Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Epilogue Part Two

I've been counting down to February 18th, 2017, since the day after New Years. It marked the day when there would be no more holidays the first time, no more birthdays for the first time, no more events that we were used to having all together where now there is a huge hole where mom used to be. This blog has been rattling around in my head and my heart but unwritten and unspoken because I wanted both to get it right and to pretend like it was no big deal.

It is a big deal. Still. Maybe always. Because for the rest of forever who I am will always be informed and affected by going through this rest-of-my-life without her. Every day is like a tally mark in my head, "It's been x number of days since I talked to my mom." Sometimes I'm fine, I'm fine for days, and I can talk about her and think about her and it's almost fun because she's such an amazing, interesting, fun person. And then other times I hear a song, or I'm making a comment in a discussion, or especially anytime I'm sick, and I miss her so much it's a physical pain in my gut. My eyes burn and my head hurts and I try to pull myself together. But I can't. There's a hole in my life here that my mom used to fill, and nothing else fits in that space.

That hole is like a missing piece in the puzzle that makes up my life. Everyone's life is made up of pieces in a puzzle, and every piece is a specific person, or responsibility, or belief, or place, or memory, or action, or anything that's important to you or part of you. Some pieces are bigger, some smaller. When we gain things they become new pieces, that we build around or leave on the periphery depending on how much they matter. My mom's piece is gone, and no other piece will fit. That hole where she connected in my life will always be there, and it will always stay the same size. But what changes is what percent of the total puzzle that hole represents.

Which is what's been going on for all of us over the past year. We miss her. All of us. We also have faith, and talk frequently with each other. More pieces for each of our puzzles have been added, some more important than others. Stephen and Judy are going to have a baby! That's one of those puzzle pieces that becomes central to everything else. Steve also moved his music studio out of his house and into a professional office. Judy switched jobs to one closer to their home. I've gotten another job designing buildings and interiors for commercial projects. (Not in place of my other jobs; in addition to them.) Ciera and Bryant are expanding their business and as their children continue to grow they are even more involved in sports and extra activities. More pieces adding more life to our lives, more experiences to our stories.

Perhaps the biggest change for any of us is dad. He got a Harley! Which he's always wanted, and which we're all happy for him to have. It's beautiful and shiny and loud. And he started dating again. He asked us all first how we would feel, before he did anything, and he and I had a series of very honest, clear conversations about what dating again would really mean and the possible outcomes. These took place in April and May, when she hadn't even been away for three months and the edges of the wound were still very fresh. And I drew my dad out in these talks I asked specific questions and wanted answers, which led him to share things with me he likely wouldn't have brought up otherwise. Like that the type of women he would want to date would be strong and faithful in the church and would want nothing less than a temple marriage. A forever marriage. Sealed.

Gulp. On the one hand, of course, that's obvious; anyone we would be comfortable accepting into our lives would need to be a person who would support my dad in his faith and his temple service to the fullest extent. On the other hand, I have NEVER been comfortable with the idea of polygamy. And he already had my mom. Why would he need anyone else?

Silly question. There is a definite subset of those who are better with someone else than they are alone. This subset is called most humans who have ever lived ever. And I wrestled with this; it hurt my stomach. It made my chest ache. It made me angry and scared and doubtful because how on earth could that possibly be okay?!?!

Remember at this point he wasn't seeing anyone in particular. In fact, he hadn't dated at all. So why was I getting so worked up over a hypothetical? Because I knew in my heart it would happen. Call it precognition, call it the Spirit, call it knowing my dad really well, whatever you want; I knew this was something we were going to need to come to terms with, somehow.

I had people tell me, "Well, maybe he'll find someone who also was widowed, and who just wants to be married for time." This does happen- I've seen it first hand. But that wouldn't be the case for my dad; I don't know if I was being stubborn or pessimistic or if I had been given it to know, but I knew.

Faith is a strange thing. Sometimes the answer, "Just have faith," is enough; sometimes it isn't. For me, this was one of the latter. I'm not even 100% able to explain why, even to myself. But this moment, for me, was a crisis of faith unlike any I'd experienced before. I was still reeling and broken hearted from her being gone, and this idea of my dad getting sealed again to someone else felt like too much. Going to church at all during this period was difficult for me; being around other members, reading the scriptures, doing anything spiritual at all was painful. Not only emotionally. I was having anxiety attacks getting ready for church on Sundays. Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sharp and burning chest pains, the whole deal. And I would feel like that for the entire 3 hour block, every week. Why would I keep going? At the time it was a mix of habit and desperation. Because I believed. This was my church, and even though every time I felt the Spirit it felt like tearing open that wound of losing her again, it was going to be okay because I was going to be with her and my family forever. I had hope it would get better.

But how was I going to face her in that glorious someday and introduce her to my father's new wife?!

I didn't feel like I could really talk to anyone. I couldn't talk to my siblings, because I didn't know how they were feeling and I didn't want to make their struggles harder if they were already struggling or mess up their balance if they'd found it. I couldn't talk to my dad, because he was suffering enough and I was worried if I expressed my fears and failings and pain that he would stop confiding in me. I could talk to Will, my husband, because he would listen and love and empathize but he'd already carried me so far and held me up so much that I didn't want to burden him with more, especially since he had hard experiences of his own going on. (Side note- in all honestly my refusal to talk was more about me than about anyone else. I should have talked it out, especially with Will.)

How. How could this possibly be okay? What kind of faith was this that took away my mother, who was so good and so brave and helped and served everyone she met, whether they wanted it or not? Then, even though we'd all been faithful and true and stalwart, she was gone, and we were supposed to find ways to be okay with that. Then we were supposed to find ways to be okay with my dad finding someone else. And THEN, as if every other question wasn't enough, we were supposed to find a way to not only be okay with but be glad about my dad getting sealed again, to someone who wasn't my mom, but who would now also be my dad's wife forever.


Don't stop reading here. Don't stop in the middle, because this next part is where, to me, things really become important.

I did not look for answers. I did not scour the internet for talks from church leadership on why this would be okay, or even right. I also did not search the web for people experiencing the same thing I had, the same crisis, the same lack of direction or disillusionment. Because a) I didn't think any of it would help me, and b) it wasn't about what anybody else was saying. It wasn't about what anybody else was experiencing, or what they felt, or believed, or choices they had made or hadn't made or even what my dad did next.

It wasn't about them at all, regardless of who "they" were. This was about me. Me and what I believed and what I wanted, not just for my life but for my soul forever. And so I sat in my big comfy brown chair in my bedroom and thought. I did this on and off for weeks, whenever I had the chance, going through all the moments of my life and how I felt about them and who I wanted to be and what I thought really mattered. I thought about what would happen in my life if the gospel was true and I followed it, and what would happen if I followed it and it wasn't true. And then I thought about what would happen if it was true and I gave it up, or if it wasn't true and I gave it up.

I wanted to give it up. I wanted to believe it wasn't true, and I had no obligation to continue doing something that continued to be painful and hoped if I stopped going I would stop having weekly anxiety attacks. I wanted to believe that it was all random, and that no one decided that taking my mom away would be better than letting us keep her. It seemed kinder; it seemed easier to walk away and not have to care about what would happen next because if there was no next, so it didn't matter about here. I could put down all the weight of eternity, and all in the world I needed to care about was getting through whatever day I was living.

