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

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I want to be a window to His love, so when you look at me you will see Him

The last post was by my husband, Will. This is one by Ciera's husband Bryant. Ciera and Bryant got married when I was 17 and I'm 35 now, which means he's been in my family for more of my life than he hasn't. This is his to share.


I'm not sure where to even start. My heart is full this day and I have so many things running through my mind. First of all I want to apologize for my inability to write like my wonderful sister in law Angie, her husband Will and my wife Ciera. They truly have gifts that I just have never been able to strengthen; that of being able to write eloquently and describe events and feelings that capture the essence of the situation.

Lets go back to the beginning of February 1998, right around Ciera’s 19th birthday. The setting would take place in Rexburg Idaho. I was going to meet a person who I later would call “mother in law” and would be one of the greatest Christ like examples in my life. I was so nervous to meet her knowing she would probably be my future mother in law due to the fact that Ciera and I had been talking about marriage. I wanted to put on a 1st good impression. We went to dinner and I was so nervous to not make a mistake and say something stupid. As we were finishing up dinner I reached across the table and knocked over a very large glass of lemonade that was completely full right into the lap of poor Ciera. Thats it, I had done it. I knew there was no way this wonderful lady Sara would ever let me marry her daughter now after that inexplicable mistake I had just made. Sara in her perfect way, laughed so much and calmly made a plan. Sara always had a perfect plan, not everything went as was expected and this was certainly one of those times. She said, “ok Bryant I will walk in front of Ciera and you behind as we leave that way no one will think she peed her pants and everything will be alright.” Ciera was so embarrassed and you can only imagine how I felt, but I knew from that day on I was going to blessed with a exceptional mother in law. She has always exemplified patience, kindness, strength, love and most of all spiritual power. I knew I would be in good hands joining the Newman family and boy was I right.

I have so many stories running through my mind of why she meant so much to me for the past 18 years and I would like to share a few. I hope someday to exemplify the life of Sara so my future daughter in law and sons in law can feel the same way I do for Sara. This will be my ultimate goal in life, to return with honor to my maker as Sara will be doing very soon.

I have never met a more service oriented, humble, giving person than Sara. I remember a very cold afternoon when we were visiting Sara and Mike in Utah one winter, and siting in the Smiths parking lot we noticed a homeless person walking who looked by first judgment, dirty cold and unfriendly. That is what I saw. Sara on the other hand saw a child of God. A man who just needed a helping hand. Someone whose luck had run dry and needed an angel to touch them. That would be sweet Sara. She without thinking stopped the van and ran to the back, opened the tailgate and pulled out an expensive sleeping bag she always carried just in case it would be needed for a “rainy day”. This was the rainy day she was always looking for. I always thought she was a bit crazy carrying all these items in her car for the just in case moment. It wasn't until that day that I realized why she did it. She was always looking for opportunities to help another soul who just needed a “pick me up”. Why hadn't I thought of it first? Because she has always been at a level of spirituality that we all hope to achieve some day. The look on that mans face when she gave him the sleeping bag I will never forget. He was so grateful for her gift and I knew from that moment I truly was witnessing an angel at work.

For any of you who know me especially by own parents know I am as competitive as they come. I was an athlete out of the womb. I lived for moments of competition and thrived on the win. I played every sport I could get my hands on and usually excelled in most of them. I really didn't know much other than sports, church and school. When I met Ciera- and you all know Ciera is one of the least competitive people I know- I would always beat her in everything we ever competed in. I wanted to win no matter what and hated to lose. I was gracious in the win or the loss, but I did everything I could in my power to make sure I won. I know what your thinking, wow Ciera how have you lived with this crazy for so long. I too have asked the same question but thank goodness she has been extremely patient with me all these years and just let me get my wins and never really complained about it. One afternoon we were at Sara's house playing croquet and for any of you that don't know, I love playing croquet and my brothers and I had some ferocious battles in Cokeville, WY at my Grandmas house growing up. We hated to lose to each other and that was just how it was. I don't think we talked to each other that much after a game of croquet, basketball or football. We loved each other but hated to lose to each other. I guess that just gave me a drive of exceeding in everything I did. 

