Tuesday, August 25, 2009


We are all waiting for our first letter from Brad. He's been gone three weeks and Sarah is getting to know the mailman intimately. No letters yet.

Attempting to comfort her, I got out James' old letters from boot camp. He really was an excellent letter writer for a kid. Only 17 and he wrote me almost every day, really descriptive letters. I haven't read them in years, and it was hard at first. I only read a couple and set them aside.

But now I find them incredibly comforting. He was happy and enjoying the challenge of boot camp. He describes his drill instructers and the daily routine quite well, actually.

While looking for them, I found a bunch of letters my grandmother, who died, oh maybe 20 years ago. I only met her after my father died, but she wrote faithfully until her death.

Grandma shares her love over and over. How did I not notice that?

Reading them now gives me a whole fresh perspective into these two people. I recommend saving letters from important people, even more now. I'm going to put pink ribbon around Grandma's and do a better job of preserving the letters from loved ones in the future.

And you know, although I probably write more letters than most people, I'm going to write more letters as well. Letter writing is becoming a lost art, so much so that receiving a letter in the mail is pretty darn exciting.

My goal: write more letters and find a better way to preserve the ones I've saved!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

And another funeral.....

Bill and I went away last Saturday to Beaver Mountain...a favorite place when the kids were little. I haven't been camping in years, no idea the last time. After two weeks of working, answering the phone for ATT customers with myriads of problems, large and small, and helping to plan the compassionate service and funeral luncheons for the families of the two children who'd died, I needed serious peace and quiet.

It was sad how happy Bill was about our little camping trip. We left Saturday at about 9 am and planned to get back around 2 pm Sunday and he planned for us to go fishing and hiking and riding the ATV around and wonderful lunches and dinner and breakfasts. He did everything, except pack my small bag. He was off Friday, so he got us all ready.

It was wonderful, manna to my soul. The lunch was wonderful---I made the burgers while he set up the tent and they were so good!

Our place on Beaver Mountain can only be accessed if you know it's there, you have to know the road is there because you can't see it from the turn-off point. It's a little valley, with a small stream and the most perfect camping spot. Our kids used to love to go there and of all the times we went there, Bill and I only fought once. Just like our usual messy fights that are actually fairly hilarious. I'll share later on that.

Besides cooking the burgers, all I did was lay on the folding lounge chair and read Jane Eyre. I wasn't up to fishing or hiking or ATV-ing the first day. He left me there and hiked up and caught five little fish that I cooked up crispy for our huge breakfast---bacon and fish and potatoes and eggs and pancakes and cantalope and hot chocolate! It had been very cold high up on Beaver Mountain. Bill froze for some reason and I made him go sit in the truck with the heater on before breakfast. We just sat in the truck and went back to sleep for an hour and got all warm before that wonderful breakfast.

We ended up just packing up and heading home. Not disappointed that we hadn't done all the things he planned. It was a perfect time for us and we don't have many of those.

We were heading out on the freeway and I checked my messages. There was one from my sister, Chris, telling me my niece, Stephanie, had been in an accident. That was all. I called her as soon as we had service and she broke the news that Stephanie had been killed.

She was 28, fresh out of rehab, in a halfway house, clean and sober for the longest period of her life when she died. My sister, Annie, has been---and will continue---to raise Stephanie's children. They had high hopes that Stephanie had finally overcome her demons and would someday be a real mother to the kids. They were reconciling as a family. She was dedicating herself to a Christ-like life, trying hard.

And she got on an ATV, rode around a curve, lost control and landed in such a way on a barbed wire fence that she bled to death in seconds. The surgical precision of the cut (she was wearing a helmet, we learned) convinces me that God had a hand in this death, which is such a comfort.

Bill and I just unpacked the camping stuff, got our ducks in a row with our jobs, visited the bank and left again for Casper, Wyoming, where the family lived. We drove it all in one day, the last hour, Bill kept nodding and so I drove. It's a long desolate drive.

My tiny little beautiful sister was the epitome of strength. I could feel her bones. She's maybe two inches shorter than I, and small anyway, but she felt even smaller. She kept saying, "I didn't know this is how it felt. It hurts physically. I didn't know what you were going through."
I wasn't much comfort, because I knew there wasn't any comfort.

We drove out to the site where Steph died and examined the dirt and the barbed wire. There were flowers and a cross there and the family is putting a huge metal cross there, as well. It's mind boggling to me how she died because only an inch one way or the other and she would have just learned a valuable lesson. God had to have meant this to happen.

She followed my example and wrote an honest obituary. She gathered her family and with dignity and grace, arranged a wonderful tribute to her daughter. She included her former husband and his wife---she calls her "wife-in-law---in everything. Her house was the gathering place. Annie's been active in AA for many years and her AA friends just smothered the house in food. She has three little grandbabies (I'm green with envy) and we all loved the soft little bodies. I make babies cry because I can't help just hugging them. Well, they cry, then they love my guts. I think I just imprint my smell on them.

They are all born again Christians and the funeral, with a huge attendance, was in a born again church, but was very quiet and respectful.

Bill and I got tired and snippy with each other, but we made it home in one piece. We are loving the peace of our home, which is a new thing for me.

I'm blown away at the death around me. I don't have any wise conclusion to make here. I'm incredibly proud of my sister and her strength and beauty.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Two Funerals

Our ward has experienced the deaths of two children in the last ten days. The first, a 14 year old boy who hung himself; and the day of his funeral, a 3 year old drowned in Lake Powell.

We feel pretty shell shocked. The teenager didn't actually live in our ward, his father did; he lived with his mother, but visited the neighborhood often enough that he was a fixture. Both wards participated in the funeral arrangements and the luncheon. We inundated the family with food and service.

The little Sunbeam's funeral will probably be Monday. Boy. I can't believe I'm helping to arrange service for families who've lost their children as I did. Sarah said she thinks God put me in this position for that reason. I've never thought of myself as a "who knows but you are come for such a time as this" kind of person, but maybe. I didn't know either child; I knew the parents, but because I was gone last year, I don't know the families as well as I used to.

Our ward is wonderful to step up in times like this; and it is a privilege to serve in this way. It feeds my soul even as I feel such a heavy burden of grief for the family. I think we're all like that in a way; I remember hearing about something awful that happened to a family in Japan once and feeling so very sad for them. We are part of the family of man, to be sure.

On a practical note, I'd like to suggest something we did for both families. In conversation with a woman, she mentioned that her brother owns a grocery store in a small Utah town and every time there's a death, he takes groceries to the family and he always puts in toilet paper.

So I called another young woman (who I knew could afford it) and she enthusiastically agreed to shop for essentials for the family. She bought paper towels, toilet paper, kleenex, paper plates & cups and milk, bread and eggs. Another woman took the family cold cereal and milk.

I asked another woman in our ward to do the same thing for this family. I think I'll make it a part of the service for the bereaved. Another thing we've done, twice, in cases where the young person was very well known and the family had many, many visitors, is to get a large ice chest and fill it with canned pop and ice.

There isn't one person in our ward who would take some of these families' pain. We wouldn't trade places, but we so wish we could comfort them and ease their suffering. Food and toilet paper are pretty much the best you can do in these instances.

I did take the teenager's family a copy of our book on suicide for Mormons. I'm so glad I did that. I didn't write it, but it would have never been done if not for my efforts. I'm not proud, I'm just so, so glad.