I was so ready for something to be easy.

I wasn't ready to blame something else for my life being hard.

And I have always been stubborn.

My mom once said to me, "You never do anything halfway." (It was actually part of a funny story.) She's not wrong. I couldn't let it go. I wouldn't. I'd had my doubts and my trials before this, I'd felt abandoned and picked on by the universe and completely alone, but this was the first time being obedient and making all the "right" choices (i.e. going to church, fulfilling my calling, reading the scriptures, etc.) was painful and punishing and not doing them felt safer, better. Basic biological stimulus=response would be pain=avoidance. If it hurts, don't do it.

But what about walking. Learning to walk, you fall down. A lot. I'm something of a pro at this because I've had to learn to walk twice, once at one and once at twenty six. And both times it hurt. I've been told I fell down and cried as a baby, I don't remember that. I do remember the second time and going through months of physical therapy and intense pain and when I took steps and fell down it hurt. When I took steps and didn't fall it HURT. Putting weight on that broken and wounded knee was pain so intense it was beyond physical. It was emotional pain, and I had anxiety attacks before going to therapy appointments. But I went. Three years later I was in the best shape of my life (didn't last).

Sitting in my chair in my room by myself, I made a choice. I made it for me. It wasn't about my dad. It wasn't about my mom. It wasn't about anyone else's story, or life, or choices, or beliefs. It wasn't based on anyone else's influence or affluence or eloquence or preferences or persuasiveness. It was a decision based on what I ultimately want, and who I am.

I am someone who has learned to walk. I am a believer.

This faith, this religion, was my choice. And I was not going to let the actions or inactions of others to dictate what I believe. What I feel, down in the deepest and darkest parts of me, must be the truth. Because something in me that I can't even articulate knows that somehow when we learn enough to understand and rise enough to see that it will all make sense. All the science and technology and religion and faith and matter and gravity and light and darkness will finally become clear when we get to the point where we are ready to comprehend just how large and complex and interwoven the truth actually is, and we here and now are like blind men touching one part of an elephant and trying to use that one part to explain the nature of the whole.

I was snagged on one thing that I didn't understand, and it was pulling my whole soul down. It wasn't a small thing, or a ridiculous thing, it was in fact one of the largest and most important pieces in the puzzle that forms my life. It was and is a thing worthy of having a crisis over. But it allowed me to look under the pain I was experiencing, the grief I was feeling, the confusion and loss and fear that had me reeling and forced me to find my center. And in my center, I believe.

This took place mostly in late April and early May. In August of last year my dad shared with me a quote from the Ensign in a talk by President Henry B. Eyring, which I was grateful did NOT come out while I was in the middle of my soul searching. It would have felt trite in the middle of my turmoil, but as a testimony after, was healing. President Eyring was concerned about the state of his family in the life after this one, because of the choices some of the people he loved might make. He was told, “You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the celestial kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.”

I don't speak or read ancient Hebrew. I don't have the training or the background for it. But that doesn't mean I immediately disbelieve someone when they do have the knowledge and translate something for me. All I can do is decide, when I am experiencing pain, whether it's the fight or flight kind of pain or the kind of pain that's the price for growth and progression. I'm going to continue doing my spiritual therapy until I'm in the best shape of my life. Because what I believe is everything, and what I want is forever.

The most faith promoting books I've read in the last year were all by Stephen Hawking. Just FYI.

And did my dad start dating again? Oh yeah. In fact, I was absolutely right. He is engaged and planning on being married in the temple to someone wonderful. Her name is Bridget, and out of everything I could tell you about her, I'm going to stick to just a few main points that I am absolutely convinced are part of that grand and omnipresent truth.

Bridget was always meant to be a part of our family.
There is no other woman in this world or any other that I would be actually happy about my dad remarrying.
My mom had a lot to do with this happening, and she feels the same way about Bridget that I do except that she would insist on calling her Kathy.

On February 18th of this year we were all part of a text conversation, sharing our grief and love with each other, and our hope. This is what my dad said to us all:

"Very true.  And even think about what she has experienced since her passing.  I believe she has seen and held our Savior Jesus Christ!  Face to face!  She is very happy, and is doing His holy work.  And part of that work involves us!  Personally.  Many of us have seen her about this work.  How can our faith be weakened?  It is strengthened manifold.  And our sorrows can be swallowed up in the joy of what is really happening!  This is all part of the great Plan of Redemption, the plan of happiness.  Almost every person on earth goes through what we have gone through, without exception.  As we grow up, we all lose our parents, friends, siblings, and finally, spouses, but the losses are only temporary, and strengthen us as we rely on Christ to help take away our sorrow.  We are a positive happy people.  We have the truth!  Onward to the victory, the glorious resurrection and reunion with our heavenly parents and loved ones, never to be separated again.

"I remember how sad and distraught Sara was with that broken body after the surgery and failed attempts at rehab, her being home in bed and so down because of her physical condition.  Helpless.  It was the saddest I ever saw her.  And I also saw how she began to change and accept God's will for her.  It was hard, but she did it.  Then blessings started to come.  She could still kind of talk, and she bore her testimony to everyone who came to see her.  She overcame her last obstacle before she passed.  And ever since, I keep hearing accounts from others of how she had served them and helped them, things I never knew of before.

"Part of what breaks my heart the most was and is watching my children mourn for the loss of their mother.  It is a natural and necessary part of life.  Almost everyone goes through it.  But as a parent, the pain is more severe when our child suffers, than when we ourselves suffer.  Do you know what I mean?

"One of my favorite verses of scripture concerning death, written after a war:
While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness."

My dad is amazing. Several days later he sent over two more comments to me.

"Over this past year there are two things that have amazed and strengthened me.

"First is the amount of acts of kindness and service that Sara did while she was alive, that I never knew of until after her passing.  The accounts still keep coming to this day.  What a marvelous tribute this is to this wonderful lady.  And I believe the same is true for each faithful Relief Society sister, countless acts of Christlike service happening each day.

"Second is the amount of service and blessings that Sara has done since her passing.  So many accounts of her touching the lives of others after the funeral, things that are too sacred to discuss, but that have actually happened.  She is still about the Lord's work, and is still engaged with us on this side of the veil while she is on the other.  Amazing."

He isn't wrong. If you haven't read Ciera's post, the one just previous to this, do it. Have tissues close by.

My mom is still a huge presence in my life. Sometimes I can even feel her nearby, almost hear her talking to me. I know she misses me. Misses us all. And I know she's happy and very involved with our lives and with all the things going on in them. It's weird because the counter in my head doesn't feel accurate- the last day I spoke with my mom on this earth was at 11:30pm on February 16th, 2016. But she couldn't really talk anymore, even though she tried. We held hands and I said a prayer, told her I loved her and I knew she loved me too, and I would see her in the morning. But since then she helped me pick out what flowers to plant in my front yard this past summer; she was in the sealing room at the temple when I went in December. She's going to be there with us this summer. She's even been gently prodding me to get going with my writing again- I've had a really difficult time working on my 3rd book ever since she got sick (if you've read the second one you'll understand and hopefully forgive me).