Back to the backyard in Payson. I was going to show the family a thing or two about the game of crochet and no matter what, I was going to win. So I proceeded to set up the course and tell everyone MY rules of the game. Everyone agreed to my terms and we proceeded to play. I went through the course in a timely fashion and knocked out each player one by one in the only way I knew with much enjoyment. As I was doing my thing I didn't realize what Sara was doing during the game. She was helping every player go through the game so they would have every chance to win. She didn't care about anything else but to make sure all players had the pleasure of going through the course and winning. I was so caught up in my world of destroying all in the game that I missed what was really going on. She was once again up to her ways. She only had one purpose that day and all other days of competitive games we played and that was of making sure everyone won. It was her duty to keep a fair playing ground so as to not have any one get there feelings hurt. She was so perfect in doing this and the effect it had on me was tremendous. She always wanted to see others succeed and would do anything and everything to make sure that happened.

I always wondered why and how I deserved such a special person to come into my life. Sara never once treated me different than her own children. I felt like one of her own. She was so gracious and kind to me. I can’t remember a time she didn't give me a hug when I saw her. At first I wasn't sure how to respond since I'm not a touchy-feely kind of person but I always made sure to give that hug to her. Sara never missed a hug to me that I can remember. It became just one of those things we did when she or we came to visit. It don't think she ever missed giving me a hug and making me feel loved. I will miss those hugs so much and wish I had only returned the favor more over the years.

Sara had a love for her children and husband like no other I had ever seen before. It was just different. Its hard to explain, but she had only one purpose in life and that was to make sure her children knew the gospel, served their Father in Heaven, and become Christlike. It was never about worldly possessions, money, prestige or power. She wanted only her family to be successful in the Gospel and testimonies embedded in Christ our Savior. She served every moment of her life and gave so much to others. I don't need to explain how because you who know her and understand what I mean. She truly is an angel on this earth for one purpose to touch the lives of those whom she knew. To make them better. That was what she wanted, that we left her presence every time a better person. That was her success and competition to see others win around her. I believe that I was meant to come in her life so I could see where I need to be when my day comes.

Sara's yard, oh how perfect it was. Over the years I would relish in visiting Sara and talking about her yard and garden. I remember the first time we gave her a pond for her backyard for mothers day and she was so excited to put it in. Over the years we both loved making it bigger and better and she had the most beautiful yard on the block. When we went to visit she couldn't wait to show me the new projects she finished and I began to cherish those moments and learn from her. I have always loved yard work thanks to my father who taught me that. She knew my love of the outdoors and we both became yard work buddies. I loved helping her and giving and taking advise so we both could share what gave us so much joy together. I will miss those moments we shared together in the yard and over the phone. As I visited with her on Sunday which most likely would be my last conversation on this earth, I promised her I would take care of her yard and have her pond up and going this summer. I can't wait to fulfill that promise and hope she smiles down on me from Heaven when I do it. I will be waiting for her helping hand each summer as I make sure I fulfill that commitment to her. Her yard will be and is now and forever my new competition and I will win no matter what. For any of you that don't know me, when I commit to something, it will get done and be much better than it was before and I can promise you that this is no exception.

