this little boy will grow up knowing that his father loved him, that he took the time to say goodbye in a way that also said ‘this is who I am’.

This man was not overly concerned with himself and his death, but rather, he seems to have been able to shift into a sublime unselfishness and concern for others. On another level, I doubt his wife will be able to top this guy as a husband. I hope she has a group of friends that figure out how to cushion the blow of his death with their love and companionship.

Not all of us are given the gift of knowing that the end is coming. So, we will just have to figure out how to live so that our loved ones will truly miss us when we go.

What will your obituary say?

The truth is, you are writing it in the hearts of your loved ones now.

The Etiquette of a Funeral Procession

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/MarineCorps NewYork
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/MarineCorps NewYork

I grew up in Maryland, which, although they fought for the North in the Civil War, was in no way, shape or form a Northern state. There are many Southern customs I have embraced regarding death and funerals, but I understand that not everyone was taught how to act during times of grief. One of these little understood traditions is the funeral procession.

For some reason a funeral brings out the best in Southerners. It showcases their commitment to family, no matter how long it’s been since they’ve seen each other, and it demonstrates their loyalty to friends when there is a need for sympathy and kindness. Although it is tough to experience the loss of a loved one, it is the support of family and friends left behind that makes it just a little easier to bear.

Perhaps the most famous historical story involving Southern funeral etiquette involves a Civil War General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston had surrendered to General Sherman at the end of the war and had been so impressed with Sherman’s magnanimity that he would not allow an unkind thing to be said about his former enemy for the rest of his life.

When Sherman died, Johnston was asked to be a pallbearer in the General’s funeral. As is common for a public figure, Sherman’s funeral procession proceeded through the streets of New York City. Johnston walked along the casket with his hat in his hand. The freezing temperatures and rain caused fellow mourners to advise Johnston to wear his hat. Johnston replied, “If I were in his place and he standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” He ended up coming down with pneumonia and died several weeks later.

Johnson’s refusal to wear his hat was a symbol of his deep respect for his friend and mere convenience was not a good enough reason to put his hat on during the funeral procession.

Pulling your car over to the side of the road when you see a funeral procession is a sign of respect. You can tell who was brought up in the South when a funeral procession passes by, those raised in the south pull their car over to the side of the road. Some get out and stand respectfully as the cars pass.

Someday, we’ll all be a part of a funeral procession. Here is what you should know about that event.

After the funeral, everyone will get in their cars and proceed as a group to the cemetery. The cars will follow behind the hearse. Turn on your headlights and emergency blinkers and closely follow the car in front of you. The procession will drive slower than the speed limit. If the procession starts through a light while it’s green and it turns red by the time you get to it, keep on going. State laws allow funeral processions to drive through red lights and stop signs.

As a normal driver, when you come upon a funeral procession, do your best to let them pass and stay together. Do not try to cut into the procession. If safe, pull to the side of the road and let the line keep going. In the old days, men got out of their cars and doffed their hats while the procession passed. That is probably too dangerous on our modern roads, but it is a nice thought.

Never race to get in front of a procession, or break into the line of cars to make a turn. Cars in the procession usually have their lights on and a small sign in the front window indicating they are traveling together.

It is easy to understand how these traditions never took hold in large cities or in the North, there are just too many cars and too little space in New York, for instance, for people to pull over to the side of the road every time a funeral procession passes by. No matter where we live, or how we were raised, we can show our respect for those traveling to the cemetery in a funeral procession. Like the general, we can offer our good manners as a sign of our respect for those who are grieving a death.

Never Again

What you are seeing in this video is the annual mid-morning siren on the Jewish Day of Remembrance, during which all activity in all of Israel stops for a full two minutes. It is an act of respect, for the victims and the heroes and witnesses of the Holocaust. It is a display of duty. There is something much more than just a passive remembrance happening for people as they stop their cars in the street, get out, and stand in silence.

April 16 was the Day of Remembrance in 2015. There were documentaries about the holocaust on television, and there were many official ceremonies. But perhaps the most remarkable event of all is this remembrance. That at a certain time, sirens sounded everywhere, and an entire nation came to a standstill.

Workers stopped working. Pedestrians stopped where they were and most bowed their heads in remembrance. Cars and buses pulled over, and their drivers and passengers got out. As one, they all bowed their heads for two minutes in remembrance of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II.

In Israel, the phrase “Never again” is not just a political slogan. It’s a personal pledge, both to those who were slaughtered and to their own children and grandchildren. The pledge they confirm by repeating ‘Never again’ is why Israel will stand alone if need be to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, in the face of the world’s condemnation. They say ‘Never again’ because they have lived through this before. And they remember that six million of their people did not.

It has happened to other people since WWII, it is happening now to Christians in the middle east. And it is evident that just saying the words ‘never again’ is not enough.

I believe, and I believe it with all of my heart, that these days have been foretold by prophets. That our days are truly ‘the last days’. That Christ will return to the earth, in power and glory and that peace will reign with him as he sits upon the throne of David. Until then, it has been prophesied that our times will be filled with contention and strife.

What can we do?

It is important to remember. To be an example of a believer. To stand for right. To preach peace. To share with the poor and to lift the poor in spirit.

I, personally, have pledged to re-read the commandments that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai today. To seek to re-enthrone the values found in those commandments in my life and to call upon God to remember us, as we remember Him. With God, and only as we stand with Him, will right prevail!

What We Regret

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Thomas Hawk
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Thomas Hawk

When our son died in 1986 it was sudden, one minute he was laughing and calling me ‘Ann’ and the next he was cold and still and irretrievably gone. For a long time I clung to the thought that it would have all been easier to bear if he had gotten sick and sicker, if we had been given time to say goodbye. Watching other parents go through a long, drawn out process of watching their children die, I learned better.

The lessons we learned from his death are innumerable, Dale had nothing to learn and so it was good, in every way, that the process was quick.

I recently read a book by Bronnie Ware, she writes about the many years she worked in palliative care. Her patients were those who had gone home to die. She shared some solemn days with her patients and was with them for the last weeks of their lives. She learned that people grow in incredible ways when they are faced with their own mortality.

Bronnie grew a lot as well and learned never to underestimate the innate human capacity for growth, some changes she witnessed were phenomenal. Each patient experienced a variety of emotions and every single patient found peace before they departed, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try to honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what  others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

You have been given the great gift of another day on this earth. Go and live today doing the most important things and making memories that will last forever!

Life After Death?

Before having his own near death experience, Dr. Eben Alexander did not believe in the existence of a spirit world, or even of a human spirit. Trained in the western medical tradition and surrounded by colleagues who are almost universally invested in a materialistic view of the universe, he thought that the idea of a soul was a little crazy.  Like most skeptics, he believed stories of the afterlife to be hallucinations or products of a fertile imagination.

Dr. Alexander changed his mind about all of this after he was in a coma for seven days himself. The coma was caused by severe bacterial meningitis.  During his coma he experienced a vivid journey into what he knew to be the afterlife, visiting both heavenly and hellish realms.

After returning to his body and experiencing a miraculous healing, a healing that defied medical odds. He went on to write the NY Times #1 best-selling book ‘Proof of Heaven’. What Dr. Alexander knows now is that our life here is just a test, an experience to help our souls evolve and grow. And the way we succeed in our life experience is to live with love and compassion.  Sounds so simple, right?

Here are just a few other notable points he made:

The experience of the afterlife was so real and expansive that the experience of living on Earth seemed like a dream by comparison.

The most basic fabric of the afterlife was pure LOVE. Yes, he used the capital letters to emphasis that thought. Love dominated his experience to such a degree that the overall presence of evil was infinitesimally small. If you wish to know God, get to know Love.

When asked what he wants everyone to know about the spirit realm, he always answers saying that you are precious and infinitely loved more than you can possibly imagine. You are always safe. You are never alone. The unconditional and perfect Love of God does not neglect any soul.

Love is, without a doubt, the basis of everything. Not some abstract, hard-to-fathom kind of love but the day-to-day kind that everyone knows and longs for. The kind of love we feel when we look at our spouse and our children, or even our animals. In its purest and most powerful form, this love is not jealous or selfish, but unconditional and fills our hearts with joy.

Can you, for a moment, imagine pure, honest and powerful love? Can you open your heart to feel the love that God has for you?

