“Peace in the Shadow of Death,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, 33
As I stood by my husband’s hospital bed, I glanced toward the window. It was 10:30 P.M. and light from the moon and stars flooded the room. As I held Lynn’s hand, I reflected on the past two weeks.
The morning of 26 June 1980, Lynn, who had suffered for years with a serious colitis condition, wasn’t feeling well. He wasn’t certain if he was hemorrhaging, or if it was just going to be another bad day. We had returned only three weeks before from a two-week stay in the hospital, and the thirteen trips we had made to Salt Lake from our Idaho home during the past eight months had taken their toll on both of us.
Lynn lay down to rest while I ran some errands. When I returned home he was so ill that I immediately drove him to the doctor’s office. He was bleeding internally, so we made the decision to fly to a Salt Lake hospital as quickly as possible.
While the nurse made arrangements for an air ambulance flight, I hurried home to get some things ready for the trip and to try to explain to the children what was happening. We had left suddenly several times before under similar circumstances, and I knew they would be extremely frightened and worried about their father. I called Lynn’s parents and my mother, who said that she would have my sister Kathy come to our house to stay with the children. I returned to the hospital to get Lynn, and we boarded the plane.
My sister, Ann Halversen, met us at the Salt Lake airport and drove us to the LDS Hospital. We arrived at the emergency room about 7:00 P.M.; by 10:30 Lynn was settled into the intensive care unit, under heavy medication to stop the bleeding. I stayed at his bedside through the night. They doubled the dosage of medication during the next day, but the hemorrhaging continued.
One of the rare side effects of a serious colitis condition is called sclerosing cholangitis of the liver—which means that the ducts in the liver close off so the blood can’t flow through them to continue its purifying process. When this occurs, the blood backs up and puts pressure on other veins. Because of the pressure on the veins in Lynn’s esophagus, the veins were finally bursting and causing the hemorrhaging. Since the medication wasn’t stopping the bleeding, the doctor finally ordered a Blakemore tube to be inserted through his nose and throat and down into his esophagus. The procedure was extremely painful. After the tube was in place, weights were attached to the end of it, and the tube was strung on a metal frame from the head to the foot of his bed. The weights forced balloons on the end of the tube inside his chest to inflate. If pressure from the balloons was put on the veins in the right places, the bleeding would supposedly stop. This was a drastic, last-step measure to save Lynn’s life while he received transfusions to offset the blood loss.
When the bleeding finally stopped a few days later, the doctor was hesitant to remove the tube, as it would have to be reinserted if the bleeding started again. When the doctor mentioned the possibility of reinserting the tube, Lynn shook his head. After years of X rays and tests, and finally a colostomy surgery, that was the first time he had ever really objected to a procedure. He had endured this illness for fifteen years and had handled it bravely. He never complained during hard hours of distress when he certainly had a reason to do so. Wonderfully optimistic, he adopted a favorite saying—“It’ll be all right after the Resurrection.” Through it all, he had earned the right to decide when he could endure no more.
The doctor removed the tube, and the bleeding didn’t start again. Lynn had received a total of twenty-four pints of blood. He was very weak and often only semiconscious. Time faded in and out for him, and for three days and nights he didn’t rest. It was during this time that he spoke his last words to me: “I love you and don’t want to lose you.”
His words brought tears to my eyes, and I remembered an experience seven months earlier.
Lynn had been in the same hospital recovering from surgery. Coming to visit one wintry evening, I stepped from the elevator into the corridor and came face to face with President Spencer W. Kimball, who was also a patient at the hospital. I had an overwhelming desire to stop and talk to him because I was so concerned. He had such a glow about him! After that chance meeting and the feelings I felt, I was left without a doubt that he is a prophet of God. The thought immediately passed through my mind that everything would be all right. As I walked on down the hospital corridor, I turned several times to look back at the prophet as he was helped to his room.
I hurried to Lynn, anxious to share my feelings. He recognized immediately that I had indeed had a spiritual experience, and I was overjoyed as he shared in my excitement.
A few months later, in early June, on the last Sunday Lynn was able to go to church with us as a family, the bishop had called Lynn and me into his office for a visit. There, he asked me to be the Spiritual Living teacher in Relief Society. I was so shocked that I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t very well acquainted with the scriptures; in fact, Lynn had been after me for years to take more time to study them. I had never said no to a Church calling from the bishop, but I didn’t see how I could possibly spend the time studying that would be required if I was going to learn the material well enough to present it to the sisters of the ward. I finally said yes, and Lynn told the bishop that he was sure I would find a way to fulfill this assignment. I left the office feeling humble and in tears.
Lesson manual in hand, I went to my room to pray. I told Heavenly Father I knew there must be a reason for this calling since I felt so unqualified. With the pressures of Lynn’s illness, the children, and the farm work, I simply didn’t know when I could find time for the daily study it would require to prepare a lesson. After my prayers, the answer was simple: get up at 5:30 A.M. and spend a half hour in study and prayer. I tried it, and it worked.
I turned from the window. Those had been sweet experiences—feeling the Spirit’s comfort and guidance. I had been at peace, then. But now, things were different. It was clear that Lynn was dying, and I couldn’t bear to face that.