Sara had a love for skiing and horses. We both in fact spent hours talking about both together over the years. It was an easy match for Sara and I to do these activities together and couldn't wait for those opportunities. I remember skiing with her at Alta one day when her back was so much better and stronger. We both were so excited to go. She was brave to enter the hill with me because she knew I loved challenging hills and she made me promise I would be nice and take her on easier runs. By the middle of the day we went on a run that seemed easy but as we approach the end of it, it turned into a double black diamond. There was not way to turn around and go back. I knew I had made a mistake of taking her to this spot when I really didn't know where I was going and now we had to somehow get down the hill without major injury. As we approached the most difficult spot and there really was not other way out I apologized to her over and over and she was cautiously nervous but braved through it. I went down the hill first and waited at the bottom removed my skis and stayed where I could see her come down just in case she needed my help. She side stepped her skies the entire way down the hill of which took at least 1 hour to go probably 200 yards. I felt so bad for her and knew I would be in so much trouble once she got to the bottom. As she approached me I braced myself for a good whooping. She gave me a hug and said, “I did it!” with so much excitement. She did say to never take her on that again but she was so proud she had accomplished something she had never done before. I couldn't believe how she treated me and never held a grudge against me for doing that to her. She had every right to be mad, but that just isn't who Sara is. She would never want to tear into someone to just make herself feel better but on the contrary she always looks for the good in others and build them up. I deserved a whooping that day from her, yet that was far from her mind. She cherished being with me skiing and I loved going with her also. I will truly miss those sweet moments of watching her smiling face of accomplishment as she descended that vertical hill with such patience and power and celebrated with me instead of chastising me. She truly is an example of perfect kindness.

I remember the day we bought a corral and two horses. We had always talked about going on rides together and how fun it would be to own one. When both Mike and Sara came to visit us one summer day, we surprised both of them by taking them to our new corral to meet the horses. She lit up like a lightbulb. We talked about how fun it will be to ride them and she couldn't wait for her chance. Any time she visited us from that day on she always volunteered to go with me early in the morning and late at night to shovel manure and feed them. There is just something special about being with a horse and we both knew what that meant and loved being down with them. I could always count on her helping me every time they would visit. This last summer June 2015 things changed forever physically for Sara. We were enjoying a wonderful family reunion with Angie, Will and their family, Stephen and Judy, Mike and Sara and our family. Everyone was together. We decided to go to the horses to enjoy a ride through the trees and couldn't wait to spend that time all together. 

 It was Sara’s turn to go for a ride and she was excited but cautiously concerned that the horses would do well. I assured her that everything would be okay. All my horses are gentle and kind but like any animal things can happen when you least expect them. As we were just turning back home after a good 30 minute ride, a deer jumped out in front of my horse and caused him to jump to the side. I quickly looked back knowing her horse would jump also and she did. Sara wasn't quite ready for the sudden movement and tumbled to the ground shoulder first. She hit the ground hard and I dismounted like lightning to attend her. She moaned in so much pain and I knew from that moment on, life was about to change for Sara. She was later diagnosed with a broken back and it took months of recovery and she never was the same again. She was unfortunate to be in a car accident 3 months later but that horse accident was the start of it all. I blamed myself for the accident and to this day I can hardly talk about it without choking up. Sara, physically has never been the same since that accident. Everything that happened to her seemed to stem from that accident and I will always wonder what might have been if we hadn't gone on that ride, but I do know things happen for a reason in life.

I have always looked to Sara as that person who could overcome anything. She was so strong, she never let anything hold her back. I will not describe the events that occurred from August to now since Angie and Ciera have done so in previous blogs entries. What I will do now is describe my personal experience post cancer knowledge this last December. After receiving the horrific news from Ciera that she was diagnosed with the terminal disease brain cancer stage 4, we were trying figure out how we would cope with this and be strong together. I would eventually go through a very difficult time personally. My faith would take a hit like it had never had before. I have always had a strong testimony of the gospel and of my Savior Jesus Christ but this was different. I couldn't understand why someone so perfect and righteous was given such a challenging trial. Why her? Why now? Why terminal? Why haven't prayers been answered the way we thought they would or should be? Why did she have to be burdened with this trial? Why Why Why? That is all I could ask and think of. 

