“The Chance to Say ‘I Love You’” Ensign, Jan. 1987, 18
The death of my Uncle Pat years ago, before I found and joined the Lord’s church, was the beginning of a series of events that showed me that it is never too late to say “I love you.” This is my story about a lesson in eternal love.
I stumbled down the hall to the ringing phone. “Hello?”
“Hello, Eileen—aren’t you up yet?” It was Mom.
“Up yet? It’s Saturday, and no one I know gets up at eight o’clock on Saturday!”
“What are the kids doing? Are they awake?” she asked calmly—too calmly.
“They’re watching cartoons.” I double-checked with a glance toward the living room to see them occupied with the Saturday morning lineup.
As my early-morning senses began to return, I felt that something was wrong. Mom just didn’t call early in the morning. “Mom, why are you calling?”
“I have some bad news. Uncle Pat died this morning.”
“What do you mean—Uncle Pat died?” I stammered. “I didn’t even know he was sick!” I sat down, weak from shock.
“He died in the hospital early this morning. He’d gone in for some tests—you know, his stomach started acting up again.”
I lashed out. “Why didn’t you tell me? No one ever tells me anything! You’d think I lived three hundred miles away instead of thirty. I wish I’d known—I’d have come down to see him.” Tears stung my eyes—I was hurt, and angry that Uncle Pat was gone. Angry with myself. Why hadn’t I stayed closer to my family? I’d become so wrapped up in my own life that days, weeks, and months had slipped by with family members unvisited and unloved.
Mom said goodbye, and I sat staring at the receiver in my hand. How could Uncle Pat be gone? Somehow I thought he’d be around forever. I replaced the receiver in the cradle, my thoughts whirling. Memories of the happy times I’d had with Uncle Pat flooded my mind. He was like a father to me—always loving, laughing, joking. I had sat on his knee so many times. “Uncle Pat,” my heart cried out, “I never told you I loved you.” The hurt I felt when I thought of my neglect of my uncle was almost too much to bear.
In an effort to shake off the memories, I concentrated on what I needed to do. I needed to call Aunt Ada—but what could I say to her? She was surely hurting a lot, too. I dialed the phone, and my cousin Barbara answered.
“Hello, Barb, this is Eileen. Barb, I just heard about Uncle Pat. What can I say—I’m so sorry—I feel so bad. I loved him so much.”
Quietly Barb answered, “We know, Eileen. It’s okay. He’s better off this way.” Barb was certainly handling this better than I was.
“Is Aunt Ada there? Can I talk to her?”
“Yes, she’s here. I’ll get her for you.”
When Aunt Ada came to the phone, all I could say was, “Aunt Ada, I’m sorry.” Then tears fell.
“Eileen, before he died he was in and out of consciousness. Just before he died he spoke of you. He said to tell you he found that silver dollar you were looking for in the back yard.”
“What silver dollar, Aunt Ada? I don’t know of a silver dollar.”
“I don’t know either; that’s what he said just before he left us.”
Thoughts of the meaning of Uncle Pat’s last words faded as I recognized a need to be with Aunt Ada.
“Ada, what can I do for you? I want to do something.”
“Come down to see us, please?”
“Yes, I’ll be down.”
I hung up and sat for a minute by the silent phone. Then, with the reality of Uncle Pat’s death settling in on me, I sought out my husband, who was just waking up. “Woody, are you awake?”
“Yes, who was on the phone?”
“It was Mom. Uncle Pat died this morning.” That was all I could say, because the tears took over and I cried. Woody put his arms around me and tried to comfort me, but all I could stammer was, “I never told him I loved him.”
During the next few days my soul was in turmoil as questions battered my understanding. Why did everyone say that people who die are better off? How could Uncle Pat, in a coffin and separated from those he loved, possibly be better off? Who did people think they were fooling when they talked of a God, of another life with untold happiness and beauty? They couldn’t face the truth, I reasoned, so they created fairy tales. Besides, if there was a God, how could he create such deep love and then destroy it with death? I became angrier and angrier.
I couldn’t sleep and cried almost unceasingly. When the day of Uncle Pat’s funeral came, I couldn’t even make myself go through the line to view his body. I hated death, and I looked at life as useless.
I remained in this void for the next eighteen months, making my husband and children thoroughly unhappy.
My life began to change the day I came home from work to see my husband leaning on the kitchen counter, smiling strangely. He held a small blue book in his hand—the Book of Mormon. Two young men had come by the house that day, he said, left the book, and said they’d be back the following Tuesday to pick it up. When I realized the book was about religion, I laughed. “Aren’t those the guys who wear long black coats and who don’t believe in dancing?” Woody said he didn’t know, but he’d been curious about the Book of Mormon ever since he’d been stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah during the early 1960s.
As the week wore on, I noticed Woody reading the blue book off and on. He even took it to work with him. I could tell that he wanted to talk to me about what he read, but each time I’d just laugh and tell him to get serious. As Tuesday evening drew closer, I reminded Woody that I wouldn’t keep the appointment with the missionaries—he could talk to them by himself.