I believe that Gods love is all around us. That we can feel it when we get close to Him, when we love as He loves or at least make the attempt.

How I long for the day when I leave this dream world behind and am free to remember that love in its fullness!

Dreaming of Grief

Photo courtesy of flickr.com?Stefano Corso
Photo courtesy of flickr.com?Stefano Corso

Sleeping has always seemed strange to me. That we as humans need to recharge every day is kind of endearing. My boys seem to regard eating and sleeping as unnecessary intrusions into the important stuff and resent stopping for any reason, but especially sleep.

My great-grandmother recorded dreams that seemed significant to her in some way or another, her dreams became a part of our family folk-lore. I wondered if I would be like her and so I would wake up thinking about my dreams and trying to file them away so I could remember them. I paid attention to them.

Then our son died. I remember that first night, after we left his small body at the hospital and went home, as if the whole experience was a dream. The lighting of our room seemed staged. The absolute silence was oppressive. Someone else had put Jody to bed and so I laid down on our bed – without taking off even my shoes – and fell into sleep.

It was an immediate release, all the burdens of that horrible day were gone. I remember sleep feeling like a drug, the nightmare was gone and I spent time in a place where Dale was still alive.

Then I woke up and the nightmare began all over again.

I once read an account of a prisoner at a Nazi death camp, his bunk mate was moaning and thrashing in his sleep and his instinct was to wake him from the terror but realized that any dream he was having was better than their present reality. We were in a similar situation and if it weren’t for Jody I might have wasted away in my bed. Jody needed a mother and I loved her enough to fake it until taking care of her became joyful again.

Certain dreams seemed to be tremendously powerful. Dreams of telling our little son how much I missed him, how much his father missed him. Some dreams seemed bursting with guidance and the best ones helped me feel a deep sense of rejuvenation. These dreams carried a life-changing potential.

For some people our dreams, during times of grief, carry great meaning.

The word ‘grief’ is derived from the French word ‘grève’, meaning a heavy burden. To be able to put that burden down and sleep is a tremendous relief, a balm for the heart.

Not everyone feels comfort in their dreams as they grieve and not everyone sleeps well as they grieve so I feel blessed to have taken comfort from dreams of our little son.

If you are troubled by your dreams of those who have passed on I would suggest that you examine the dreams closely. Are you trying to reach your loved one and are not able to get to them? Are you full of regrets? Do you have a message you want to give them? I am sure most of our dreams have meaning and if we can figure out what our subconscious is trying to tell us we can move on to more peaceful sleep.

If you regret something in your relationship with your loved one, I would suggest talking to God about it. There have been times when I just wanted to feel close to our children and was unable to get to them. Instead, when I prayed I would ask my Father in heaven to tell my boys that I missed them and loved them.

If you worry that you will never be with your loved one again, I would ask our Father that question. ‘Will I be with my child or sister or husband again?’ That is a question I am confident God will answer.

Do you have regrets about things that happened before their death? Again, I would turn to God and express to Him your sorrow and ask that your loved one can know of your regret, your need of forgiveness. You can feel peace again, over time it will come.

Gradually, my dreams about Dale have faded but they are not gone entirely. Now, when I dream of Dale, I see him as a man instead of a little boy. And always I am anxious to be with him again when I awake.

My dreams have allowed me to feel that we have an important relationship. To know that he has not forgotten his mother. Those dreams help me look forward to the day we are reunited at last.

Because of these dreams, I am not afraid of death. Because of these dreams I am deeply connected to those I love in heaven. And even the dreams that trouble me are a chance to examine the reasons I am having them and work now to repair what I can and accept what I cannot fix. To exercise my faith and hope and deepen the love I feel for them.

Don’t be afraid to do the hard work that grief demands of us. There is peace on the other side of the chasm of grief and I wish you sweet dreams and pleasant memories!

Do You Believe In Life After Death?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/love_K_photo
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/love_K_photo

In a mother’s womb were two babies.

“Do you believe in life after delivery?” one twin asks.

“Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are preparing ourselves for what we will become of us later,” the other replies.

“Nonsense,” says the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second responds, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replies, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

But the second insists, “I think there is something, and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replies, “Nonsense. Moreover, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life. In the after-delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” says the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother, and she will take care of us.”

The first replies, “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, then where is she now?”

The second says, “She is all around us. Without her, this world would not and could not exist.”

Says the first: “Well I don’t see her, so it is only logical that she doesn’t exist.”

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Kris Kesiak
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Kris Kesiak

But then the second twin answers, “Sometimes, when everything is quiet and you really listen, you will feel her presence and hear her loving voice, calling down from above.”

– Author unknown

I know we are sometimes afraid to believe, unsure of what is real, but doesn’t it make sense to trust that we are here for a reason and that there is a plan prepared for us by God?

I promise that if you can even just desire to believe, that fledgling faith will work in you to grow and strengthen.

Err on the side of trust and before long you will be a witness of the fruit of your faith. You will know. A knowledge born of the heart and spirit, not of the intellect nor of reason. But knowledge none the less!

 

Three Things He Learned When His Plane Crashed

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/John Dalton

There are some experiences that change everything and some almost universal truths that come from those moments. The first thing I learned when our son died was that it all changes in an instant.

I used to dream about finding him in time to change the outcome, all I needed was one instant to change everything. That didn’t happen but because of his death I no longer want to postpone anything in life.

If you have experienced a life changing moment you will recognize that your regrets center on the time wasted on things that did not matter. What does matter? Your family. Your husband or wife, your kids. In the TED talk below, this man described it as ‘eliminating negative energy’, he no longer tries to be right but rather makes a conscious effort to be happy.

He also found that the prospect of dying was not scary but it was sad. He only wish for one thing, seeing his kids grow up.

If I could help you see into the future and come back, to live differently, I would ask you the following questions.

How would you change?

What would you get done?

How would you change your relationships?

Are you being the best parent you can be?

Are you being the best spouse you can be?

I believe that we are capable of learning from each other. As you think about the questions I have asked, if you make the effort to really focus on answering them, you can learn the lessons I learned the hard way from my heartache instead of your own.

It is possible, but the emotional effects of coming close to death is something that this man will never forget. Circumstances took him to the edge of life and then let him contemplate leaving this earth for a moment before pulling him back to safety.

What a gift!

I ask you to read listen to this short talk and then close your eyes and picture yourself walking out of your house, knowing that you will never return.

What would you say? What would you think? What would you feel? What would you do?

It could happen to any of us, at any moment. Let’s make a pact to live, as much as is possible, with the end in mind.

Are you in?

Duty, Honor and Country

But when I think of his patience in adversity of his courage under fire and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.

Always for them: Duty, honor, country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth. And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts, those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms, the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails, the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished, the deadly pestilence of tropical disease, the horror of stricken areas of war.

This does not mean that you are warmonger. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’

We must look at the men and women that have been in battle with compassion and love. They have seen and been a part of horrors and destruction that now make up a part of who they are and they did it because they were asked to do it by the collective us.

Let us pray for peace and practice peace in our sphere of influence. We know that our day is a day of war and commotion but we do not have to embrace it ourselves.

At this season, let us remember the Prince of Peace and vow to prosper, or allow, peace to flourish in our corner of the earth.

 

The above is excerpted from an address given by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur to the cadets of the U.S. Military Academy on 12 May 1962. The entire speech may be found here

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Is Mercy Even Possible?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Sean Molin
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Sean Molin

I once listened to a talk given by Boyd K. Packer called Balm of Gilead. In it he tells a profound story I have never forgotten. The story was related to him by an old friend, a man whom he knew well and trusted.

‘On one occasion, he gave me a lesson for my life from an experience in his own. Although I thought I had known him, he told me things about his life I would not have supposed.

He grew up in a little community with a desire to make something of himself. He struggled to get an education.

He married his sweetheart, and presently everything was just right. He was well employed, with a bright future. They were deeply in love, and she was expecting their first child.

The night the baby was to be born, there were complications. The only doctor was somewhere in the countryside tending to the sick.

After many hours of labor, the condition of the mother-to-be became desperate.

Finally the doctor was located. In the emergency, he acted quickly and soon had things in order. The baby was born and the crisis, it appeared, was over.

Some days later, the young mother died from the very infection that the doctor had been treating at another home that night.

