Tuesday 15 December 2020

Gifts for Christmas

There's nothing I can say about the past few months except that they've been hard and my heart hurts, not only for my own family but for the families of so many others throughout the world who have experienced pain and suffering in so many ways during 2020. This has been an unprecedented year of losses that few of us saw coming, and yet we've been expected to roll with the punches and do what we're told instead of being able to make many of our own decisions like we have in the past. This isn't about casting blame for things that cannot be changed. It's about acceptance and moving on with hope and love for others despite many setbacks and challenges.

My brother died the day after Thanksgiving. He was diagnosed with Covid on Sunday and left us on Friday morning right after the nurse at Good Samaritan read him the messages one of my sisters and I had sent to him a couple of days before. He didn't have a cell phone, and it wasn't always easy to reach someone at the nursing home who could get one to him, but we did the best we could to keep in touch. He'd been isolated from the other residents for months because he left the center three times a week for wound care. While his death was listed among those of dying with the virus, I believe it was simply his time to go return to his heavenly home and be with our parents and others who had watched over him throughout his life. In that respect, I can't be sorry because he is no longer in pain, but I will miss him so very much.

Many of you will remember seeing the picture of my family that I posted a few weeks ago. He's the happy, smiling boy in front with the withered right arm who has taught me more about overcoming adversity and living with joy than any other person I have ever known. I think I've mentioned his story a few times in the past, but I do believe that recalling a few of the things he's lived through is appropriate at this time of year when we celebrate the birth of our Savior who died while hanging on a cross for each of us so that we could repent of the things we do that our wrong and still return home to him.

Sandon was run over by a tandem disk when he was three. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a piece of farm equipment that loosens the soul so it can be planted in the spring. I was five and supposed to be watching him, but he somehow slipped away and tried to climb on the tractor behind daddy without being seen. The unthinkable happened, and when our father looked behind him after thinking he had run over a rock, he saw my brother's body wrapped in and out between the monstrous blades. With superhuman strength, he lifted the disk in one hand and pulled Sandon's lifeless body out with the other. 

My brother was in a coma for six weeks. When he came out of it, he was left with complete paralysis on the right side of his body and the accompanying brain damage that controlled many of his motor skills. He had to learn how to breath and talk again and spent his entire life trying to walk and do things like other kids did. He endured a dozen surgeries the doctors hoped would help, but it was the 1950s and 60s. He was the only person who had survived such an accident and physical therapy wasn't even a career choice back then. So my father, the doctors and other people they knew did the best they could to help him. I won't go into any of the details because it's a long, complicated story with so much pain and suffering. 

But my brother never gave up hope, and he never blamed anyone for what had happened. Even when our father died when he was 10, he tried to become the man of the house and did everything he could to make sure the rest of us were okay. He graduated from high school and eventually married and became the father of six beautiful children. But like so many of us, he lost his way for a time and ended up getting divorced. That led to some poor choices where he eventually fell into a fire pit and couldn't get out. The people he was with dropped him off in front of the emergency room doors and disappeared.  When I saw him in the burn center at the University of Utah hospital a few days later, his body was swollen to twice its normal size. (It took time for the police to figure out who he was because he had no identity with him.)  No one believed he would survive, but he did. He spent the last 12 years of his life in nursing home and eventually lost the ability to move around on his own. But what he didn't lose was an indomitable spirit that kept right on fighting until the end. He never complained and he brightened the days of other residents with his ready smile, quick wit and ability to love, even after all he had suffered by the hands of people who didn't understand that he was just like everyone else inside. He wanted to feel important and capable of doing things on his own. I wish I had even half of his courage.

I guess the real beauty of this season for me is knowing that God and my Savior live and death isn't the end for anyone. It's just the beginning of the next part of living. Although I'm not ready to start that part of my journey yet, I do look forward to seeing people who have gone before and made such an impact on my life. It will be a glorious reunion for all of us when we get to that point. That knowledge gives me hope for a much brighter future, even though the world is in extreme chaos right now.

I want to conclude with something I read this morning that brought home how important it is for each of us to look out for our neighbors even when going through tough times ourselves. I love thinking of ways to brighten other people's days. It makes mine feel a little less dark when the clouds appear and the sun is hidden from view for a few hours or days. My hope is that everyone is having a glorious Christmas season despite personal struggles. It is a glorious time to be alive.

I saw a cashier hand a little boy his money back at the mall, the boy couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 years old. The Cashier said, 'I'm sorry, but you don't have enough money to buy this doll.'' The little boy turned to the old woman next to him, ''Granny, are you sure I don't have enough money?'' She replied, ''You know that you don't have enough money to buy this doll, my dear.'' Then she asked him to stay there for just 5 minutes while she went to look around. She left quickly. The little boy was still holding the doll in his hand. Finally, I walked toward him and I asked him who he wished to give this doll to. 'It's the doll that my sister loved most and wanted so much for Christmas. She was sure that Santa Claus would bring it to her.' I replied to him that maybe Santa Claus would bring it to her after all, and not to worry. But he replied to me sadly. 'No, Santa Claus can't bring it to her where she is now. I have to give the doll to my mommy so that she can give it to my sister when she goes there.' His eyes were so sad while saying this, 'My Sister has gone to be with God. Daddy says that Mommy is going to see God very soon too, so I thought that she could take the doll with her to give it to my sister.'' My heart nearly stopped. The little boy looked up at me and said, 'I told daddy to tell mommy not to go yet. I need her to wait until I come back from the mall.' Then he showed me a very nice photo of himself. He was laughing. He then told me 'I want mommy to take my picture with her so she won't forget me.' 'I love my mommy and I wish she didn't have to leave me, but daddy says that she has to go to be with my little sister.' Then he looked again at the doll with sad eyes, very quietly. I quickly reached for my wallet and said to the boy. 'Suppose we check again, just in case you do have enough money for the doll!'' OK' he said, 'I hope I do have enough.' I added some of my money to his without him seeing and we started to count it. There was enough for the doll and even some spare money. The little boy said, 'Thank you God for giving me enough money!' Then he looked at me and added, 'I asked last night before I went to sleep for God to make sure I had enough money to buy this doll, so that mommy could give it to my sister. He heard me!'' 'I also wanted to have enough money to buy a white rose for my mommy, but I didn't dare to ask God for too much. But He gave me enough to buy the doll and a white rose.'' 'My mommy loves white roses.' A few minutes later, the old lady returned and I left with my basket. I finished my shopping in a totally different state of mind from when I started. I couldn't get the little boy out of my mind. Then I remembered a local newspaper article two days ago, which mentioned a drunk man in a truck, who hit a car occupied by a young woman and a little girl. The little girl died right away and the mother was left in a critical state. The family had to decide whether to pull the plug on the life-sustaining machine because the young woman would not be able to recover from the coma. Was this the family of the little boy? Two days after this encounter with the little boy I read in the newspaper that the young woman had passed away. I couldn't stop myself as I bought a bunch of white roses and I went to the funeral home where the body of the young woman was for people to see and make last wishes before her burial. She was there, in her coffin, holding a beautiful white rose in her hand with the photo of the little boy and the doll placed over her chest. I left the place, teary-eyed, feeling that my life had been changed forever. The love that the little boy had for his mother and his sister is still, to this day, hard to imagine, and in a fraction of a second, a drunk driver had taken all this away from him.