 I was going through my own battles and I was now mad. Mad at the world, mad at my God who had never let me down, left me or failed me. Mad at cancer and the even thought of what it was doing and would do to Sara. I was just mad and emotionally frustrated to the point of complete numbness. As I was sitting discussing this with Ciera, she brought my world into perspective so flawlessly. She said, “ How can I deny the God that will soon hold my mother in his arms?” She said it so perfectly. It hit me with a ton of bricks. I was experiencing something I had never been through before. I had lost my Grandparents and a wonderful hunting friend in the past who had lived both long lives and it was there time. I just couldn't understand why at 59 years old it was now Sara's time. She was and is perfect in my eyes. It was time for our Heavenly Father to have her and I was being selfish in not seeing this. She has completed her mission on this earth and how beautiful it was. 

 I don't remember a time in the 18 years of knowing Sara that she ever spoke ill of someone, didn't look for a service opportunity, gave her all to the Gospel and her Savior and loved her incredible husband Mike with a more unselfish love than I had ever seen before. They both are perfect examples of what I want and need to be some day. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to love this lady and be loved by her. She is perfection at its best in my eyes. I will never know why this had to happen to her, but I do know that she is needed across the veil to a place that only my imperfect imagination can comprehend. A place of holiness. I know that she has a place set aside next to God. How couldn't she have one? She did everything she was asked to do physically spiritually and mentally on this earth. It is now my responsibility to be more like her that I may return to where she is and be with her again. Until that day comes a day will not go by that I will not think of her and will miss her immensely. I love you Sara and thank you from the depth of my soul for who you are what you are and your undeniable faith in all that was good. Until we meet again, your loving son Bryant.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Well, I'm Off

This is another "not a guest post" by my husband, Will. He hasn't featured as prominently in these posts as all the others, because his gift and sacrifice in all of this has been staying behind in Texas to run our lives and care for our sons so that I can be with my parents. He continues to do so, knowing that his goodbyes and support are on a different time table than the rest of us but doing it anyway and essentially supporting our family financially, emotionally, and physically while I stay to do everything I can to be with my mom and dad. Because my husband is awesome.

Here is his post:

Well, I’m off

There is no easy way to say goodbye. Goodbye isn’t even a full word, just a huge contraction of the phrase “God be with you”. When you and someone your love are separated for a short time all you can do is hope that God will watch over them until you are together again. What do you say when you know you will be separated for a long time? My Dad has dealt with this as he has handled trusts and estates and met with people to “put their finances in order” before they die. He likes the phrase, “Well, I’m off.” It’s simple and true without any subtext of the elephant in the room that is death. Very fitting for my Dad. I usually prefer a bigger exit and build up the idea of a goodbye in my head and needing the say the perfect, long-lasting, quotable words that will ring through the time that we are apart. But what are those big words?

I knew this day was coming. As Sara’s family was trying to see her, be with her, and feel of the comfort that always surrounds her my job was to stay in Texas, take care of our kids, and support Angie. A big part of that includes my job. I am very blessed to be have a great job where I can work for home most of the time so I have spent most of the school year at home making sure the kids get off to school, being here when they get home, making sure homework gets done, and making sure I get my work done while they are away or doing their homework. Working from home also means that I need to make sure I stay connected with my coworkers in the various offices. A large company meeting had been scheduled in Provo for February for months. When I saw Sara at Christmas I already knew I would come in for the meetings early and spend Feb 7th with her and that would be the last time I would see her on this side of death.

I flew in the night of Feb 6th and had a nice dinner with my siblings. I can’t remember a lot of what was said, just that I enjoyed being with them, laughing at funny stories and commiserating on all the hard parts of life. We are all solidly focused on our serious 30’s. Let me explain that comment. My oldest brother once told me that life is a cycle of work and freedom with your teens spent focused on school and getting into university, your 20’s you graduate from university and have real money and freedom, then in your 30’s you get serious with a career to move up the ranks and have a family, 40’s is a midlife crisis and you take back your freedom, 50’s you focus on career and saving for retirement, and 60’s you retire and are free again. We don’t talk about our 70’s or longer because my family doesn’t live very long. I only met one Grandma and she died at 66 when I was 4, 11 years after her husband had died at 61. The other Grandpa died at 74, 16 years after his wife died on April Fools Day at 51 when my Dad was 16. He hadn’t mention that part until recently. This is one of the reasons that my family talks clearly and too frequently about my parent’s health, final wishes, and what happens when they die. The other reason is that logistical planning is how most of us deal with emotions that are too big to feel.