Now I'm counting down to when there will be no more lasts. No more goodbyes, or last birthdays, or the last time you spoke with someone you love.

Or a last post on a blog you started because you needed to record everything that happened when your mom was dying. Because this is the last time we'll be separated. "One short sleep past, we wake eternally / And death shall be no more..."

I will see you in the morning.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Epilogue Part One: One Year Later

I know I promised a post, but there's too much for just one. This is the first, and it's from Ciera.

Its been a year without my mom.
A year without hearing her voice and talking to her everyday to chat, get advice, share funny things, vent, etc.  But is hasn't been a year where I haven’t felt her, I still can feel her love for me.  There has been several times this last year where I know she's been watching out for me and my family and I’ve felt her love still.  Yes, its different, yes my heart still breaks at times, and sometimes I’m ok.  I want to say that I’m strong all the time but I’m not; who really can be?   There are times I still just cry at the pain of loss I feel.  There have been times each of my children have cried hard at different times through out the year.   No one knows when it will hit them, the pain of grief, but it comes and goes in waves.  We know her spirit still lives on, we know we can see her again, but we also have our grief and that is just as real; Also just as real is her capacity to bless us still.

In June of 2016, 4 months after my mom passed away, Bryant was horse riding in the mountains with a friend.  He was on a horse that just the month before we had all ridden, even my 10 year old son, and at the time we really liked that horse.  While on the horse ride the horse began to act strangely and tense up.  He started to get very upset about his bit in his mouth and Bryant got off as the horse started to buck.  He calmed the horse and fixed the bit and rein which happened to be twisted.  Then he climbed back on and kept going.  His friend was in the lead on another one of our horses.  They came to a fallen tree on a narrow trail and had to dismount to take the horses around the tree.  Bryant’s horse was tensing again and Bryant felt its energy turn sour.  He went to dismount and asked his friend to hold the horses bridle.  In the matter of a moment, Bryant had gotten one foot out of the stirrup as his friend reached for the bridle, then it all went wrong.
The horse felt Bryant lift off his back and saw a hand reaching for his face and bolted.  The sudden motion of the horse bolting sideways off into the thick forest flung Bryant onto his back and locked his remaining foot in the stirrup.  Bryant kept his head and realized if he didn’t get out and get out fast the horse would drag him through the forest thick with downfall and he may not make it.  He reached up with all his might to grab the stirrup and pull his foot free.  As he tugged on the stirrup the horse felt the pull and kicked back full force at Bryant’s head.  The kick to the head sent Bryant flying backwards again free from the stirrup and now profusely bleeding from his skull.  He never lost consciousness.  He called out to his friend and yelled he’d been kicked.  His friend appeared breathless as he had seen the horse start to drag him and was in pursuit.  Bryant asked him if it was bad and all his friend could muster was, yes and ask where’s the first aid kit?  Everything for Bryant went black as the blood gushed from his head covering his eyes. He reached to his face to futilely try to wipe away the blood, but there was too much.  He tried to tell his friend where in the pack the first aid kit was as the horse had now stopped, but laid back onto the ground.  Blackness as his only view, he felt himself start to drift away and was thinking about me and the kids and what we would do without him.  In that instant he felt arms encircle his body and warmth flow into him as he heard a voice say, “You’re going to live.  It's time to get up.”  It was my mother’s voice as clear as he had ever heard it.
He was given the strength and sat up.  His friend saw him sit up and said, “Lay back down.  We’ve got to get that bleeding stopped.”  Bryant replied.  “We’ve got to go.  I guess we’re done trail riding now.”  His friend took off his shirt and tied it around Bryant’s head to stop the bleeding.  He asked if Bryant was ok to walk.  Bryant thought his leg was broken but they had to go.  His friend hoisted him up and they began limping their way back down the mountain to the truck about a mile away.  Bryant felt the support of his friend, but his other side was supported as well by someone he could feel but not see.  After getting to the truck Bryant was placed inside, given a priesthood blessing by his friend, and then his friend had to go back to get the horses.  His friend later told me he was so afraid Bryant was going to be dead by the time he came back to the truck and he tried yelling and talking to Bryant as long as Bryant could hear him.  After getting the horses in the truck they sped back to town 3 hours away and got a flat tire.  Miraculously 2 men immediately pulled up seconds after the tire blew and they had it changed in under 7 minutes.  When they got to the small Wyoming town they were close to, there was a parade blocking the way to hospital.  They found a police officer and were escorted quickly to the hospital.
I got a call about that time, 10am, now from Bryant’s friend that they were at the hospital and Bryant was ok but the horse had kicked him.  Thankfully he gave me no details and I left right away.  Bryant’s nephew and his wife happened to be visiting that weekend and were able to keep the kids.  My dad started driving to the hospital the moment I called him as well.
The ER doctors and nurses were amazed at Bryant's presence of mind and that he never lost consciousness.  He told me later he was afraid if he did black out he would have never come out of it.  The leg wasn't broken.  The CT scan revealed only a small fracture in his frontal sinus.  The specialist we saw later said that Bryan’t skull at that exact point was twice as thick as a normal persons bone and that by all accounts he should not have survived or had severe brain damage.
The wound on his head was cleaned and sutured very skillfully by the small town ER doc and we got to come home the same afternoon.  The same day later on Bryant’s parents left their mission in Salt Lake City to come and see him.  The only symptoms he ever had were severe concussion symptoms and weakness from the trauma and loss of blood.  His leg was sore and he also had three ribs that were dislocated, which turned out to be a more painful recovery than his head injury.
 Visitors flooded the house and he was able to re-tell his story details never wavering.  The experience he had with my mom he kept to himself at the time and he told me later.  As he recounted what had happened I asked if he remembered the last thing my mom had said to him before she passed away.
I reminded him that she said,  “Next time you are in the mountains listen to me. Listen to me.”
She always worried about him hunting so he took the council to mean just that.
Now as we remembered again her last words to him the power of her statement hit us to the core.  She knew somehow as her body was dying and she was so close to the veil that separates this life from the next, that she would be protecting us still from the spirit world in an even greater capacity than she had been able to on this earth with us.
Bryant has had no lasting effects from the accident; only a small scar as a reminder and a broken baseball hat that acted like a shield from the greater part of the hoof.
2 weeks later we were visiting my dad at his house.  I was in the back yard looking at everything my mom loved about it and thinking of her.  I prayed in my heart thanking her for protecting Bryant and I got to feel her arms around me for a brief moment, knowing then she could hear me when I needed her still.
Caringtyn being 7 and my mom’s buddy, like all her grandkids, was having such a hard time understanding death and why, like all of us.  But being 7, sometimes the answers I gave were hard for her to understand.  One morning she told me she had the greatest dream.  I asked her what it was about.  She told me it was about grandma.  Caringtyn said she was riding a horse through a forest and a big white door appeared.  The door opened and grandma came out.  Caringtyn got off her horse and hugged grandma so tight for so long.  She said grandma didn’t say anything but she could feel grandma’s love for her.  Then she said grandma went back through the door and Caringtyn got on her horse and rode away.  I hugged Caringtyn and cried as she told me this.  I told Caringtyn I was so glad she was able to have that dream and that grandma did love her and that dream was her way of showing Caringtyn she wasn’t gone forever.
Bryson when he has been sad has prayed and received comfort and Ashelynn as well, but neither have related a story to me of their own.  But Bryant’s and Caringtyn’s experiences have brought tears to their eyes as well as they have felt the spirit of them.
The milestones that have happened since she has been gone have been the hardest.  Our Aunt Ellen helped my mom make birthday cards for us while she was sick and the grandkids and they have been so nice to have this year.  In the big life events that come we will feel her physical absence acutely.  Visiting her grave on the anniversary of her death last week was very good but hard too.  Hard to see her name in stone, hard to walk away from it, but laying flowers on it felt right as she loved flowers so much.  The flowers in my own yard last summer were more profuse than they ever had been.  Some flowers she gave me the year prior to her sickness that weren’t supposed to come back, did come back and bloomed profusely, so every time I saw them I thought of her as well.
I’m so blessed that I had/have and amazing woman for a mother; for her legacy is a life lived so well that I can only hope to be as good as she.  And so I mourn and grieve at the loss of association with her on this earth but; the hope of the morning, the hope of the life yet to be, shines bright through the dimness of sadness and loss.  I love you mom.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Funeral Talk Number Two