John’s world was shattered. Everything was not right now; everything was all wrong. He had lost his wife. He had no way to tend both the baby and his work.

As the weeks wore on, his grief festered. “That doctor should not be allowed to practice,” he would say. “He brought that infection to my wife. If he had been careful, she would be alive today.”

He thought of little else, and in his bitterness, he became threatening. Today, no doubt, he would have been pressed by many others to file a malpractice suit. And there are lawyers who would see in his pitiable condition only one ingredient—money!

But that was another day, and one night a knock came at his door. A little girl said simply, “Daddy wants you to come over. He wants to talk to you.”

A grieving, heartbroken young man went to see his spiritual leader. This spiritual shepherd had been watching his flock and had something to say to him.

The counsel from that wise servant was simply, “John, leave it alone. Nothing you do about it will bring her back. Anything you do will make it worse. John, leave it alone.”

My friend told me then that this had been his trial—his Gethsemane. How could he leave it alone? Right was right! A terrible wrong had been committed and somebody must pay for it. It was a clear case.

But he struggled in agony to get hold of himself. And finally, he determined that whatever else the issues were, he should be obedient.

Obedience is powerful spiritual medicine. It comes close to being a cure-all.

He determined to follow the counsel of that wise spiritual leader. He would leave it alone.

Then he told me, “I was an old man before I understood! It was not until I was an old man that I could finally see a poor country doctor—overworked, underpaid, run ragged from patient to patient, with little medicine, no hospital, few instruments, struggling to save lives, and succeeding for the most part.

“He had come in a moment of crisis, when two lives hung in the balance, and had acted without delay.

“I was an old man,” he repeated, “before I finally understood! I would have ruined my life,” he said, “and the lives of others.”

Many times he had thanked the Lord on his knees for a wise spiritual leader who counseled simply, “John, leave it alone.”

And that is the counsel I bring again to you. If you have a festering grudge, if you are involved in an acrimonious dispute, “Behold what the scripture says ‘man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay’ (Morm. 8:20).

If you need a transfusion of spiritual strength, then just ask for it. We call that prayer. Prayer is powerful spiritual medicine. The instructions for its use are found in the scriptures.’

In a world of accusations and unfriendliness, it is easy to gather and cast stones. But before we do so, let us remember the words of the One who is our Master and model: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

Brothers and sisters, let us put down our stones.

Let us be kind.

Let us forgive.

Let us talk peacefully with each other.

Let the love of God fill our hearts.

Let us do good unto all men.

The Savior promised: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over. … For with the same measure that you use it shall be measured to you again.”

Mercy is possible but it is HARD. Don’t think it will be easy but as with every difficult task in our lives the Lord makes it possible. Cast your burden at His feet and someday you will see the majesty in what has been created by your willingness to be obedient.

The Perfect Condolence Letter

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/ Anemone Letterpress
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/ Anemone Letterpress

Is it important to send a condolence note when someone dies? I know that when our son passed away the sweet notes and flowers passed by my eyes as a blur. I was not taking in the expressions of sympathy and love at the time. Later though, even years later, I remember the people who reached out to us with sympathy.

Meals, flowers, letters, hugs, tears. All these made their mark and taught me how to comfort those who grieve.

What can you say?

It is important to start. We all know enough about pain to want to stay far away from it so it becomes difficult to begin the task. It is going to feel awkward, don’t try to pretend this will be easy.

The most beautiful letters focus on the readers loss, not on the death of the person they loved. The loss is what we grieve. So instead of saying, ‘I am so sorry your mother died.’ I would say, ‘I am so sorry you have lost your mother.’ A most gentle and tender way of expressing how you feel.

Move quickly through the beginning and write all you can about what you will miss about their loved one. The possibilities are endless. Remember them in every joyful way!

For instance, a neighbor wrote us after our son had died and commented on how much she enjoyed watching Dale play on the lane, how she would miss his laughter and presence when she looked out her front window. A reminder that his life had touched hers.

The sharing of memories is a welcome reminder that the one we lost is irreplaceable.

If you didn’t know them personally, you can always tell them that you will always remember how much people loved their loved one. How much their life meant to so many.

I would end your note telling them that your thoughts and prayers are with them. Express your love and friendship and sorrow, you are sharing yourself with them.

By far, the most eloquent condolence letter I have ever read is the one President Lincoln wrote to Mrs. Bixby when he learned that she had lost five sons in the Civil War. The fact that there are questions about how many sons did die, or who, in fact, wrote the letter the president signed is irrelevant to the beauty of the writing.

The perfect condolence letter:

Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 21, 1864

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom. Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

Who uses the word ‘beguile’ anymore? Perfection!

 

The Art of Friendship

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Ron Agullar
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Ron Agullar

There are some experiences that teach over and over, and one of the most significant of these occurred when I was a young mother with a six month old baby. I was sitting in the back of church, near the door so I could step out if Jody got too noisy.

An older mother came in late and sat down next to me, her hair was bright orange. When I say orange, I mean that it could never be mistaken for red or auburn. It was pure, orange concentrate.

Her dress was certainly a 3x and was black with salad plate size orange and red flowers.

Her baby was huge, had bright red hair and an angry rash all over his face.

I can still remember moving away from this woman, if not physically then certainly in every other possible way.

Near the end of the lesson the teacher gave us an assignment to talk to the person sitting next to us. I panicked and with great reluctance I turned and stumbling for something to say I asked her how old her baby was.

She was not only a flamboyant dresser but an exuberant soul as well and she more than carried the conversation once we began. Her baby was loved, adored actually. She didn’t bore me with tales of her health problems, all that sad information came later, after we had become friends.

From this experience I made a mental list of rules of friendship:

  • Never make a lasting judgement about someone by looking at them. We can’t help our instinctive thoughts but the outside of someone tells you almost nothing about the real core of a person. The well dressed pretty woman who looks like the mean ‘popular girl’ might be your future best friend. Or that larger than life red-headed stranger might be someone you can trust with your life. You just can’t know until you give them a chance. When my first impressions start to get in the way of me being kind to someone I don’t know, I have learned to make an immediate effort to talk to them. To put my snap judgements quickly behind me by getting to know the person.
  • Everyone needs a friend. The president’s son, the snobby new girl, the senator, as well as the shy or just quiet person, the artist, it doesn’t matter who they are. We all thrive on acceptance and an invitation of friendship.
  • In every social situation, there is someone who needs you. Someone who needs a friend. Someone who needs kindness. I like to take a minute and watch the room before jumping in and becoming a part of it, I find that I learn a lot by observing people.
  • Be kind. While we are limited by time and place in determining the number of close friends we can have, we can be kind to everyone.
  • Never, under any circumstances, betray your friendship through gossip or petty behavior. Being a friend is a sacred trust and we must rise to the responsiblity of it. There are some things that should never be said. Some things that should never be thought. And some things that should never be done.
  • There is a vast difference between being a friend and being an acquaintance.
  • Most of my friends are very different from me. We disagree about things and we can even irritate each other. But friendship allows for differences, in fact, it embraces those differences!

I have had to learn these lessons over and over and each time I do I am grateful for the reminder.

Friendship is designed to civilize the world, and if developed would cause wars and contentions to cease. It would cause men to become brothers instead of remaining strangers.

We should consider our closest friendships as hallowed ground. Made sacred because of love given by choice.

Friend should be a title of honor, not a passing relationship, enshrined in our hearts and sealed by the gift of time. I think we should pledge to use the word carefully. To avoid diluting it by using it to name relationships that are less than the ideal. And I believe that and honest, true friendship can be something that lift and purify the earth.

The love that you feel from a friend that is real
Is more powerful than anything on earth.
For it lifts and it grows and it strengthens and flows
It’s what allows the soul to feel just what they’re worth.

It Is Well With My Soul!

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Jonnie Andersen
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Jonnie Andersen

It is a sacred custom of my faith for fathers to bring their very young babies before the congregation and in company with family and church leaders, to bless the child.

I was the first child in my family and have pictures of several generations of family in attendance the day of my baby blessing. My mother fitted me out in white finery and handed me over to my father. My dress blanketed over the men’s arms as they held me and gave me a name and a blessing from heaven.