I stayed in my parents' house overnight and talked with them so long in the morning that they missed church. Again, I don’t remember a lot of what was said, I just enjoyed being with them and hearing about the small and funny things that make up the frustrations of retired life. What I do remember is my Dad’s advice for seeing Sara and that I didn’t know how to say goodbye. He of course took me too literally and gave me the line of “Well, I’m off.”

I drove down a bit later than I had planned on. During the drive I got text messages from my in-laws and Siri told me they were about food being ready, detailed questions about my agenda, and then an apology as they realized I couldn’t safely answer detailed questions and drive. Clearly Sara’s habits live on well in her kids.

I walked through the door and was warmly met with kind greetings and hot food while the dogs jumped around me. I ate and we talked, again enjoying the great comfort that is family. After lunch we went upstairs to see Sara and have a small church service at home. I’m still not sure of how I fit in the dynamics of my in-laws, so I did what I knew Angie would do and sat down close to Sara and held her hand. Church services with family is something I’ve only been able to do a few times in my life, but a family singing, praying, and testifying of God together is a powerful thing. Sara shared her testimony. We recorded the last half of it but I don’t need the recording as it was not eloquent or drawn-out but rather a simple speaking of the truths that guided her life. God lives, family is important and we will be together as a family again, be grateful for the many good things in life, and be patient with the bad times. After the closing prayer I stayed and talked with the family there in the room with Sara throwing in a comment here and there. I changed a setting on her phone to fix a problem she was having and then fixed another issue on their laptop. After a few more minutes it was clear she needed to rest so we went downstairs.

Ciera’s family had to leave for their long cold drive. Steve and Judy stayed and we talked and played board games together. The idea of last words kept going through my head as I knew I really was just stalling out the evening until Sara would be awake again and I would have my last moments with her. After 8 rounds of trying to track down and defeat Dracula (Steve has a great collection of board games) Mike came down to bring up some pie and we got to talk to Sara again.

Maybe I’m getting old as I again have to admit that I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I remember Sara being so excited that she could eat anything that she wanted. I laughed at this dark silver lining and also was sad for the ideals and shaming we put on everyone but especially women about what they can and can’t eat. Then I remembered the last days of Steve Jobs and how his cancer made him not want to eat. One of his last meals was a few bites of a pie, the same as Sara was eating. Clearly my mind was trying to grasp onto anything to help distract me from being overwhelmed.

The other thing I remember are the last words. Sara didn’t have a lot of energy so after a few minutes I knew I had to go. Finally I said it, “Well, I’m off.” I knew I didn’t want it to be my last words so as I hugged Sara I told her to get some rest. She could always use the reminder to take some time to take care of herself and I love the subtext that we had everything under control. I wanted to reassure Sara that the million things that she had taken care of for so long were being handled.

“I love you, Will.” The tiny words came out so naturally to her now as they had since I passed her interview to be able to marry Angie.

“I love you too, Sara.”

“So much.” A simple I love you has never been enough for Sara. To make sure we really know, she always follows it with “So much”.

“So much.”

I should have known that Sara would again set the example for me. I had spent days and weeks thinking through the best thing to say. Sara’s last words to me were the biggest words she knew, “I love you.”

Thursday, February 11, 2016

So many years have gone though I'm older but a year

The hardest part about starting anything like this is finishing it. This isn't the last entry, please breathe, I'm just whining because these are getting harder to write. Time seems to be fighting with itself (or messing with me) because every minute stretches out to infinity and I live a week in every 24 hour period, but the date on the calendar flashes by almost too fast to catch. I need a Jane the roommate so I can know what day it is, too.