G. Mark Albright, Feb. 23, 2016

Sara enjoyed life and was fun to be around.  She will be sorely missed.  Everyone who knew her enjoyed being in her presence.  She radiated goodness and was close to the spirit.  Mourning the loss of a loved one is one of the deepest expressions of pure love.  It is a natural response to the divine commandment that “thou shall live together in love insomuch that thou shall weep for the loss of them that die.”  D&C 42:45 We can’t really appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now when loved ones pass away.  As Elder Maxwell said, “The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.”
Sara had a firm testimony that we lived before we came to this Earth as spirit sons and daughters of our father in heaven.  There we eagerly anticipated coming to earth to obtain a physical body.  Sara strongly believed that in the pre-existence we willingly accepted the risks of mortality which would allow all of us the right of free agency and accountability for how we live.  Sara knew that death could come as an uninvited guest at any time.  But She also firmly believed what President Joseph F. Smith taught, “May I say for the consolation of those who mourn, and for the comfort and guidance of us all, that no righteous person is taken before their time.  In the case of the faithful saints, they are simply transferred to other fields of labor.  The Lord’s work goes on in this life and in the world of spirits.”
Where is Sara now?  The scriptures teach us that after this life our spirits will be set free from pain, sorrow, grief and disappointment to enjoy life to the fullest extent possible without a body, until the resurrection.  We will thirst no more, hunger no more, and tire no more.  We will be full of life, full of vigor, with no pain and no weariness.
The Prophet Alma taught this principle beautifully when he said: “Now concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection.  The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all their cares and sorrow.”  Alma 40, verse 11 and 12.
I am grateful to know that Sara is now in a place where she is again full of energy, vitality, and vigor with no pain and no weariness that wore out her body while she underwent her long battle with cancer and her long and painful ordeals of the last several months.  We’re grateful that she had a full and balanced life surrounded by friends and loved ones and sweet memories of many successful accomplishments.  Despite the pains and sufferings that Sara went through, her testimony never waivered.  Her love of the Lord, the brethren, the scriptures and her family never faltered.  One of the hidden blessings of cancer is that it allows the patient time to gather their loved ones around and to plan and prepare for their departure into the next life.  Sara, always the optimist, appreciated the opportunity she had to bid farewell over the last few months to her family and friends.
Sara strongly believed and looked forward to being together as an eternal family with her loved ones.  Joseph Smith described it this way:  “The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul … up against the evils of life.  It is like they are taking a long journey and on the return we will meet them with increased joy.”
In other words, Sara believed that in every death there is a re-birth.  Her spirit passed into the spirit world (upon her passing here from mortality) to a reunion of loved ones, family and friends who have previously overcome the struggles of life and gone home.  This reunion of friends and family associations on the other side of the veil robs death of its terror, and sheds life and light on darkness and sorrow.  Christ himself was the first to gain the victory over the grave.  In Him is the sting of death swallowed up.  Sara did not look upon death as an enemy.  With full understanding and eternal perspective, Sara had faith that replaced her fear.  Hope displaced despair as she prepared for this experience.  The Lord said, “Fear not even unto death, for in this world your joy is not full but in me your joy is full.”  D&C 10136
Sara believed the Lord’s beautiful promise “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your hearts be troubled neither let it be afraid.”  John 14:27.  In Ecclesiastes we read that “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven, a time to be born and a time to die.”  Ecclesiastes 3:12. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could witness the reunion on the other side of the veil when the doors of death open to those returning home?  In Psalms we read: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  Psalms 116:15.
Sara believed that Jesus Christ is literally the son of God, that He was the creator of this world, the only begotten son of the Father, the Prince of Peace, the Savior, the Messiah, the King of kings, the only name under heaven whereby one could be saved, that he was born of the Virgin Mary and died that we might live again.  Sara knew that Christ paid the price for our sins so that we might not suffer if we would repent and be baptized and obey the commandments of our Father.
Sara accepted the resurrection of Christ as the most completely documented and witnessed event of historical importance in the history of the world.  She accepted without question the testimony of the women friends of Jesus who visited his tomb on that first Easter morn and were met by angels who announced, “He is not here, for He is risen.  Why seek ye the living among the dead?”  She believed the testimony of the ten apostles who were gathered together behind closed doors when suddenly Jesus himself stood in the midst of them and said, “Peace be unto you.”  They were terrified and thought they had seen a spirit.  But Jesus said unto them, “Why are ye troubled and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?  Behold my hands and my feet that is I myself.  Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.”
Sara taught in hundreds of church lessons that Christ also established his church on this the American Continent after his resurrection and that his followers lived in righteousness for over 200 years before a great civil war destroyed the righteous people, approximately 400 years after Christ.  Their last great prophet by the name of Mormon, abridged 1000 years of history, including the invaluable evidence of the divinity and resurrection of Christ, in a written record.  These plates which lay buried in the ground for 1400 years until Christ again came to a new prophet in 1820 and restored his church in its fullness with all of its power, glory and blessings.  Sara Believed that those plates were translated by Joseph Smith and were published as the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus the Christ.
Sara understood that he had fulfilled his mission on earth and that this was part of her destiny.  She strongly agreed with the prophet President Kimball who wrote, “I am positive in my mind that the Lord has planned our destiny.  Sometime we will understand fully and when we see back from the vantage point of the future, we shall be satisfied with many of the happenings of this life that were so difficult to comprehend.”
Sara worked hard to fulfill each and every assignment that came to her in this life as a wife, as a mother, and as a church leader in countless capacities.  She is well deserving of the savior’s praise: “well done my good and faithful servant.”  The prophet Harold B. Lee reminded us that the Lord made death sweet for the righteous and that the greatest day in the life of Jesus was the day that He died and the greatest day in our life will be the day that we die, if we have lived righteously.
Sara knew that by coming to earth we would have both joys and sorrows, ease and pain, comforts and hardships, health and sickness, success and disappointments.  She knew that after a period of time we would die.  She believed that all of us accepted this plan of salvation with a glad heart.  We were eager to accept both the favorable and the unfavorable conditions of coming to earth and obtaining a mortal body.  Sara put her trust in God knowing that despite our limited view, God’s purposes will not fail.  With all of its troubles, life offers us the privilege to grow in knowledge and wisdom, faith and works, to prepare us to return and share in God’s glory.
Sara believed that after her passing she would be able to continue to serve others in the next life.  She was well prepared for such an assignment by her lifetime of devotion and service to others.  She made this world a better place by her life of love and service.  No doubt Sara has been called to do what she loved, teaching the gospel.  Sara was loved by her family, neighbors, friends and colleagues.  She had a remarkable rapport with the youth.  She was gentle, concerned, compassionate and wise.  She was a great teacher.
I look at a funeral service as a type of graduation.  Sara has graduated from mortality to another stage of progress for which her lifelong labors have prepared her.  This funeral service today commemorates Sara’s graduation, which in her case is surely with high honors.  Sara was a kind and thoughtful friend.  She showed courtesy and interest to everyone she ever met.  She gave praise and compliments freely.  She expressed her love to others with generosity.  She fought for the underdog and the downtrodden. She wanted others to be winners and get the credit.  Her life was a sermon, of hope, love, caring, and to keep trying in the face of adversity.
To my knowledge she never turned down an assignment or a calling.  She supported her husband Mike in his callings, including four Bishopric assignments.  She did what she was asked and tried to do her best.  She lived a happy and productive life and was a faithful servant of the Lord, in spite of numerous accidents.  She was a devoted wife.  She was a doting mother to her children.  She was a beloved grandmother.  Sara loved the Lord with all her heart and served him with all her might to the very end of her mortal life.  Through her long battle with cancer she taught us determination and endurance.  She taught us courage.  She taught us that death is part of life and essential to our eternal progression.  She taught us that ordinances made and covenants obeyed qualify us for eternal life.
Sara believed in the atonement of Jesus Christ: After the Lord told Joseph Smith, “These things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good,” he then said, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8.)
Sister Reeves (Gen Conf. Oct. 2015) recently explained about difficulties in our life this way:  “I do not know why we have the many trials that we have, but it is my personal feeling that the reward is so great, so eternal and everlasting, so joyful and beyond our understanding that in that day of reward, we may feel to say to our merciful loving Father, “was that all that was required?”  I believe that if we could daily remember and recognize the depth of that love our Heavenly father and our Savior have for us, we would be willing to do anything to be back in Their Presence again, surrounded by Their love eternally.  What will it matter what we suffered here if in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the Kingdom of God with our Father and Savior?”
Sara understood that the Savior suffered in Gethsemane so that he would have an infinite compassion for us as we experience our trials and tribulations. Through his suffering in Gethsemane, the Savior became qualified to be the perfect judge. Not one of us will be able to approach him on the Judgment Day and say, “You don’t know what it was like.” You don’t know what its like to have a broken back and then struggle with cancer and then lose the use of my arm and leg. Chris knows the nature of our trials better than we do, for he “descended below them all.”
Like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, Sara and her family have cried out with faith:

“O Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39.)
 But we all must pass through our own Gethsemane.

There are probably no greater Gethsemanes than the death of one of our children or spouse. Just minutes after he learned of his ten-year-old daughter’s accidental death, a father wrote a letter to her.
I feel it applies to our beloved Sara:
“You have been an angel of light in our home. Even in your passing you have sanctified the experience by the sweet sorrow of this temporary parting. I have confidence that you are really home. It’s pleasing to know that you are not encumbered by troublesome physical limitations you accepted and lived with in such an adorable, noncomplaining way.
“Mom and I and your brothers and sisters are better because you came to our house. Soon after your day of birth, you helped us to accept fear and the unknown; to better love others with physical challenges; to accept the disappointment accompanying an unwanted medical prognosis; and to query and plead with our Father, who today you know better than we do.
 “We pray for all of us whom the Lord expects to stay here on the job for yet a while. Our prayers are that we will be worthy to be reunited with you and to see you again whole and perfect. Oh, how we would have loved to have you stay here on earth with us! How we would love to hear your ever-so-spontaneous ‘I love you’! How we’d thrill to feel that clinging embrace! Oh, yes, especially today.”
Sara believed the Holy Ghost will testify to us of truth.  If you have felt something in your heart today, Sara would want you to know it is the Holy Ghost testifying to you of the Love that Christ and Heavenly Father have for you.  Sara would urge us to do good and always be looking for ways to serve others, like Christ did.
That the Lord’s blessings of comfort and understanding will be poured out on all of us and that God will bless Sara’s family with comfort is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Talks from the funeral: Life Sketch

About a year and a half after we moved to Texas we came back to visit and I was sitting in the Relief Society room next year to my mother. The dear sister giving the lesson said, "Raise your hand if you think your mother is perfect," and my hand shot up immediately. My mom's face turned red and she whispered to me, "Put your hand down!" But the dear sister at the front said, "Okay Angie, you're right, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the lesson so you're going to need to put your hand down and let us talk about how we all need to be easier on each other."

The church has asked us to not have mission farewells on Sunday during Sacrament meeting anymore, so we're having ours on a Tuesday morning, surrounded by family and friends who, in the way my mother saw the world, were very interchangeable. Family and friends were always kind of the same thing. My dad has five siblings, I think, maybe six, no, five siblings. Six in his family? No, six siblings, seven in his family, and my mom has six, and so you would think that according to the math you could figure out how many aunts and uncles we could have, but you'd be wrong. I probably have fifty or sixty aunts and uncles, a lot of whom were adopted over the years by my mother and father because they knew something they have always tried to teach us: that we are all just family here. The only things that divide us and separate us are things that we make up ourselves.

My mother was born in Las Vegas on November 29th, 1956. She had three older siblings, Les, Holly, and Ellen, and two younger siblings, Susan and Lisa. And my mom loves talking about growing up in Las Vegas, because it was really fun. She loved telling stories about roller skating. She loved telling stories about playing with Kelly and Karen. She loved telling the story about when she found the neighbor's cat outside and knew it wasn't an outside cat, and nobody on their street locked their doors so they rescued their neighbor's cat and put it back inside her house, only to find out when the neighbor came home that it was not her cat.

My mother was an example of service no matter what the cost and whether you liked it or not. She went to Clark High School, where she graduated, although she didn't attend many classes her senior year, especially during the winter. She knew the principal very well and was such a good student that frequently when she would get bored she would ask the principal if she and her friends could go skiing instead of going to school that day. And he would say yes. My mother has proudly told me on more than one occasion that she has never "sluffed" school. She always had an excused absence. Because she wanted to go skiing and the principal said okay.

My mom had a pilot's license and could legally fly airplanes before she could drive a car. My mother has friends literally all over the world. That began because her mother was a travel agent and her father flew airplanes and so for her the world was always a very small place.