Of course, I remember nothing about that day but I am told that my father commenced to bless his little daughter with ‘trials and tribulations’. I can’t imagine that my mother was very happy about that promise! To me, it is a testament that my father was able to hear the whisperings of the spirit of God.

I can say, with conviction, that a blessing from God is indeed just that. What He gives to us is calculated to uplift and teach us. I have been taught richly by the things I have suffered. And, the sweetness of indescribable joy that keeps company with faith and tribulation is mine as well.

Most of you have heard the Christian hymn ‘It Is Well with My Soul’, it was penned by Horatio Spafford in 1873. After the death of his only son, who died of scarlet fever. After the Great Chicago Fire ruined him financially. And finally, after losing his four remaining children (all daughters) after sending them by ship to Europe with his wife. The ship sunk rapidly after colliding with another vessel.

His wife was miraculously saved and sent him a heartbreaking telegraph saying, ‘saved alone…’.

Horatio took the next available ship to join her and when the Captain heard of the tragedy he carefully marked the spot where the ship carrying his family was sunk and as they reached the sacred spot invited Horatio to join him on the deck to remember all those lost, including his children.

It is said that Horatio wrote this song after returning to his cabin. The thought of all he had lost heavy on his heart.

How is it that sorrow can cause the sublime to blossom in our hearts? How is it that grief can produce wisdom and faith? I couldn’t tell you the recipe but our Father in Heaven knows the ingredients required to produce an eternal being and I trust that He will carry me along. Us along.

There is something sublime about this song and I am happy to share it with you all.

For some reason the song doesn’t start until the 40 second mark… if you would like to read the words, I have included them below.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, with my soul.
It is well
With my soul
It is well, with my soul.

My sin, o, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole
Are nailed to the cross, and I bear them no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well
With my soul
It is well, with my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well
With my soul
It is well, with my soul.

How to Bury a Prophet — Kathleen Flake

Gordon Bitner Hinckley
Gordon B. Hinckley 23 June 1910 – 27 January 2008

For anyone that wonders what Mormons believe about death, this encapsulates the essence of it well. Written by Kathleen Flake, it sums up our hopes beautifully. I have included a photo of the prophet’s headstone. What do you think it says about him? I see a monument to a truly humble life.

February 7, 2008

‘The Latter-day Saints buried their prophet on Saturday (2008). Thousands attended the service in person and millions more faithful watched in chapels around the globe, as well as on the internet. What they saw was an unusually personal ceremony for a very public man who led and to large degree defined the contemporary Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Notwithstanding the numbers and titles of participants, Gordon Hinckley’s funeral was a family affair both in word and sacrament. It was an extraordinary display of what makes Mormonism tick.

Gordon Hinckley died at the age of ninety-seven, having been in the church’s leading councils since 1958 and serving as its fifteenth president since 1995. He shaped the church through a half century of growth in one hundred and seventy countries. A third of its present membership joined during his tenure as president. Displaying remarkable vigor late in life, he met with church members on every continent, responding to their needs with curricular, welfare, and building programs whose costs are impossible to imagine and no one will admit. He met the press to a degree unequaled and with an openness heretofore unknown among Mormonism’s leadership. This effort too was largely successful. No less a cynic than CBS’s Mike Wallace admitted that Hinckley “fully deserves the almost universal admiration that he gets.” He was, as Newsweek‘s Jon Meacham said, “a charming and engaging man, an unlikely prelate — and all the more impressive for that.” The same could be said of his funeral.

Hinckley’s funeral was an unlikely but impressive mix of the sacramental and the mundane, in large part because it observed Mormonism’s custom that families bury their dead. The family designs the memorial program, participates actively in it, and performs the ordinances that send their loved ones off to the next life. Yes, the chapel in this case was the LDS Conference center that held 21,000 mourners; the lay pastor who conducted the meeting was Thomas Monson, Hinckley’s presumptive successor as “prophet, seer, and revelator;” and the music was provided by the three-hundred-plus member Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But, in all other essentials, the service was performed by the family. A son gave the invocation. Monson conducted at the request of the family, he said, not by ecclesiastical right. The eulogy was given by a daughter who described her father’s life as half-way point in a now seven-generation story of sacrifice, death, and survival that is the Mormon saga. Explicitly gathering the millions watching into that story, she declared “we are one family sharing an inheritance of faith.” Friends with high titles spoke next. Though the requisite list of Hinckley’s ecclesiastical accomplishments was given, it was subordinated to his success as a courageous and amusing friend and a successful husband and father. Another daughter gave the benediction: “We are buoyed by the knowledge that we will see him again as family, as friends.”

Hinckley’s sons and daughters with their spouses led the casket out of the hall and between an honor guard of church authorities. Cameras followed the mourners, focusing on his five children, twenty-five grandchildren and sixty-two great-grandchildren who formed the cortege to the cemetery. There, possibly most surprisingly, the eldest son dedicated the grave without fanfare. Notwithstanding the presence of the entire church hierarchy, the son stepped forward to pronounce: “By the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood, I dedicate this grave for the remains of Gordon B. Hinckley, until such time as thou shall call him forth.” Then, church leaders were “dismissed,” as Monson put it. As the church teaches is the case in the afterlife, only the family remained.

Families are, as Latter-day Saints like to say, forever. What they don’t say is that the church is not forever. It is only the instrument for endowing families with the right and duty to mediate the gifts of the gospel to their members, thereby sealing the willing among them as families in the life to come. This was Hinckley’s message as a prophet. As he would have it and as the best Mormon funerals do, his message was embodied and enacted by his family who blessed him in death, no less than in life. This is how the Latter-day Saints, at least, bury a prophet.’

What Is This Thing That Men Call Death?

Gordon B. Hinckley

What is this thing that men call death?
This quiet passing in the night?
‘Tis not the end but genesis
Of better worlds and greater light

O God, touch Thou my aching heart
And calm my troubled, haunting fears
Let hope and faith, transcendent, pure
Give strength and peace beyond my tears.

There is no death, but only change
With recompense for vict’ry won
The gift of Him who loved all men
The Son of God, the Holy One.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Ken Lund
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Ken Lund

The Grief Club

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Martin Wood
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Martin Wood

I have embraced membership in only a few organizations during my life. I am an enthusiastic member of the ‘motherhood club’, I am a humble member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have joined the ‘happily ever after marriage club’. And, recently, was granted membership to the most exclusive, ‘grandmother’s group!’ That last is impossible to obtain except at the behest of others.

However there is one group I was reluctant to join but over time have come to appreciate the benefits of being compelled. There is a distinct divide separating those who have been inducted into the ‘grief club’ and those who haven’t. There is a chasm that cannot be crossed except by those who suffer grief and loss.

Imagine that life gives you a challenge you cannot refuse. Imagine being asked to cross a steep chasm on a rope bridge. On either side you see life going on but it is impossible to go back, to get across you must continue forward. The rope bridge sways under foot. The wind howls about you in currents you cannot see. It feels impossible and dangerous and unnecessary but you can either stay camped on the precarious bridge or move forward however slowly or quickly you are able.

You can see your former world, that it exists but you are not a part of it anymore. When you reach the other side, you are different. You have changed. You have joined the grief club.

Grief cannot be understood from the outside or through the intellect. It must be experienced close up to be comprehended.

When a friend of ours lost his wife his father counseled him, saying, ‘Understand, you will never get over this.  If you know this up front you will not struggle and wonder why you are not succeeding.’

He was right and his counsel became a sweet consolation. When death strikes, the old normal is gone.  There’s a hole in your heart, in your being that will never be filled. At times, that hole feels like a physical injury.

After a period of intense pain, you will emerge a different person.  The person you were will be gone.  A new life will start to take shape.

As a new person you will have a life which includes happiness, peace and even laughter. You will have a community and new friendships.  It does happen.

I vividly remember sitting on the stand at church one Sabbath day looking out over the audience and realizing, for the first time, that the death of our son was the pivotal experience of my life. I had learned and grown more, in the best ways, from Dales death than from any other event.

It was puzzling, feeling grateful and appreciating the growth I had gained. Would I choose to repeat the experience? Never. But I had grown in powerful ways from it.

When we emerge from grief and loss, one of the gifts given during the process is the gift of compassion. Another is the understanding of other’s pain.