As I sat waiting hour after hour during Lynn’s hospitalization, I studied my Relief Society lesson and some of the scriptures that supported it. The lesson was on sacrifice, and the concept was rapidly taking on a completely new meaning for me. I knew that Lynn was dying, and for me to give him up seemed a terrible sacrifice. Although I sensed that my experiences during the last few months had been preparing me to do just that, there was still a part of me that wasn’t ready to let him go. I wanted a miracle to save my husband.
Very often someone will stand up in Church and tell how they fasted and prayed and a miracle happened and someone was healed. I wanted that blessing for us and I felt we had earned it. Lynn had always lived an exemplary life; if anyone deserved and had truly earned a miracle, it was this man. I had a testimony of the gospel, and I knew as I prayed to Heavenly Father that if it was his desire to do so, he could save Lynn.
Early one evening, when we had been at the hospital nearly two weeks, a staff psychologist took me aside and explained that Lynn’s vital signs had changed drastically and that it would be just a short time until he died. I walked back to his bedside, knowing that I could do nothing to delay the inevitable. The night before, as I closed my prayer with the words, “If it be thy will,” I knew that we wouldn’t have the miracle I so desperately wanted. The psychologist’s words only confirmed what I already knew.
I understood that in order for me to accept Lynn’s death I needed the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, with me. I couldn’t be angry for not getting the miracle I wanted. I somehow had to accept this event and have a good feeling in my heart; if I didn’t, the Holy Ghost could not attend me.
Not knowing what else to do, I picked up my scriptures. The Bible fell open to the twenty-third Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Ps. 23:4.) The message struck me with great force, and I was comforted. I knew a loving Father in Heaven was with us.
As I closed the scriptures and went to Lynn, his heartbeat was slowing down. I leaned over the bed, laid my head next to his, and held him in my arms. As I talked to him I felt that he heard me and knew of my feelings, even though he was unconscious. For a time I was desperately unhappy. I didn’t want to be parted from him, even for the rest of this life. Then I felt his arms encircle me, bringing me strength and comfort. The pressure of his arms was tangible, and I had to look at his arms lying beside him on the bed to realize that it was not his physical arms that were around me. At that moment, I sensed that we were not alone in the room, that other spirits were attending us.
Finally, as I lay close to him, I felt Lynn’s heart stop beating, and I was surprised to find I was truly happy for him. The serene look on his face assured me that his sacrifice had been received with joy, and that he was at peace. I continued to hold him for a time, but then I realized that after his spirit was gone from the earthly tabernacle there was little reason to stay.
I remained in the room for about fifteen minutes. As I stood there the warmth of the Comforter filled my whole being, bringing with it peace. Our doctor came to visit with me then. He expressed his admiration for Lynn, for the way he had handled his difficult illness, and for his extraordinary will to live.
As I left the hospital with my sister, Ann, I knew that I was leaving the hospital for the last time, and this time I was alone. But I was comforted. Lynn was finally free of pain, and I knew that he was happy. My brother-in-law, Gary, gave me a blessing when we got to their home. I soon went to bed and slept peacefully for the first time in many nights.
I arrived home to my children the next day. As I drove up the road to the beautiful home Lynn and I had built together, a terror started to rise within me. I realized that Lynn would never be there again—ever! I struggled with this horrible reality for a few moments; then I felt those same spiritual arms encircle me as they had in the hospital, and was again filled with peace. I was to experience this very tangible comfort several times in the days to come, and each time I knew that Lynn was with me.
My sister Kathy stayed with me for most of the week following Lynn’s death. Then on a Wednesday evening I took her to dad and mother’s home at the ranch. I wanted to talk to mother, but she had gone to work in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The next day, Thursday, I tried again to talk to mother—this time on the telephone. Usually she visits me on Friday, her day off, but I felt she had spent so much time tending my children and helping me that this Friday she should stay home and catch up on her own work and rest.
Kathy answered the phone and said that mother was out in the garden working. She asked me if I wanted her to call mother to the phone; I said, “No, I hate to have her stop working and come all the way to the house. You can relay the message for me.” But the words suddenly flashed through my mind: “Tell her yourself, Carol, tell her yourself.” I ignored them—and missed the opportunity of talking to my mother for the last time. She was killed in an automobile accident on her way to work later that afternoon, exactly seven days after Lynn died.
My mother’s sudden death, coming so soon after Lynn’s passing, was an important turning point in my life. I had believed that I was living close to my Heavenly Father. I had felt close to him and to the Holy Ghost throughout the time of Lynn’s death and the week following. I had believed that I was listening to the Holy Ghost, or at least I was trying to, for I was counting on him to help me. And yet he had actually spoken to me with an important message; I had not listened; and so I had missed talking to my mother. I was reminded forcefully of just how hard I must strive to stay spiritually in tune, so that I will be prepared to listen and accept the help that I’m given.
It was at that point I determined to stay as close to my Heavenly Father as I could. I needed him. There was no one else left to rely on.
In the lonely days, months, and years since the loss of my beloved husband and mother, Heavenly Father has indeed become my constant source of strength. I have prayed often to him for sustenance. And I have been blessed beyond measure. Truly, “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”