After graduating Clark high school she went to Rick's College, because what's better than leaving the arid desert of Nevada to go to the frigid and completely frozen place that is Rexburg. She loved it so much that she left after one year and went to BYU instead. While at BYU she joined the folk dancers, because my mother has always loved music and dancing. While with the BYU folk dancers she went on a tour of Europe, danced before the King of Denmark, and met and fell in love with a banjo player. They fell in love all across Europe and when they came back home, after an appropriate time, they were married in the Provo Temple on December 14th, 1977, for time and all eternity.

They had their first daughter, Anna Ciera, on February 4th, 1979, and I am ashamed to admit just how much of my life it took for me to realize what an awesome person my sister Ciera is. She is amazing, and I don't know if it's entirely her fault because how could she not be amazing with such a mother. After Ciera, I was born on October 12th, 1980, and they named me Angela Dawn because I was born in the morning. I was always disappointed about that. It took me a long time to figure out that my name meant more to my mom than just I was "an angel born in the morning." To her I was a messenger from Heaven, and it has taken me a long time to figure out what that meant. I can say that because I haven't fully figured it out yet, but I have a long time left to do it.

After me, my parents had another daughter, Karissa, who was born on September 30th and lived for one day. Because of complications she was born via C-section and my mother was under anesthesia, and so the first time my mother met her daughter Karissa was last Thursday night, because Karissa has been waiting for her mother for most of my life. And so we know who my mother's first mission companion is.

My mother and my sister are together, and I honestly don't know if she's here with us right now because there were few things my mother actively hated. She hated snakes and spiders, she hated throwing up, and she hated being the center of attention. So having an entire meeting dedicated to talking about her, I think for her must be the worst thing about this entire process.

After Karissa came Stephen Michael Newman, born May 21st, I think in 1986. He's nodding, so I'm right. And that was our family. We grew up in Payson, Utah, which when I was young and naive I thought was boring, and now that I'm old and tired I think is a wonderful place. We were raised by parents who taught us not to be afraid of hard work, because things that were hard were usually the things that were the most worth doing. And things that were worth doing were worth doing well.

I am still learning to appreciate this lesson, because I have not always been a fan of hard work or of things that are hard. But my sister said something profound last night as we all sat around the table. She said that, "Sometimes our hearts are shattered so that God can help us rebuild them and add more pieces. Without that growth we cannot love more deeply, or understand more fully, and without that breaking cannot be made anew."

I would also like to remind you that my sister is awesome, and I have learned that by now.

While I was growing up my mother was on the board of directors for the Springville World Folkfest, and she did that for most of my life. And she was amazing at it. Without us ever needing to leave Utah Valley, Utah County, Utah, she brought us the world. She brought us people from every culture, every walk of life, every facial iteration and every skin color and welcomed them into our home and said, "See? See these people? They are your brothers and sisters." And she was right, and they were awesome. Because of my mother's involvement in the folk festival, I lied to the Chinese government when I was twelve years old. Because of my mother's involvement in the folk festival during some of the most intense fighting she had a group of dancers from Israel and a group of dancers from Palestine at the same time. On purpose. And by the time the folk fest was over that year those two groups, whose governments have yet to find a way to communicate with each other as people, left Springville, Utah, as friends. That was the kind of miracle that my mom was used to doing, because she thought it was part of her every day life. That was part of her responsibility, to bring people together and make them feel loved.

She served in many different capacities in the church throughout her life. She served in Relief Society presidencies and Stake Young Women's presidencies. She served as a missionary in the church office building for years. Because of the service of my mother when I was out in Texas listening to Sister Dalton speak I went up afterwards to shake her hand and tell her what a good job she did. She looked at me and said, "You're Sara's daughter!" and gave me a big hug. My thought was, "Oh my gosh, you know who I am!" Because my mother loves people she told me before I went that Sister Dalton loves honeycrisp apples and Russell Stover chocolates and I had better come prepared. And I was.

And because of my mother and the love she had for everybody when she was in the hospital in December and early January she would send my dad out to the cafeteria to get cookies, or my aunts would get carrot cake, and every person who came in her room got something to leave with. "I've come to check your blood pressure." "That's great! Would you like a cookie?" "Mrs. Newman, can you tell me what day it is?" "No, but would you like a chocolate?" "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm in the wrong room." "That's okay, take some carrot cake with you and here's some for the person you meant to go visit."

Many of you have noticed and commented to me about the candy bowls and how that is so Sara. My mom asked me to do that last Wednesday, just slightly less than two weeks ago. She said to me, "Oh, do you know what would be nice? Let's have bowls of candy out in the foyer so when everybody comes they can have some." Because even now, she wants to make you all feel comfortable, and loved.

My mother served on the Olympic Committee when the Olympics were in Salt Lake. I'm feeling hesitant to tell you this story because I know how embarrassed she would be but because I know how embarrassed she would be I'm going to tell you this story. My mother was one of the volunteer workers in the back hallway where performers would enter and exit. Everybody was supposed to have a very special badge. A gentleman came up and walked past her and he wasn't wearing a badge. She stopped him with an "Excuse me," and he turned around to look at her and then ran off. She thought, "Oh no." Looking around, she saw some security guards dressed in military uniforms and called over to them, saying, "Hey, hey you army guys!!"

They looked at her like, "Army guys? Really?" but they came over to her gesture of come here.  She told them, "A guy just ran past me not having a badge and he wouldn't stop when I called him." Their eyes got big and they left in a hurry. Afterwards, when everything had calmed down she saw the same two army men and went to talk to them. She asked them what had happened, but they told her it was classified. She said, "Remember how I was the one who saw him and got your attention and told you which way he went?" Sheepishly one of them nodded. She repeated, "So what happened?"

"We can't tell you all the details, ma'am, but we did catch him and everything is all right," he said. So among her list of accomplishments we can add my mother saved the 2002 Olympics from something that would've been terrible.

In June of this past year my mom was in a horseback riding accident and broke her back. I am so grateful for that. We moved to Texas about eight years ago and every since then I haven't had a lot of time to spend with my mother. But when she fell, I stayed with her for two weeks and took care of her, and it was some of the best two weeks of my life. We had so much fun, other than her excruciating pain and when I had to force her to take her pain pills that she didn't want to take. We ate Chinese food and watched old movies, which has always been our thing. We watched HGTV and talked about all the changes we wanted to make to her house and to my house, and to pretty much any house we'd seen passing by, because one of her passions has always been making the world more beautiful. And if I had not had that time to spend with her this would be so much harder for me now. Because it isn't that it's not hard, it's because she's not gone. She's not lost to us. We know where she is. We know that we will see her again, and we know that she loves us. And I know that for certain because a week ago today, at this time right now. I don't know if you've noticed me glancing down at my phone but it's because at this time one week ago today that I sat at my mother's bedside holding her hand and she was starting to lose communication. She couldn't speak very well. She couldn't keep her eyes open. But she could squeeze my hand and she could say one or two words at a time.

I said, "Mom, you know I love you, right?" She squeezed my hand and nodded her head. I said, "You know I'm going to speak at your funeral?" She squeezed my hand again and I said, "I know that you want me to make them laugh." At that she opened her eyes and said, "Yes, please!"