Our society, in general, doesn’t give you much time for learning the new normal after losing someone you love. You will hear people saying things like ‘Life goes on’ and ‘Thank God you have other children.’ These words spoken as if another person can replace the one you lost.

The hard truth is, most people don’t have a clue what to say.  They don’t know is that all they need to do is to listen.

I have watched as people I love learn the depths and heights of grief, it is an unpleasant and messy process. I have to confess that I miss the old friend even as I embrace the new member of the club, for the old version of my friend is gone forever. The new version is beautiful and will become wise, but I miss the innocence and sweetness of the former version of my friend.

Through the process I am compelled to exclaim: The Lord, He is good to us! I say with Mary ‘be it unto me according to thy word.’

Keep Calm and Blog On

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/various brennemans
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/various brennemans

So what is this Keep Calm and Carry On thing all about?

The saying originated in England during the second World War. It was the third in a series of posters, designed to boost the morale of the people by passing on a message from King George VI.

Printed but never distributed, it was intended to be used only if invasion was imminent. The posters were collected and reduced to pulp at the end of the war in 1945.

In 2000 Stuart and Mary Manley, who run a bookshop called Barter Books in Northumberland, found one of the few remaining copies of the poster while sorting through a box of old books. They had the poster framed and placed near the till in their shop.

It wasn’t long before customers began asking if they could buy it. So, in the year of our Lord 2000, Stuart and Mary started selling and printing facsimile copies of the poster. The rest, as they say, is history…

What I am leading up to is this. The morning after our little son Dale died was bleak, we woke up from sweet dreams into a living nightmare. But, as I watched the dawn creep over our window sill that morning my mind and then my heart reviewed everything I believed about death.

Did I still believe that we lived before our birth as spirit children of God?

Did I still believe that we came here for a purpose?

Did I still believe that God was watching over us, with a tender and loving heart?

Did I still believe that families can be together forever?

Did I still believe that death has a purpose?

Did I still believe that God is loving and kind?

If I did believe these things, and I found that I did, then I had an obligation to show my faith by my works. I had a responsibility to witness to anyone watching, that I did believe in every truth I had been taught about life and death.

My grief was thus tempered and softened by my faith. And, though I didn’t know the words that day, I did keep calm and carry on. I felt an obligation to live as a witness of the gospel of Christ.

I solemnly proclaim to any who suffer grief and loss that in a not far distant day we will be reunited with our loved ones. They are not lost to us forever. Our Father in Heaven loves us, even as the ravages of life take place. He is watching over us and will welcome us home to Him. There we will suffer no more sorrow, no more grief, no more hunger or pain.

With this caveat. We are preparing for life with God now. We are not expected to be perfect right this minute but we do show our faith by what we do and what we say. Minute by minute, day by day, year by year we chart our path back to our home in heaven.

So Keep Calm and don’t forget to Carry On!

Comfort For Our Grief This Day

Stephen - so sorry to say goodbye
Stephen – so sorry to say goodbye

I am occasionally troubled by nightmares, usually a variation of dreams about our little boy in a coffin, but after finding this story I find it easier to push the image away and look forward instead to the day he will be restored to us.   The following is my summary of an experience recorded by Zeke Johnson.

“I was breaking farm ground in San Juan County Utah, making a home in Blanding.  The whole area was covered with scrubby desert trees and sagebrush. Working to clear the ground, my little boy Roy was with me to help plant the corn. I’d plow a row, he would plant the furrow with corn and I’d cover it and plow again. While plowing I discovered the remains of ancient buildings.

As I was plowing I noticed that my plow had turned out the skeleton of a small child,

the skull and backbone were visible but most of the bones had decayed. I stopped plowing immediately and turned and looked back. As I was looking at that little skeleton, and to my great surprise, I saw the bones begin to wiggle and begin to change positions and to take on a different color and within a minute a beautiful little skeleton had formed on the earth. It was perfect.

Next I saw the inner parts of the natural body coming in,  the entrails, heart, lungs, etc. I saw flesh coming on and I saw the skin come on the body when the inner parts of the body were complete. A beautiful head of hair adorned the top of the head and in about a half-minute after the hair was on the head, a beautiful crystal decoration appeared in the hair which was perfectly combed and parted on one side. In about half a minute after the hair was on the head, the child stood up on her feet. As she got up a beautiful robe came down over her left shoulder and I saw it was a girl, about 5 to 7 years old.

She looked at me and I looked at her, and for a quarter of a minute we just looked at each other smiling. Then in my ambition to get hold of her, I said, ‘Oh you beautiful child.’ I reached out as if I would embrace her and she disappeared.

I just stood and wondered and thought for a few minutes.  I couldn’t tell the story to anyone, because it was so mysterious to me. Why should I be witness to such a miraculous experience? I didn’t know the features of a human being enough to accidentally plow that little body out and imagine what happened.  I wondered and worried about this experience for years.   Why was I allowed to see it, a common man like me – uneducated as I was. Why was I allowed to see such a marvelous manifestation of God’s powers? One day as I was walking along with my hoe on my shoulder, something said, ‘Stop under the shade of the tree for a few minutes and rest.’  As I stopped in the shade understanding was finally given to me:

When the child was buried in my field it was either in time of war or it was during wintertime when the ground was frozen, and they had no tools to dig a deep grave.  If it were during time of war they couldn’t possibly take time to dig a deep grave. They just cared for the little body as they could under the circumstances. I could hear the sorrowing mother worry about her daughter buried in such a little shallow grave.  She knew that  the first beast that came along would smell her body, dig her up and scatter her to the four winds.

A man in their company, a minister of God promised the mother saying,  ‘Calm your sorrows, for when her body is disturbed or uncovered, the Lord will call her up and she will live.’

Since that time I have taken great comfort, great cheer, consolation and satisfaction with praise in my heart and soul, until I haven’t the words to express it, that it was I that uncovered that little body and saw that resurrection.”

I look forward to the day our sorrow will be replaced in full measure by the joy of reuniting again with those we have loved and lost.  Until then, I will nurture faith and push away fear.

My family is mourning the death of our son, brother, nephew, uncle, grandson and friend this day and we will miss him until we are reunited again. Hopefully, this story will help us all remember the sweetness he brought to our lives instead of the way he left us. Too many angels watching over us!

The When of Prayer

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mojoey
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mojoey

I have worked with the children of our church for about eight years now and most of it has been a delight. Kids do say the ‘darndest’ things! I once asked my class of six-year-old children if they said their prayers before they went to sleep.

Every arm went up, in the affirmative.

‘Do you pray in the morning, too?’ I asked.

A good portion of the children raised their arms again,  but one little boy announced that he did not. When I asked why, he explained that he wasn’t scared in the daytime!

Fear of the dark should not be our only motivation to pray—morning or night.

Today I wanted to write about the when of prayer. When is it appropriate to pray? When is it best to pray? To read more about the ‘W’s’ of prayer you can go to the Who, What and Where of prayer to read more.

We are counseled in the scriptures:

  • Luke 18:1  And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray.
  • Doctrine and Covenants 93:49  What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always.
  • 1 Nephi 18:3  And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things.

By these scriptures and hundreds of others we learn that we are to pray always. I believe that the Lord means what He causes to be written by his prophet’s, it is up to us to figure out how to comply and reap the blessings of obedience.

So, how do we pray always? I don’t know how others comply, but I can share with you how I manage the feat. We are all carrying on internal conversations. I have, over time, converted those conversations with self into conversations with God. So, instead of saying to myself, ‘look at those black storm clouds!’ I have changed it to, ‘Father, do you see the storm that is brewing near our home?’

Instead of feeling shame or embarrassment over thoughtless words I change the conversation to a contrite apology for my lapse in judgement and move on.

It changes my day, moment to moment. I am sure there are other ways to manage, but this is mine.

Next, we are counseled to pray when we are alone:

  • Luke 9:18  And it came to pass, as he was alone praying. 

For me, the most powerful prayers I offer are when I am alone. It is nice when the world around me is quiet and still but it isn’t necessary to the process. You can be alone in the midst of a crowd and still feel the Lord standing near.

Hearing the Lord’s answers is most often accomplished when you are truly alone, which is why so many stories about prophet’s receiving revelation happen high on a mountain or in God’s temple. Away from the distractions and noise of the world.

We are also counseled to pray when we are in need of God’s comfort and help.

