Saturday, January 1, 2011

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

If I were to write a story about an LDS family with four children a mother and father who loved them and did their best to serve the Lord, the setting would seem fairly normal to most who read this blog. And if the parents held many significant positions of responsibility in the Church at a ward and Stake level [Bishop, High councilman, ward/Stake Primary, YW and RS President] it would still feel pretty mainstream. In my story the children are high achievers - two boys, two girls. Ideal. The oldest son served a mission, married his high school sweetheart, has a little girl and a baby on the way, graduated from college and has a secure job. The second child, a daughter, also served a mission and is in her final year of college. The 3rd, another daughter, is attending college out of state and dating someone special. The youngest, a boy, recently graduated from high school and is preparing to serve a mission. The father has worked for the same company for almost 30 years; the mother has been employed off and on in the local school district. They live in a modest home in a small town. A temple is being built in their midst. Life is good.

Every plot needs a bit of conflict to move the story so I'm going to add some adversity. First, the Dad will have some heart problems, then the mother's brother dies in a car accident, and a grand-niece also dies in a tragic accident. The father gets well only to have the company he's worked so long for go bankrupt. All his retirement/savings are lost. But, after a year and a half, the company is able to turn their misfortune around. They come out of bankruptcy and employee stock has value again. However, just as things are looking up, the father has health problems again. This time it is a brain tumor.

At first the 'fight' goes well. Dad has a half bald head and an impressive scar. Surgery can't remove all the tumor but chemo and radiation help. In faith, the family presses forward with life. Then other complications arise: the brain swells, the steroid causes problems, weakness results. Dad has to go to the hospital, then a rehab center. The battle they were sure they could win, suddenly seems very precarious.

In the midst of all this, the oldest son's wife has a baby, the first daughter prepares to graduate from college and gets a teaching job, the second daughter gets engaged and the son receives his mission call,. But can they go on? Should these events be put on hold until Dad is well enough - until they know for sure he will live?

'No', the father says. He leaves things in the Lord's hands. He and his wife have always trusted the Lord. He has helped them many times and they know He won't forsake them now. The kids are encouraged to proceed with their plans.

The boy leaves in the Fall. It's hard to go but he knows it is what he should do. He relies on his faith and that of his family as he leaves for two years. As Thanksgiving approaches, Dad isn't doing so well. Some of the meds don't agree with him and there are other challenges as a result of trauma to the brain. A CT scan is performed because of a severe headache and reveals an infection in the skull bone. Antibiotics are administered. A new treatment on the tumor is decided on - restricting blood flow to the tumor so it will die. The family is confident they will beat the cancer. They are all in good spirits as the daughter's wedding approaches on the Saturday before Christmas.

The headaches don't go away after the infection clears up and another CT reveals a horrible truth. The infection ate a hole in the bone, exposing the spinal fluid. The cancer may be beatable but this isn't. The doctor grimly reveals that Dad only has 2-5 days to live.

The wedding is in a week, the son is in Chile, Christmas is two weeks away. No one is supposed to die at a time like this. It isn't right. It isn't fair. Friends and family have been fasting for a miracle and this isn't what they had in mind. It would be too much to have a funeral and a wedding and the biggest holiday of the year in one week.

Now, if I handed a plot summary like this to an editor at this point they would most likely say it's too much, too extreme, too dramatic. It's improbable. Fiction has to have some semblance of reality. Remove some of the challenges; have a faith promoting miracle.

But this isn't a plot idea. It is very real. It happened to a family who lives just around the corner from me; an extraordinary and stalwart family who have always exemplified faith by the way they live.

The day they found out the father didn't have long to live they were able to talk with their son in Chile. Dad was unable to talk but it was obvious he understood what his son had to say. All that the father wanted to say he had said over his life time - by word and example. The news of his quick demise slowly trickled out to the ward and neighbors. It seemed impossible. No one wanted to believe it. His daughter was getting married in a few days. We all hoped and prayed he'd be well enough to attend. In the end he did - well and whole and as a spirit. He succumbed on Wednesday - thirty two years to the day his father died. His daughter married on Saturday. His wife and other daughter were in church on Sunday.

The funeral was held two days before Christmas.

The timing of this may seem like the harshest of ironies yet it actually brings together what Christmas and the temple are all about. Christ came that we might live. He gave His gospel that we might have faith. He gave His priesthood so we could be blessed. He gave His spirit that we might be comforted. Christmas is a celebration of the One who gave us all things. Through His priesthood we have the organization of the Church and temples - the House of the Lord. In the temple, families are sealed forever  with an unbreakable bond. How much hope is given in this significant gift!

This Christmas, I saw a family hold on to their faith in Christ at the darkest of times. This same family touched both time and eternity as a new family was created in the temple and loved ones watched beyond the veil. Christmas felt more real and temple marriage more meaningful because all of the promises given by both came together on that day.

Many of us were fasting and praying for a miracle. I think we got one.


Sharla said...

Carissa told me about her uncle, but you filled in more details. They are an amazing example. It does bring things into perspective for the rest of us.

Melissa said...

beautifully written

scott said...

Thank you Becky - Scott Berkley.

kbrebes said...

Pretty blog!

Stacy Henrie said...

Wow - what tough situation. I love how you said that everyone DID get the miracle they were praying for. How true! Sometimes the miracles/blessings are different than the ones we want, but more the ones we need.