What Do You Say?

Dear Will:

A friend of mine died last week. He was only 57, and as far as most of us knew, he was in reasonably good health. But then he broke his leg, which led to an infection, which led to pneumonia, and before we knew it he was on life-support. On Monday night, his wife of 30 years honored his wishes and instructed his doctors to disconnect the equipment that was keeping him alive. Within 15 minutes he was gone.

What a jolt. Those of us on the periphery had been told that he was slowly improving, but then last weekend he took a final, fatal turn for the worse. As you might imagine, his wife was devastated—is devastated. As she said to me: “We were supposed to grow old together. Now what am I supposed to do?”

What do you say to someone in a moment like that? Mostly you offer trite words of consolation: “I’m so sorry. He was a great guy. It’s not fair that you should lose him at such an early age.” And on and on. But as I said, such pronouncements, however sincere, are trite at best. They do not begin to provide substantive solace or meaningful counsel.

The truth is that the only way to get one’s bearings after the unexpected loss of a loved one is through words of eternal significance. When my father died last year, those were the only words that brought me any sense of comfort. I remember that the words of Job came repeatedly to mind at that time: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). Knowing, as I did, that life extends beyond this mortal existence made it much easier for me to accept his death.

The scriptures teach that faith leads to hope. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland put it this way:

Faith, Mormon taught, leads to hope, a special, theological kind of hope. The word is often used to express the most general of aspirations—wishes, if you will. But as used in the Book of Mormon it is very specific and flows naturally from one’s faith in Christ. . . .

What is the nature of this hope? It is certainly much more than wishful thinking. It is to have “hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise” [Moroni 7:41]. That is the theological meaning of hope in the faith-hope-charity sequence. With an eye to that meaning, Moroni 7:42 then clearly reads, “If a man have faith [in Christ and his atonement] he must needs [as a consequence] have hope [in the promise of the Resurrection, because the two are inextricably linked]; for without faith [in Christ’s atonement] there cannot be any hope [in the Resurrection].” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [1997], 334–35).

No doubt there will be the chance to talk of such things in the days ahead. In the meantime, I pray for those my friend left behind—his wife, his siblings, his close friends—who find themselves wondering about death-too-soon and life hereafter. May they come to know, as I do, that “by man came death, [and] by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).


A Note for Your Mirror

Dear Will:

The other day I took my three kids to Cold Stone for some ice cream while my wife Dana was at her ballet class. The four of us—Luke (15), Bryn (11), Seth (7) and I sat at the table outside snarfing down our ice cream and working together on an ill-conceived crossword puzzle Bryn had to turn in at school the next day.

While we discussed the possible solutions to yet another poorly-written clue, a woman sat down at the table with us and asked to borrow my cell phone. She made a bizarre call, ostensibly informing her son that she was calling him on someone else’s phone and therefore would talk to him later. (Huh?) Then over the next several minutes she commented on my “incredible eyes,” asked if I go to church, and then finally, as I was heading to my car with my children, inquired whether or not I was married.

It was only then that I realized that this woman had been hitting on me.

My 15-year-old, of course, thought it was perhaps the funniest thing he had witnessed since kindergarten. He quite accurately pointed out that I am one of the least likely candidates for any woman’s attention: I’m bald, middle-aged, and travel with a pack of sniping children. I’ve been married for over 20 years. It has been so long since I considered the possibility that anyone might want to flirt with me that this moment seemed like something out of “The Twilight Zone” or “Candid Camera.” He and Bryn laughed and teased me about it all the way home. It was hilarious.

As we unloaded the car, however, I discovered that Seth was in tears. These weren’t the dry tears he has mastered as part of his daily tantrum routine. These were the big, plop-on-the-ground-and-form-puddles kind of tears, complete with the trembling shoulders and uneven breathing that can only be associated with genuine, heartfelt sadness. None of us had any idea what had put him in this state.

Fortunately, by now Dana had returned home, first to hear Luke and Bryn’s report on Dad’s unlikely encounter at Cold Stone, and then to give the kind of comfort to Seth of which only a mother is capable. She held him for a few minutes while he sobbed, telling him that, whenever he felt ready, she hoped he might tell her why he was so sad. So it was that when he composed himself a little, he disappeared into the study, where he wrote the following note:

“It’s what Dad and the others were talking about.
I want you as my mom and NO other!!!”

As you might suspect, once Dana read Seth’s little note she gathered him up once more to reassure him that she is the only mother he will ever have and that she and I would not want it any other way. It had not occurred to the rest of us that this incident had been anything but funny, but to Seth, even joking about some other woman with his dad—no matter how preposterous the notion might seem to just about anyone else—was no laughing matter at all.

What a nice reminder Seth gave us of the importance of a happy, stable home. Not that ours always is either happy or stable, mind you, but even so: Seth would clearly prefer the status quo to any other configuration one might devise. Would that every father had a copy of Seth’s note taped to his mirror to remind him that what kids need more than anything is a safe, familiar place to call home, a place in which they are surrounded by all of the people they love the most.


Someone to Tuggle Wiff

Dear Will:

We live just off of Cannon Street, about a block south of Linda Vista School.  If you have ever walked along Cannon on the Linda Vista side of the hill, you know that the wind whistles down the street at a pretty good clip, even on a relatively calm evening.  On a blustery night like this one, however, the wind comes rushing over the pass and through our backyard like it’s about to miss the last train out of town.  Whenever that happens, the wind chimes push and shove each other to try to get out of the way, the fichus gets trampled and dry leaves start to huddle together beside the shrubs like accident victims looking for moral support.  The sound can be impressive, and with very little imagination you can start to feel a little like Dorothy Gale just before she took her unscheduled trip to Oz.

Of course, usually the source of such turbulence is the Santa Anas, which warm the air and make you feel as if spring has come early.  Tonight, however, it’s a cold wind, sent with love from Canada, and I’m having trouble reconciling the sights and sounds with the temperature.  We don’t get cold winds around here, so it’s creating some mental dissonance for me that is intriguing.  (Can you tell I’m not outside writing this?  I’m sure if I were out rescuing the fichus like I’m supposed to be, dissonance is not the word that would come to mind.)

I stop typing and head upstairs to tend to a fussing two-year-old.  “I think I’m sad,” Seth tells me.  When I ask why he explains that he needs somebody to snuggle with, or as he puts it, “someone to tuggle wiff.”  I indulge him ever so briefly (he and I have already had our goodnight tuggle for the night) and suggest he cozy up with his stuffed elephant instead.  I sneak out.

While I may be a little annoyed by the interruption, I have to admit he’s pretty cute.  I also have to admit that his instincts are absolutely correct.  When the world goes strangely cold and everything about us is thrown into disarray, it’s good to have something familiar to reach for.  (You had to wonder how I was going to turn this into a “message,” didn’t you?)  In such moments, I often find myself on my knees in prayer or reaching for the scriptures.  One verse in particular is a comforting reminder of where strength can best be found when the storms of life strike hard:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea his shafts in the whirlwind, yea when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you , it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.   (Helaman 5:12)

At last, Seth goes quiet, and with reluctance I face the task of moving the fichus to the side of the house.  As I venture out into the windstorm, I shall do my best not to get blown into the neighbor’s swimming pool.  Before I sign off, let me remind you of my sincere offer to help you if I can should the wind ever prove too strong for you.  I would welcome a phone call or an e-mail any time.