  • 1 Samuel 1:10  And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord.

This scripture refers to Hannah, who became the mother of a prophet. Her womb was shut and she had no children. Where did she turn? Who did she turn to? She supplicated God, she turned to God who had created her and had the power to heal her and grant her the desires of her heart. Or not, according to His tender wisdom.

When we are in the midst of bitterness, do we turn to God for comfort and help or do we turn from Him in anger that life has treated us so roughly?

It is a real question and one that we will need to answer over and over, throughout our lives.

When should we pray? The answer truly is always. When will He listen? Again, the answer truly is always! If you stop to listen you will feel His love envelop you. You will feel direction and peace and His tender and unfathomable love for you. For you, not us in general, but you as an individual and beloved child.

Prayer is touching heaven and I admonish all of us, myself included, to spend a greater portion of our time in conversation with God.

Die Like a Hero Going Home

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Stuart Richards
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Stuart Richards

I have a distant relative that lived in Bluebell Utah. How I love the name of that town! I see green field and sunshine and wild flowers every time I think about this story.

She was 91 and hadn’t been feeling well, decided it was time to see the family doctor. Can you see her beautifully permed hair and her sensible shoes? Surly a purse dangled from her arm. The doctor ran some tests and did some blood work and visited for a few minutes with my great-aunt and then sent her home to wait. It was only a few days before she was summoned again to the office and the news was delivered gently.

‘Should I call your daughter? Can I have someone drive you home?’ They asked.

The doctor was surprised when Aunt Minnie gathered her belongings and stood. ‘We need to talk about treatment’ he began. But Minnie didn’t sit.

‘I am old,’ she began, ‘and I don’t need a few extra months.’

She drove herself home and prepared her life for death. She made arrangements with the utility companies, paid her taxes and talked to her loved ones. She did not invite fear or regret living. She did not turn herself over to hospitals and doctors to be treated and promised a few weeks here or there. She settled her affairs and faced the future with a trust in God and herself.

I don’t know if I will end my life this way, this calmly, this focused but I think about her example all the time.

There are times to fight for life, for health and fighting may be the highest and best use of our time, energy and resources. I have friends who are battling cancer right this minute and I pray for them with all the energy of my soul. When the pull of life is strong and you have people to serve and love, I give you leave to go to battle.

However, if it is time and your loved ones can let go then don’t be afraid to embrace death as a friend. After all, isn’t death the last great adventure?

‘When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.’  Tecumseh

When I leave this life, when you come to say goodbye, I pray you will hear me singing!

Abide With Me, I Pray


If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. The day will come you meet a challenge that you cannot manage on your own. You will run into a situation that is unsolvable, unthinkable or unstoppable. Turn to Christ, humble yourself and trust in God. It will be the sweetest experience of your life. No matter what is happening to you, the peace of God can be a source of comfort and compassion. Embrace His love and once you do, share it with those around you who need to taste of it themselves.

Keeping Company with Depression and Hopelessness

When our son died my life shifted. Everything looked and felt different. I had a friend who brought her baby over and sat with me that first week. It could have been more than a week but since time was warped I couldn’t say for sure. I don’t think she said anything special. I don’t remember talking much at all. She was just there. How did she know it would convey that she cared? I wouldn’t have had a clue if the tables had been turned.

So many times it is our mere presence that expresses our love. Don’t worry about saying the right thing. Don’t fret over what to say at all. Just show up and hold my hand or sit near me. There is nothing more comforting than spirit to spirit, heart to heart, connection.

The currency of love is time.

Grief can look a lot like depression so I wanted to share this video with you. We are here to be the Savior’s hands and heart, this will help you remember. I hope no one needs you this desperately today, but if they do, you will know what to do. I ask for God’s blessings on you all.

Death and Infant Baptism

Left to right: Joanie, Ann, my mother and Mary, my father and Paul, Kay
Left to right: Joanie, Ann, my mother and Mary, my father and Paul, Kay

I will tell you what I remember about my sister Mary and although it isn’t much, it is enough to love her.

I remember that her hair had reddish tints in the sun.

I remember she was quiet and small.

I remember them naming her Linda, but the name didn’t stick and they had it changed to Mary after bringing her home from the hospital.

I remember my mother leaving Mary with my father and taking the rest of us kids to see a show and then leaving abruptly for home when a passing siren disturbed her.

I remember pulling up to our home in Inglewood California in our station wagon, a fire truck and an ambulance parked there as well with their lights swirling into the darkness.

She died from crib death on Christmas day, 1965.

‘My mother grieved, knowing that we were too young to remember her and knowing also that none of her grandparents had even seen her.  Mary seemed destined to have lived and died to be remembered only by her parents.

This concern became the burden of her prayers and eventually an idea began to form in her heart, she felt strongly that if, through Mary’s death, she and the baby could work together to change someone’s life, the comfort she needed so much would come.

Late in January my mother went to get her hair done and the stylist, Jan, asked about the baby.  When she learned that Mary had died she asked if she had been baptized.  My mother explained our belief that infants do not need baptism, but that they are innocent until they reach the age of accountability.

Jan shared that her father had been a boy when their baby died and he remembered the minister of their church telling his grieving parents that they could not bury the baby in the church cemetery because he had not been baptized.  Her father, even as young as he was, decided he would never again set foot in the door of that church or any other that taught such doctrine.  And he never did.

Jan found great comfort in learning the doctrines of our church and was baptized. My mother began to feel at peace about Mary’s life and premature death.

Christmas is a bittersweet day for my parents, they miss their daughter but are comforted because through the birth of the Savior and the gift of His atonement they will be together with Mary again someday.

There is a poem that paints a picture of the Savior leading a flock of sheep. They reach the edge of a river and Jesus wades in but the sheep are too afraid to follow. Coming back to the shore he gathers a little lamb into his arms and wades out again into the water. This time the mother of the lamb follows and behind her the rest of the flock, until they are all safe on the opposite shore.

Mary is a beacon light, drawing us, through the power of our shared love to her celestial home. Like the mother sheep who follows her lamb, we find renewed courage to forge through the dangerous waters of life. And on that distant shore, we see not just our own little lamb, but the Shepherd himself, waiting patiently for each of us to join them.’

My sister is buried in an old pioneer cemetery in Utah where I went to college. There were times that I felt alone and lonely, I would drive out to the cemetery and sit near her grave. I didn’t talk to her but I would find myself praying and feel her close to me. It was comforting to feel that someone cared, that someone was watching over me, someone who knew everything about me and still loved me.

I don’t know if I will recognize Mary when I see her again, but I know that she will be there to greet me when I do pass from this life to the next. A perfected daughter of God. One that didn’t need the purifying experiences of life but was given a body and a family and then taken into the bosom of God.

I don’t know if there are any of you, my wonderful readers, who grieve because your child or sibling wasn’t baptized before death. I am sure, beyond any doubt, that there is no sin in a child that would keep them from attaining the highest glory God has to give to His children. They are innocent before God and have no need of baptism. The traditions of men are strong but there was no hint of infant baptism until long after Christ was gone. He never taught it, rather he taught that we were to become as little children ourselves. If you struggle with doubt I plead with you to ask God, who giveth to all men liberally, and He will put your heart at rest.

Enjoy these family pictures and contemplate the fact that I am five years old in these pictures!  Five children under six. My mother is a champ.

Joanie, Mother and Mary, Ann and Kay
Joanie, Mother and Mary, Ann and Kay
My sister Joan and Mary
My sister Joan and Mary

Mom and Mary

Mary Merrell October 20, 1965
Mary Merrell October 20, 1965

 

 

 

Dying Young as Late as Possible

I don’t know what makes people experts on certain subjects, sometimes it is just the ability to turn a phrase.  A gentleman named Ashley Montagu decided that ‘the idea is to die young as late as possible’, and besides sounding cute, it resonates with me!

Get here, learn a ton, enjoy everything good this world has to offer, love everyone that comes in sight and then get out before your life becomes burdened with ill-health and brittle bones.  Sounds like a plan to me!

I found a song I haven’t heard for a long time and thought you might enjoy it too.  Have a wonderful weekend.