Mom is home now. She was so very happy to be home; happy to be somewhere she knew, somewhere quiet, and most of all that first week, somewhere she could take a nap in a dark room by herself and not be woken up every few hours to tell someone else what her name is, where she is, what day it is, and try to squeeze their fingers. She slept on a bed in her own room and said it was the best sleep she'd had in years. When my parents asked the hospice nurse about what my mom should and shouldn't eat and how much and when, the answer was, "Oh honey, you eat whatever you want. It's up to you." In fact the only downside was having hospice nurses at all- the word "Hospice" is unpleasant in sound and denotation, and so we were all forbidden to use it. The two nurses who come to care for my mom are her "Graduation Prep Team" and we're all on board.

Everything about coming home was better for my mom. The only problems were that she needs someone with her all the time, since she can't move anywhere under her own power. We needed someone with her at all times to cover all the extra fluff stuff beyond breathing and sleeping; you know, things like food, water, warmth, etc. And my dad works full time and needs to keep his job, although they had been nothing but kind and supportive of everything my parents have needed. The solution came from a comment the hospital social worker made to my dad. "People keep asking how they can help, right?" He nodded. "Use Excel to make a volunteer schedule."

My dad took that idea and ran with it, and gave it over to one of my mom's best friends and my favorite people from her ward and from their street. She took the Excel spreadsheet and made sure not only someone was always with my mom, but it was someone my mom already knew and loved. It was amazing. It continues to be amazing, because it's been over a month and there's never been a time when we had to scramble to find someone to cover. Instead it's been more of a fight of limitations, "No, only two hours." "No, we already have someone today." "She had family fly in from out of town, so we won't need you tomorrow. No, you can't come anyway. Yes, you'll get another turn." The outpouring of love and support wasn't like a cup running over so much as a barrel under Niagara Falls. We didn't have room for all of it.

And through it all my mom remained kind, patient, and loving. Not always peaceful, calm, and grateful, though- this was all taking it's toll on her, straining her emotional reserves and pushing a feedback loop of grief. We could talk about it, abstractly, what it might be like on the other side and the people waiting there, or theorize about what new tasks and teaching she might be given. She'd been told that this was a sanctifying experience for her, and we were all trying to be properly humble and faithful about it.

But it was hard. It still is hard. There is an incalculable difference between knowing something and believing something. Thinking in my brain, "This is the right thing, my mom dying is the right thing, it's what Heavenly Father wants," is a far cry from my heart being fine with my mom being taken away. She was struggling with this too. How could this possibly be okay, let alone right?

Mom had a visit from a good friend with high connections and they had an important, and very personal, long talk. After that she had some direct answers to private prayers, and both of those have given her a lot of peace. For her having peace I am profoundly grateful. She believes this is right; not just thinks it, she feels this is the right thing at the right time, and I'm going to have to lean on her belief until I can find some of my own.

Everyone asks me how she's doing or how I'm doing or if I'm okay. I'm not okay. It's going to be a long time before I am okay again. That's how these things work, the way it's supposed to be. I have hope. I have faith. But I found a better answer for how my mom is, and for the underlying question, the question everyone actually wants to have answered but doesn't want to ask. How long.

The following list I've taken from a website called It's a site designed for those who work in hospice who are given care of patients with illnesses and diseases specific to the brain, and who may not be as familiar with the care and prognosis of that type of patient. The site is written by a hospice worker with a brain cancer care specialty.

She begins with this caveat:
"This list is a very, very loose guideline based on what has happened to other people, but it may be helpful in beginning important discussions with the patient's doctor and family. In order to serve as a helpful guide, most of what's listed under each time heading would need to be occurring. Remember, though, that everyone is different. Too, patients in their 20s and 30s as well as those whose brain tumor journeys have already been quite long tend to spend longer in each of these stages."