I said, "I know that you also want me to tell them that you love them." She said yes. I said, "I will tell them that you love them, and I will tell them that you were not afraid, and we'll all look out for dad." She squeezed my hand and nodded, and then she fell asleep. I was going to leave really early the next morning, so early that I wasn't even going to sleep, just go to the airport and wait. So that evening I held her hand again by her bedside and I prayed with her that she would be received to the other side, surrounded by family who loved her, and that she would know that we were going to be okay. And that she would know that because of her example we were all going to try and be better. Then I squeezed her hand and closed in the name of Jesus Christ. She was trying really hard to tell me something, but she couldn't talk anymore. I said, "Are you trying to tell me that you love me?" She nodded her head. I leaned over and gave her a big hug and said, "I will never forget. And I will see you in the morning."

Because that is how long her mission is. She has gone on before us because the Lord needs her. Back when this whole process started I went to the temple and got three separate and very distinct impressions. That everything was going to be okay. That everyone was going to feel peace. And that the Lord NEEDED my mother. And I am not surprised, because I have met her, and she can move worlds. And I know now that when I pass on and see her again that the other side will be so much more organized and prepared because she has been there, and that everyone is going to be more happy, more ready, and well fed. Spiritually, because she won't be able to feed them physically.

She has often said to me, "Everything will be okay in the end, and if it's not okay, it's not the end." And I am not completely sure how one is supposed to end a talk at a funeral, but I know that my Redeemer and my Savior and my elder brother would not have taken my mom from us if He did not need her more, and if He did not know that we were going to be okay. And I have had lots of people, hundreds of people, ask what they can do and if we need anything.

Well, my mom made a list. These are the things that my mom has asked us to do. Read your scriptures. Pray every day. Be great at making choices. This one says, "How's my buddy?" Which means she wants us to take care of ourselves. Let us oft speak kind words. This one says, "I will look down on you every day," and this one says, "I will always be with you."

That's my mom. The person who will always be with you to help bear your burdens, and carry your loads. The person who will love you and feed you whether you feel like it or not. And if she wanted to be your friend you may as well just give up and let her in. And it's okay. It's not easy, but nothing is too hard for us to do together. And if something is worth doing it's worth doing well, and everything will be okay in the end. And right now it's not okay, but it's not the end.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The words should explain but the words won't come...

I'm posting this now, even though it's nearly a week after I wrote it. I was debating whether to post it at all, the timing being so out of order and so many of the thoughts and questions posed in it already answered, but I promised myself I was going to share as much of the journey as possible. So the next paragraph starts the night before the funeral, but after the viewing.

It seems funny to me after hearing so many compliments on my writing tonight at the viewing that now I can't find the words to say. I'm trying to write the life sketch for my mom for the funeral tomorrow, and the words just won't come. Tonight was hard. Awful, even. I'm so grateful for all the people who came to show their love and support and to share their grief with us. I would never take any moment of that away. Walking in to that building, when we came early to set up the pictures and decorations, was fine. Putting things up was fine. But seeing the casket was like being punched in the stomach from the inside out. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't talk.

I ran away.

On Monday, not today but a week ago today, our hospice nurse Katy came to see my mom. Afterward my dad called us up into the kids bedroom so the adults could talk without the kids listening, which we knew wasn't going to be a good conversation. So many things in life are necessary, but not good. We settled to different places around the room, some standing, some sitting, while the nurse told us my mom had begun a final rapid decline and we needed to say goodbye. We needed to let her know we were going to be okay. We needed to be ready for her to fall asleep and not wake up again. And Katy had already told my mom this before calling us up. So she was waiting for us.

I've spent so much time the last 67 days trying not to cry. Trying to be strong. A few tears squeezed through while I pretended to ignore them and by brother-in-law gripped my hand. This was it. How was I going to do this? I couldn't even wrap my head around it. Last words? How was I going to say goodbye for the rest of my life?

Thankfully it wasn't my turn. Not yet. Stephen and Judy went in first. I don't know what they said; when I asked if they wanted to share they declined, as is their right. Not everything is for sharing. They were in there for what seemed like both a very long time and no time at all, before coming back out and staring at all of us.

Ciera and Bryant went next, going into the semi-darkness of my parents' room and shutting the door behind them. I found out later even though they went in together, they still gave each other space in the room in the moment. Ciera put her hand on my mom's shoulder and leaned down so their faces were close together and told my mom they had a unique opportunity to say goodbye, which most people don't get. Ciera also promised they would take care of dad. Then she told my mom, "I love you," and asked my mom to find Kona so Kona wouldn't be alone.

Ciera had a run of heart shattering experiences: Kona was her huge dog who had also recently passed away. Kona was her shadow, and her gentle giant. Ciera's heart is being broken again before it had a chance to grow together, and she is so strong and so brave anyway.

Then it was Bryant's turn. Ciera stepped away and Bryant drew close and took her hand. Then he bent down and gave her a hug with tears streaming down. My mom was crying too. Bry said the burden of grief she carried wasn't about dying, it was about leaving us behind and knowing how sad we were going to be. Bry told her how much he loved her, and added, "I wanted to thank you for giving me Ciera. I promise you I will take care of Mike, and I promise I will make your garden and your yard as beautiful as you did. You are going to a place we only can dream of, and I'm excited for you to go to see things the rest of us can only hope to see." Bry asked her to say hello to his grandmother, and told her again that he loved her. Then they came out.

I was left. My husband had said his goodbye weeks before. Both my siblings and their spouses had said goodbye. They sent me to her bedside, and I sat in the chair next to her and took her warm, soft hand in mine. My mother's hands were always warm, and mine are always cold. As usual, the moment I took her hand she helped tuck it under her blanket and onto the heating pad to warm it and squeezed my hand again.

"Hey you," I said. I smiled, and she tried to smile back. She was exhausted. And I chickened out.

"I think you need a nap." I smoothed and returned her blankets and settled myself down with my own fuzzy green warmth. I propped my feet up and fell asleep holding her hand. I wasn't ready, and I wasn't going to rush it. And I was perfectly happy with my cowardice, because I had something neither of my siblings did. I still had more time before going home. I had an extra day, and I felt she had been through enough for the moment.

So we napped, and held hands. It was warm, and peaceful, and not at all about saying goodbye. Bryant and Ciera left to drive back to Wyoming. Stephen and Judy went back to their lives in Provo. Then it was just my parents and me, mom and I holding hands under the blankets and dad reading his scriptures in the chair next to us. It was peaceful.

The next day was Tuesday. I brought her the breakfast she requested, the amazing carrot cake my Aunt Susie made for her. This was her favorite food, and turned out to be the last meal she really ate. Her coordination was sketchy so I ended up feeding her, a dangerous prospect in itself with how much my hands shake when I try to do anything requiring fine motor skills. I'm not sure she ended up with more food in her mouth with me doing it than she would have doing it herself, but we had the chance to laugh about it. Then we napped some more (my narcolepsy proved quite useful through this ordeal; I could nap holding her hand whenever she could).