What Ifs and Lessons Learned

 

Aunt Ilene and Dale
Aunt Ilene and Dale
Dale and Washington monument 001
Dale, three days old in Washington DC

When I was sixteen my littlest sister Ilene was born, at home!  When she was presentable the doctor wrapped her in a blanket and my father brought her downstairs and laid her in my arms. It was magic. She was beautiful and she was a tomboy and she was good. Ilene’s hair was always on the wild side and being the youngest girl in a big family she grew up fast.

She was properly awed when I tried on my wedding dress and was always happy to babysit Dale and Jody when I needed help later on. She became the most awesome aunt! There aren’t many people who remember our little son, but she is one of them. I caught them giggling together more than once, giggles that were pure gold.  I asked Ilene to share with me what she learned from losing her nephew. she was nine when he died. This is what she wrote:

Ilene, David and Dale 001
Ilene and Dale

‘There are moments in a persons’ life that are forever ingrained in their mind. I hear people say, “I remember the exact moment I heard about JFK being shot” or “I know exactly where I was when the plane hit the tower”.  You remember minute details, like the shirt you were wearing or how the sun reflected off a window.  You can recall sounds or smells.  For me, I remember words that changed everything:  “Dana, Dale’s in the pool!!!”

I was sitting in the basement watching The Addams Family on TV.  I can probably still describe the episode.  I remember hearing those words and I started running.  It took a minute or two to realize what was happening.  I stood to the side while Dana started CPR and I couldn’t help but watch my oldest sister, standing by the side of the pool, soaking wet after she jumped into the pool to pull out her little boy.

Dale and bandaid 001
Dale and his curls

If you ask any member of my family who was present that day, they could all replay the same events.  It wasn’t until many, many years later that we all confessed the same thing to each other.  We all felt some responsibility that we weren’t there, even just a second before Dale fell in the pool, to save him.  I was watching TV.  My mom had been in the garden moments before.  My little brother David had been outside as well and came inside without Dale.  We all wanted to go back in time, do something different, pay attention, follow him around as he explored in the backyard.  We carried guilt and sadness and regret.  What if just one of us had felt a prompting that he was in danger?  Or happened to be outside at the moment he leaned over the water.  What if his little body had responded to his fathers’ breath and chest compression? What if the first responders had been able to shock his heart back into its rhythm?

I think we all understand now that any one of us could have been there in that moment to stop this tragedy from ever happening.  But in my heart, I know that we were meant to NOT be there.  I truly believe that we all have a mission in life to fulfill.  We were born with gifts and talents and have been placed on this earth to perform our divine mission.  We knew what trials we would face, and we still agreed to come.  Some people are required to stay here longer and some, in my opinion, don’t need to be here long to perform theirs.  Some are here just long enough to take a breath and gain a body before our loving Heavenly Father calls them back. Dale completed his earthly mission in just 2 short years.

The week before Dale died
The week before Dale died

As painful as it is to go back and remember those moments of Dale’s death, I try to replace the sadness with lessons I learned from it.  I learned that faith can sustain you in the hardest of times.  I learned that our Heavenly Father hears our pleas and that the Holy Ghost is truly a comforter.  And I learned how important it is to KNOW that we will see our loved ones again.  Death is a temporary separation and I long for the time when I will get to be reunited with my sweet nephew again.’

I do know that if Dale left this earth reluctantly, it was in large part because leaving his Aunt Ilene and his fun Merrell uncle’s was hard. I plan on watching when they are re-united again one day. Love will be there, of that I am sure.

And, if any of you need advice in the Aunt department, I know just who you should ask! It might be fun to start an Ilene’s Aunting Advice Facebook page, I know my kids have stories they could tell…

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Jc Olivera
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Jc Olivera

Two weeks before our son died I had some professional pictures taken of him and our daughter Jody. It was pure agony for Dale, but he tried his best to do what the photographer asked of him.  Jody, on the other hand, grinned from ear to ear the during whole session.

When he passed away we went to the studio to see if we could get a portrait for the funeral only to find out they had lost the pictures, negatives and all! They offered to re-take the pictures, I mumbled something about that being impossible and we left.

Later, when I looked through Dale’s woefully small journal, the pictures were sweet but didn’t bring him back. Which only served to push photo’s farther and farther down my ‘to-do’ list.

Family pictures seemed a little pointless because we were missing so many little faces.

Then I heard about a service that comes to the hospital and takes professional photographs when a child dies. It is called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep and you can see their website here.

If you know anyone in the position of losing a child, please share this service with them. I went on their website and looked up photographers in my zip code and six names and phone numbers were listed. They photograph the child for no cost. What a wonderful service and the pictures are breathtakingly beautiful.

Looking back on our experience, I can honestly say that this might have helped me. I hope this simple post will be the instrument to someday provide a service that will help someone else in their hour of greatest need.

Will you, my sweet readers, be my hands and help spread the word?

Memorable Headstone Sayings

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/

When our son died my husband decided that he wanted to make a headstone for him.  Needless to say we still don’t have a stone marking his grave.  We were fortunate that Dana’s grandparents made provision for any child that died in the family, they are buried near their great-grandmother and it is comforting to think of them surrounded by an extended and loving family even in death.  I was once searching for headstone inscriptions and found these.  Headstones with style!

Here lies
Johnny Yeast
Pardon me
For not rising.

Memory of an accident in a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery:

Here lies the body
of Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake.

Someone determined to be anonymous in Stowe, Vermont:

I was somebody.
Who, is no business
Of yours.

Lester Moore was a Wells, Fargo Co. station agent for Naco, Arizona in the cowboy days of the 1880’s. He’s buried in the Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona:

Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No Les No More.

In a Georgia cemetery:

“I told you I was sick!”

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A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Amanda Tipton
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Amanda Tipton

Today I want to talk about pregnancy and infant loss, a heavy subject and one I am concerned about.  I think it is time we decide, once and for all, that a pregnancy is a baby.  It is time to break the silence surrounding the death of babies and children.

A pregnancy is hope and dreams and love.  A pregnancy is creation and potential.  A pregnancy changes a woman, a family, in exponential ways.  It is a soul changing, life changing, relationship changing process and should be acknowledged as such.

Many of you know that our oldest child died when he was two, we had three boys that were still-born and a miscarriage, also a  (more…)

Creating Happiness

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Christian Yves Ocampo
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Christian Yves Ocampo

Did you know that happiness is a choice?  It is easy to think that beauty, popularity, wealth or other circumstances will cause happiness but I am here to witness that happiness is an inward choice not an event-driven state.  My son works at the charter side of our airport and has watched as celebrities and some of the wealthiest American’s come through his facility, he even gets to park their very cool cars.  He gets to see for himself that people are people and what gives us our distinctive characters are our choices, not our circumstances. Kindness, thoughtfulness, humility, friendliness and happiness are what we choose or not, and depend completely on what we want from the moment.

So, would you like to be happy?

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The Choice to Reach Outside Our Grief

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Chris Walts
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Chris Walts

Each day we make thousands of decisions.  We weigh each choice with a personally designed set of values and each choice reveals clues about our character and goals.

One of the defining factors in each choice we make is the decision to focus inward or to look beyond ourselves. Which is a fancy way of defining ourselves as predominately selfish or unselfish.

I have become a people watcher and it is clear to me that while each of us comes with a preset, default focus on self, there are a few of us that have learned to shift that view and have found a unique type of contentment in considering others. (more…)

Keeping In Touch After A Death

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/David Dennis
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/David Dennis

When our son died we were in the process of trying to move.  This was before cell phones and Facebook and the internet and when we left Maryland we were instantly cut off from most everyone who had known him. It was hard to be in a new place without any memories of Dale as a part of our family.

I remember talking with a woman while keeping our daughter from running off and she made the innocent comment, ‘Just wait until you have two!’  I was thrown into a new place and was making new friends, none of whom had any knowledge or memories that included our son and it was a lonely process.

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What is it that Makes Music So Powerful?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/anonymous

Aldous Huxley said it best.  ‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’  I honestly don’t understand how it all works, but music has the capacity to break down barriers erected to guard our heart.  How does it work?  It is impossible to describe with mere words, but it is real.

There are songs that cause us to smile, there are songs that make us want to dance, there are songs that draw tears and songs that open a vast emotional reservoir and help us to remember.

I don’t understand just how it works but I believe that music is a medium that taps into the connection between body and spirit and because of that ability it is a powerful force for good or ill.