Before going into the symptom list.

    3-6 Weeks Prior to Death

       Increasing weakness on the affected side
       Falling due to resistance to accept help
       Need for more assistance with walking, transfers

       Urinary/bowel incontinence may begin
       Confusion and memory loss
       Harder to sustain a conversation
       May say some odd things that make you think "Where did that come from?"
       May ask less about the next treatments or appointments
       May ask clear, rational questions about death, arrangements, etc.

       Increasingly tired, more easily "wiped out" after simple activities or outings
       Headaches may indicate increased swelling
       More likely to nap or to phase in and out of sleep

    2-3 Weeks Prior to Death

       May begin to see weakness starting on the non-affected side
       Affected hand may curl in or be kept close to the center of the body
       Legs begin to buckle, eventually leading to dead weight when attempting to stand
       If still walking, may wander around the house a little, as if restless
       May find it difficult to hold the head up straight or may slump over
       Urine becomes dark (often described as "tea-colored")
       Less warning before urination (more urgency)
       Less interest in matters of the home and family, hobbies, or world at large
       Detached, without curiosity
       Harder to have an effective adult-peer conversation
       General restlessness/agitation
       Word-finding difficulties (conversation may be very slow)
       Confusion over what time of day it is (sundowner's syndrome)
       Speech may be slurring or trailing off, unfinished
       May begin saying things that sound like awareness that time is growing short
       May begin to seem more "childlike"
       Confused by choices; yes/no questions seem to work best

       Losing interest in transferring or leaving the house
       Seems to feel safest on one particular piece of furniture
       Begins to have problems swallowing, if not already
       Appetite may become sporadic
       May be sleeping 20+ hours a day, with short alert times between sleep
       May doze back off after eating
       May describe vision changes such as double vision, loss of peripheral vision, or black spots
       No longer interested in activities that require close vision, such as reading

    1-2 Weeks Prior to Death
       Often, completely bedridden
       Younger patients may still be stubborn about getting up, though requiring assistance
       May hold on to the bedrail or to a caregiver's hand, hair, or clothing very tightly

       Usually incontinent by now
       May continue to express urinary urgency, without producing anything

       May find loud or multiple sounds irritating
       After waking, seems confused for several minutes
       Staring across the room, up toward the ceiling, or "through" you
       May look at TV but seem not to be watching it
       May make mention of "getting ready" or "having to go," without knowing where
       May refer to travel, packing, or gathering clothes
       May talk about tying up loose ends (specific to the individual)
       May mention seeing visions in the room (I've heard everything from horses to angels to deceased mothers-in-law)
       Communication seems to take more effort and makes the patient winded or tired
       Doesn't initiate conversation as much, though still giving brief responses to questions
       Agitation may build
       Likes to keep the primary caregiver in sight and may panic when he or she is not in the room
       May seem especially irritable with large groups of visitors or young children (probably because understanding conversations requires more work)

       Sleeping "almost all the time"
       Can sleep even in a room full of activity and noise
       Harder to rouse from sleep
       Brief, scattered periods of alertness
       Increased difficulty swallowing pills or liquids
       Vision deficits increase
       Eyes may look glassy, milky, cloudy, like "elderly eyes" or "fish eyes"
       May reach toward the head during sleep (may indicate headache pain)
       May have a distended abdomen
       Vital signs are likely to still be good
       May begin to have need for pain management

    5-7 Days Prior to Death

       May restlessly move the legs, as though uncomfortable
       Most patients would no longer be leaving the bed by this stage
       May reach up or out with the arms
       May pick at the bed linens as if covered with small objects
       As liquid intake decreases, output also decreases
       The bowel becomes quite sluggish and there may be few/no bowel movements

       Minimally responding to caregiver's questions
       May begin sentences but not be able to finish them
       May say things that are impossible to make out or things that don't make sense
       May chant something ("Ohboyohboyohboy..." or "Ohmyohmyohmy...")
       May continue to seem restless and fidgety, as if late for something
       May be irritated by strong sounds or odors