Tuesday night arrived. As I got ready to leave for the evening, Woody blocked my exit at the door. “Why don’t you stick around? Listening to the missionaries won’t hurt you, and I don’t want to be here all alone.”
At the last moment I gave in. “Okay, I’ll stay—I need a few laughs.”
For some reason I was nervous. Why was I letting a little thing like this get to me? When the doorbell rang, my heart sank. Into the living room came two happy-looking, clean-cut young men. They came right over and shook my hand, appearing to feel right at home. Elder Bell and Elder Seavey seemed too happy to be real—friendly to the children, smiling, laughing. People I knew didn’t seem happy like that.
After settling at the kitchen table, we visited for a while, then started discussing religion. How I dreaded that; I was beginning to like these young men and didn’t want to tell them that I didn’t believe in a God. As usual, they started out by telling us theirs was the only true church. I’d heard that before. My mom was Catholic, and Catholicism was true. My dad was Lutheran; that church was true. All of us children had been sent to the Methodist church, whose members proclaimed it was true. I had married a Baptist, and that faith was true too.
I sat there, smiling, so impressed with their happiness and self-confidence that I didn’t realize what was being said until they asked if they could come back two days later. I surprised myself by laughing and saying, “Yes, that will be fine.”
After the missionaries left, I kept thinking about the happy feeling they had brought to our house—one I’d never felt before. I had really enjoyed their company. Before they had left, they had asked me to read certain pages in the Book of Mormon, and I had said I would try. They had even mentioned praying about the book, but I knew I wouldn’t.
During the next two days, I did try to read part of the Book of Mormon, but the names were so unfamiliar—Alma, Lehi, Nephi—that the message didn’t get through to me and I gave up on the reading.
By the time Thursday night came, I had completely cooled off and wasn’t sure if I wanted to see the missionaries again. In fact, I hoped they had forgotten about our appointment. But at the appointed hour, Elders Bell and Seavey were at our front door.
Again we sat at the kitchen table, talking about religion. Elder Seavey asked me if I believed the Bible was true. I didn’t want to cause waves, so I said “Yes.”
He then asked, “Do you believe Moses divided the Red Sea?”
I’d just committed myself to saying the Bible was true, and I knew that story was in it. “Yes, I guess so.”
“Do you believe angels visited Mary?”
Caught again. “Yes,” I said, somewhat defensively.
“Do you believe angels visited people back then?”
Oh well, I thought, I might as well go along with them. “Yes, I suppose so.”
Elder Seavey continued, “We’re here tonight to tell you that God loves us today as much as he loved the people in Bible times. We want you to know that he sent an angel to restore his church and his true teachings.”
As he spoke, a feeling I’d never before experienced came over me. My stomach tightened. I felt scared. As I looked around the room, my life seemed to flash before me. I recalled all the times I’d ridiculed people who believed in God. I could feel all the anger I had ever felt toward religion, and all the anger and hate I had had toward an unknown God when Uncle Pat died. I knew without a doubt that what Elder Seavey was saying was indeed true. Suddenly I knew there was a God, and that he loved me. I felt sorry for my anger, and I felt a deep desire to make up for all the mistakes I had made in my life.
As Elder Seavey went on to talk about the plan of salvation, I felt for the first time that there was a purpose to life. Answers to questions that I’d had for years began to fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
After the elders left, I turned to Woody and told him I was going to be baptized—and I was, on 26 September 1975, along with my husband and our nine-year-old son.
But my story about eternal love doesn’t end there. Our recently-acquired knowledge of the purpose of life awakened a desire to learn all we could about the gospel. We read all we could get our hands on. We learned the purpose of the genealogy program and yearned to put together the information that would result in our doing the ordinance work for Uncle Pat and other relatives.
Several years after we joined the Church, during a temple session, I was impressed to organize the names I’d been collecting for years and submit them for ordinance work. For days my kitchen table was cluttered with papers as I checked and double-checked the records, carefully recording names and dates on group sheets and pedigree charts.
Before I mailed the heavy envelope full of precious information to the Genealogical Department, I knelt in prayer, pleading with Heavenly Father that my work might be acceptable to him.
Clearance for the ordinance work soon came from the Genealogical Department. Because two of our children were now old enough to be baptized for our relatives, we decided to make the ordinance work a family project.
As we drove to the temple, we talked of Grandma, of Uncle Pat, and of others whose names were on the list. I told the children a story about almost everyone.
The baptisms would be performed first, so the children dressed in white and quietly entered the room where the ordinances would be performed. I watched with a deep sense of peace and joy as the work was done.
Finally, the last name was read. As my son came up, water streaming from his face, I remembered the day Mom told me Uncle Pat had died, and I remembered my tears as Woody had tried to reassure me that Uncle Pat knew I loved him. Again the tears fell from my eyes, only this time a quiet voice whispered to me, “Uncle Pat knows you love him.” And I knew that Uncle Pat, on the other side of the veil, had indeed found the silver dollar I’d been looking for—the gospel of Jesus Christ.