I have grown to love songs that bring out my finest feelings and emotions.  Love, tenderness, remembering, family, the spirit.  In fact, my favorite songs are love songs that could be sung to the Lord without changing a word!

And, after raising nine very noisy, busy children I can tell you that silence is pretty cool too.

Liam Nesson: Insights on the Aftermath of Death

How does anyone come to a place of peace after the death of a loved one?  Liam Nesson found his way to that place and shares a few insights into how it feels.  Notice that he doesn’t profess to know anything but it is obvious that he feels hope for what lies ahead.  My favorite part of the interview is when he tries to decide if he is a Catholic Muslim or a Protestant Muslim…

I am curious.  What do you think happens after death?  Will you be with your precious loved ones again or is this life all you believe in?  You all know a little about my faith and I would love to know what you believe.

Is There Anything Left To Be Said About 9/11?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/joiseyshowaa
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/joiseyshowaa

Across the river from Manhattan, in New Jersey, stands this memorial to the victims of  the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.  The walls frame the precise spot where the twin towers dominated the skyline and the view causes visitors to pause and remember and to feel our shared helplessness.  It is a somber place.

Public tragedies leave a very particular mark on a society, it is a shared grief and the experience draws us back to the finer qualities in our collective character.  But only for a while.  Public grief touches each one of us but with a light hand. (more…)

No Regrets

Mom and DaughtersLife is so often full of regrets.  We regret how we treated other people, the words we said.  We regret the choices we made.  It’s a rare occasion indeed that we can come through one of life’s biggest transitions without regret.  I feel so blessed that I have no regrets over my mother’s last days.  When she passed from this life into eternity, I knew that I had done everything possible to make her final months as comfortable as possible.  I had no regrets, beyond the fact that she was gone. (more…)

The Magestic Power of Forgiveness

Photo  courtesy of flickr.com/Blair
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Blair

Corrie Ten Boom was a part of the Dutch underground rebellion against the Nazi invasion during the second world war and was eventually taken and imprisoned herself along with the rest of her family.  Her sister Betsie died in the camp.  After the war she set up services to help concentration camp survivors and dutch collaborators.  She regularly preached forgiveness to a war-weary world and it was at a church service in Munich that she was approached by one of her jailers. (more…)

Corrie Ten Boom And The Perfect Way

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/ImAges ImprObables
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/ImAges ImprObables

Perhaps you will recall the story of Corrie ten Boom, a fifty-year-old woman who became a heroine of the anti-Nazi underground during World War II. You can read her story in a book called The Hiding Place. It describes “an extraordinary adventure in Christian courage.” Corrie’s life was certainly an adventure in courage, love and forgiveness.

I would like to share with you an example of how love worked in her life and helped her do good when she suffered loss and grief.

When she was a young woman in Holland she was very much in love and thought her love was returned. One fateful day her young man came to their home with another young woman. He wanted to introduce Corrie to his fiancée.  After the young couple left, Corrie fled to her bedroom where she lay in the gloom, weeping.

She writes, ‘Later, I heard father’s footsteps coming up the stairs. For a moment I was a little girl again waiting for him to tuck the blankets tight. But this was a hurt that no blanket could shut out, and suddenly I was afraid of what father would say. . . . Of course he did not say the false, idle words.

“Corrie,” he began instead, “Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain.

“There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel. . . . Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.’

How wise and how easy his words sound when life dishes up sweetness.  Understanding comes as you take them to heart during a time of sorrow and loss. Take strength from the faith and wisdom of others, such as Corrie Ten Boom, who have been placed on the earth to be an example of goodness.

Then, in your own sphere, show others the way through your own humble words and acts of faith and courage.  There is much more to Corrie’s story, make sure to visit tomorrow to hear the rest of her incredible story.

Why I Am Not Afraid To Die

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Hartwig HKD1
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Hartwig HKD1

 

‘I have realized since you are gone I am no longer afraid to live, because I am no longer afraid to die.’

These beautiful words were written by a mother grieving her daughter, here.  And express my thoughts perfectly.

I am blessed that my family still needs me here.  I have cookies to bake, laundry to fold, stories to hear, kisses to give and hands to hold.  But, beckoning me from beyond the veil of death are five little boys that pull at my heartstrings.  Someday I will shed this body and when I do they will be waiting for me.  What wild joy fills my soul when I think about that day!

Understand, if I were given the choice today, the power to make the decision to stay here on earth or to leave for heaven, I would stay.  I am anchored to mortality by my devotion to my husband and children here.  Having experienced grief and loss I would never make the choice to leave my husband a widower or my children motherless.

But, when it is time I will not be afraid to die.  And that lack of fear has made all the difference in my life, it has helped me to truly live!

What Is The Resurrection?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Frank Bramley ‘A Hopeless Dawn’

In London’s famed Tate Gallery, tucked away in a quiet corner is a painting which tells a haunting story that catches at hearts every day.  The artist, Frank Bramley, painted a humble cottage facing a stormy sea.  Two women, the wife and mother of an absent fisherman, had watched and waited through the long night for his return.  The painting depicts that night had passed and with the dawn came the understanding that he would not return.

Bowing in despair and burying her head in the lap of her mother-in-law, the young woman weeps.  The candle in the window, meant to draw the eye of the sailor, tells the story of the nights vigil.  It portrays the young woman’s heartache and pulses with her grief.

The painter called it ‘A Hopeless Dawn’.

Among all the certainties of mortality, none is so certain as its end.  It may come as a welcome release at the end of a long life, it may come as an intruder and hush the prattle of a little child.  It may take a father or mother from the bosom of a young family.  It may be summoned by disease, or an accident, or old age but each of us will be summoned, sooner or later.  And so we wonder, what exactly is the resurrection?

The word resurrection means ‘awakening from the dead’.  Resurrection is the reuniting of a perfected and immortal body with the spirit.  Never again to be separated.  But there is more, resurrection is a restoration that brings back all that we have become in our lives. Raised to the sum total of our character and our nature.  We are not raised from selfish to unselfish, for instance, but will be what we have chosen to become.

The first being resurrected was Jesus Christ, and it is a gift given to all people who are born and die.  Exaltation is a different matter and we are exalted to whatever glory we have bound ourselves to by our words, thoughts and deeds, and by the grace of God who forgives us when we falter.

Our life on this earth then is a time of change and growth.  A time of creation.  We are creating, minute by minute, who we will be when we are raised by resurrection.

So, choice by choice, we should ask ourselves if this decision takes us towards heaven or away from heaven. Can it really be that simple?  I believe it is.

The Power of Choice

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/marie ll
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/marie ll

You have probably heard this quote many times, William Law, an English minister of the 18th century, said, “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”

Logical, reasonable, true!  Even good ideas or activities or relationships can divert us from our ultimate goal of returning to our Father, if we are not cautious and deliberate about the choices we make.

So, how do we stay focused on the Kingdom of God?  I am assuming that we all know exactly in what direction that kingdom lays.  It is as simple as the admonition of your mother to ‘be nice’, to ‘be good’ and as complicated as ‘ Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.‘ (also in 3Nephi 12:48).

Most of us want to stay focused on what is most important.  It just takes fierce concentration!

For me it is all about the scriptures.  If I read, I remember.  If I read I am drawn to prayer.  When I pray I reconnect with the power of heaven.  It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

But we have God and angels on our side, we are not alone in our quest for heaven.

Thanking God For One More Day

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/ Lasmin AlvarezPhoto courtesy of flickr.com/ Lasmin Alvarez

I read a story about a young man recently, the author painted a picture of him including hair tangled in dreads, a tattered t-shirt and a pair of jeans worn so thin they were almost white.  And to top off the stereotype, he was standing by his  motorcycle.  

The author almost passed him by, put off by his appearance.  But instead, he stopped and talked to the young man and heard his amazing story, which broke my heart and warmed it at the same time. (more…)

Leaving a Tribute at a Grave

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Karrierebelel.de
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Karrierebelel.de

Leaving a tribute at a grave is something I never thought about until recently hearing a story about a woman who makes an annual pilgrimage to her husband’s grave with a bottle of his favorite whiskey.  She pours a glass, proposes a toast and after taking a sip, pours out the entire glass on the grass.  Very Irish, don’t you think?

Without realizing it she is enacting (more…)