       May be taking only minimal amounts of food (a spoonful or two, here and there); some, however, continue to eat well until about 48 hours before death
       Decreasing intake of fluids
       Administration of meds becomes harder or impossible
       Dosing of meds becoming sporadic due to sleep schedule
       May find it hard to clear the throat as mucus increases
       The voice may lower and deepen
       May have a wet cough
       Vital signs often still good
       Nearly always sleeping or resting
       May be uncomfortable being moved during clothing or linen changes
       Dramatic withering of the legs due to inactivity (skin 'n' bones)
       May have a low-grade fever

    2-5 Days Prior to Death

       Motor movements (eg, waving or hugging) are likely to appear weak
       Unable to help the caregiver by leaning or moving during linen changes

       Bowel activity likely will have stopped
       Urine output will lessen considerably
       Urine color usually lightens

       Very little interaction, often no initiation
       Speech may be quite slurred and hard to understand
       May sit in the room with others and say nothing for hours
       Could be described as "neither here nor there"
       Restlessness and agitation give way to calm
       Hands and feet may become cool
       Forehead and cheeks may be warm or hot
       Thighs and abdomen may be warm or hot
       Hard to keep the eyelids open, even when awake
       May spend a couple of days with the eyes closed, even though still slightly responsive
       Minimal interest in food
       May turn or clench lips to indicate refusal of food or pills
       May seem unaware of how to use a straw
       May have had last decent fluid intake
       May bring mucus up into the mouth with a productive cough
       Last Decadron dose may be administered (either intentionally or due to difficulty of administration)
       Some drugs may be given only by suppository or dropper now
       Vital signs often still normal, but some report cardiac changes (eg, racing heart)

    Final 8-48 Hours

       Very difficult to rouse from sleep or elicit a response from
       May have no response or only nonverbal communication (eg, winks, waves, or nods)
       May seem relaxed and comfortable
       Usually very minimal or no urine output
       Reaches a point of unresponsive sleep (coma), which can last from 1 hour to most of the day
       No longer any involuntary movement during sleep (no fidgets or eye movements)
       Mouth may slacken and eyes may remain partially open during sleep, as voluntary muscle control is lost
       Vital signs may be OK until just hours before death
       Blood pressure may drop significantly
       Heart rate may be twice-normal (120-180 beats per minute)


She continues through the final hours and even after, but essentially the patient falls asleep and won't wake up, then fades away. No pain, no mess, no fear.

That is what we're looking at now, what we're waiting for. Most of her symptoms and reactions put us somewhere in the 1-2 weeks range. It isn't an exact science, and even now I still can't decide if sharing this is a good idea or not. I feel all out of good ideas and all I have left differ only in the level of damage they might do. I haven't lost faith; she's going to be okay, and I will see her again. My mom is the most amazing example of charity through action and neither I nor anyone who knows her is concerned about where she's going after this.

It's hard because I don't know how to do this life thing without her. Two months ago we were sitting next to each other on her bed eating lunch and talking about how my sons would come to her house for food when they came to BYU for college, and how I was going to rely on her to spy on my sons' girlfriends for me. We talked about how much fun it would be to have a family reunion at Disneyland. Or anywhere at all.

Case in point- I took a break at the end of that last paragraph because mom woke up. I went in to see her and talk to her and she held out her arm for a hug. While she held me, without having any knowledge of what I was writing about or even doing before, she said, "Ang, I'm sorry this is hard." Then she told me she loved me and she's grateful to be my mom.

I told her not to apologize, that I loved her, and I was so grateful she's my mom and I was proud of her. Still, immediately, when I'm hurting, my mom is there. I can't believe how blessed I have been my whole life to have her on my side, at my back, leading me forward. Most of today I spent with her lying in bed and me slouched down in a comfy chair next to her, holding hands and napping.

Oh, mom, I love you so much.