When she woke up again, we talked a little. It was the start of goodbye, but not for me. For everyone else. I promised my mom I would tell you all that she loves you, just like always. It was very important to her that you know you are loved. Every time I would go home, she would say "Give your boys a hug for me." The last time it was give everyone a hug for me. And she made me promise to make everyone laugh. It was so important to her that she repeated it at least three times; make them laugh. Help them feel joy. She knew there would have to be tears, but she wanted to make sure there would be laughter to balance them.

I'm having a difficult time putting my thoughts together for this, because there are so many different parts of her life to share. There are the things she did, and the things she valued, and the way she lived. She was and is amazing. I can't really conceptualize a life wherein my mom is more than just a phone call away. Tonight at the viewing her body was laid out in the casket and I couldn't look at it, for the first hour couldn't even be in the same room with it. It was too real, too much.

Sometimes God allows your heart to shatter so He can help you add more to it. We cannot love more deeply, believe more strongly, or understand more fully until our hearts have greater capacity. Ciera said that tonight, while we were sitting around the table. I'm trying to hard to write something that I can say tomorrow, but everything I write is wrong. Every time I try to write my mother's life sketch I'm stalled out, and all this came out instead.

I miss her. I'm going to miss her until I get to see her again. I hope whatever I say tomorrow is the right thing, because I'm certainly not being allowed to prep much beforehand. Then again, I've been writing about her and thinking about her for months now. My brother and I had a very personal conversation one on one tonight, where he said she was being called on a mission. He's right; and I know who her mission companion is going to be.

I did finally go into the room at the viewing where my mother's body was laid out in her casket. I came in through the exit so I could take my place in line without walking past her, shuffling everyone else around a bit until I was standing between my brother/brother-in-law Bryant and my husband Will. The rooms were decorated with the miracle "M"s, pictures of my mother, and her Christmas tree. I met hundreds of people who knew and loved my mother through every stage of her life, even those who drove up from Las Vegas because they'd been in her ward while she was growing up. One of those was a couple, approximately the same generation as my grandmother. She was short, and smiling, and average. He was tall, with white hair and a flowing white beard, a ready smile and a round belly. He even wore a red shirt.

"See?" my husband whispered. "When you put out a Christmas tree, even Santa Claus comes."

That was the first time today I'd laughed. My husband is the best, and he knew about my mom's request too.

After the viewing was over and everybody had left except the immediate family and a select few others, I knew it was time. But not by myself. My husband had already left at my request to take our sons back to the house to get ready for bed. So I held out my hand to my sister, mutely asking for help. She came and stood next to me while I finally looked into the casket.

What I saw both was and was not my mom. It's hard to describe- it was her body, but empty, like an outfit she'd worn and discarded. But it was everything about her that I could touch, and feel, hold. It, like me, had been left behind.

Maybe this is what I need to work through right now, because I can't write down anything about tomorrow. Tomorrow, the funeral and the gravesite, the last parts, the last chances to say goodbye.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Video Tribute to my Mom

And amazing video tribute put together by my sister-in-law Judy.

A heartfelt special thank you to the video contributors. My mom sisters Lisa, Ellen, Susan, and Holly, and her brother Les.  My grandmother Liane. And amazing friends Karen, Kelly, Jill, Ann, Kathy, Keela, and Kim. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

And will I want to be the person I've become, when all is said and done.

This isn't the last post- there's still more we want to say, to share. But this is another turning point. We still need to talk about last words and things I promised her I would say, but this is as much as I can do for now.

Sara Ann Foutz Newman, aged 59, passed away peacefully on February 18, 2016, in her beloved home in Payson, Utah. She had received a terminal diagnosis of stage IV brain cancer on December 14, 2015, and was able to be surrounded by family and friends nearly constantly for the final two months of her extraordinary life. Even in those difficult weeks she remained an example of love and charity to all who have been blessed to know her.

Sara was born to the late Hal Bert Foutz and Liane Bunnell Foutz on November 29, 1956 in Las Vegas, Nevada. She was the fourth of six children, Les, her brother, and her sisters Holly, Ellen, Susan, and Lisa, all of whom survive her. Her father owned an airplane taxi service and would frequently transport people from Las Vegas to Los Angeles or other large close cities,  and Sara had many fond memories of her father taking her flying with him in the evenings. Flying was such an important part of her young life that she earned her pilot's license at the age of 15, and could legally fly airplanes before she could drive a car.

She graduated from Clark High School after participating in cheerleading and getting such excellent grades that the school principal would excuse her and her two best friends to go skiing on school days, weather permitting. Sara then left the warmth and heat of the Nevada desert to attend Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho for one year before transferring to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Her sense of adventure stayed with her, and while on tour in Europe with the BYU folk dancers she fell in love with Michael David Newman, who was also on tour with the dancers as a musician. They were married in the Provo, Utah LDS Temple on December 14, 1977. Mike and Sara remain sweethearts, best friends, and true loves, and have been a great example of teamwork and marriage for everyone who knows them. She is preceded in death and welcomed into Heaven by her daughter, Karissa Newman, and survived by her husband, Michael David Newman, and her remaining three children, Anna Ciera Newman Birch (Bryant Birch), Angela Dawn Newman Day (William Day), and Stephen Michael Newman (Judy Newman). She is also survived by her five grandchildren, Ashelynn Ciera Birch, Bryson Paul Birch, Caringtyn Anna Birch, Brandon Stephen Day, and Connor William Day, for all of whom Grandma Sara was the favorite.

Sara was an example of charity and service. She was a substitute teacher at Wilson Elementary, where the kids would greet her with smiles and cheers of "Mrs. Newman!!" She was an integral part of the director's board for the Springville International Folkfest for over two decades where groups of professional folk dancers from all over the world would gather to celebrate and share their unique cultural heritage. In that responsibility she built bridges of friendship and understanding that quite literally spanned the world. She served in Stake Young Women's presidencies and Relief Society presidencies, Women's Conference committees and Temple Shift and Veil coordinators, and as a missionary in the Young Women's room of the LDS church office building in Salt Lake City, where she made wonderful lifelong friendships with other women serving in various church capacities, both highly visible and less so. She was easy to love, because she gave love so easily and served so gracefully.

Sara's greatest ambition in life was to bring people closer to the Savior and help them feel His love. At various points in her life when people attempted to give her recognition she would always deflect it upward, giving the praise and thanks to our Heavenly Father. She taught her children never to be afraid of hard work and to always rely on prayer, to consistently look upward for guidance, and to never be afraid of people no matter where they were from or what beliefs they held to, but to love them first as brothers and sisters and worry about the rest later. She has now graduated from this life, and is celebrating a reunion in Heaven with those who love her who have waited for her there. She continues to be an example to the rest of us, so we can be reunited in the morning of the first resurrection.

Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 at 11:00am at the Payson Utah West Stake Center, 500 South 800 West in Payson, Utah. Family and friends may come to a Viewing on Monday, February 22, 2016 from 6pm-8pm at the Walker Funeral Home, 587 South 100 West in Payson, Utah 84651. Interment will be at the Payson City Cemetary with a gravesite dedication. Condolences may be sent to the family at, or at the family blog following Sara's cancer at