June 1987

“Ethel,” Ensign, June 1987, 55


I dreaded going to work at the care center that day. I did not relish the thought of giving Ethel a permanent.

Ethel had long, dark hair—and a lot of it. To add to that, she was severely physically handicapped. She had no control of her muscles and had great difficulty in speaking.

Giving Ethel a permanent was no easy chore. It took me quite some time to roll her hair in the permanent rods. Several times her right hand rose and got in the way. Each time, Ethel told me to tuck it under the arm of the chair. I fought her suggestion, but after a while I submitted to her request. Finally, just as I finished rolling her hair, Ethel looked up and said, “I have a lot of patience, don’t I? I’m a good girl, aren’t I?”

Ethel was probably thirty-five or forty years old. But I told her that yes, she was a good girl, and added I was sure that she had a lot more patience than I did.

The most difficult part was still to come—taking Ethel to the sink to rinse and put the neutralizer on her hair. How could she sit there in a normal chair? I wondered. Her own chair strapped her in and braced her up. How could I rinse her head without literally drenching her?

I could tell that Ethel felt great pain as she lay there with her head back in the sink with all those curlers pressing against her head. I could barely contain my tears at the sight of her trying to stay in the chair with no control over her body.

Once or twice, Ethel asked me to take her hand down, to put a pillow under her deformed arm, and to put a towel under her crooked shoulders.

The pain and pity I felt for her must have shown vividly. I left the room to get another towel and to wipe away my tears. As I entered the doorway, Ethel, in all her pain, called me to her side. Drawing me close to her, she said, “Sandy, don’t feel sorry for me. Are you a Mormon?”

I nodded.

“Then think about Jesus and all the pain he had to bear. Mine is nothing compared to his.”

My tears fell freely as I gently kissed Ethel on the cheek. I left the care center that day vowing to myself that I would come to know Christ as she did.

  • Sandra Kay Burgess serves as Young Women president in the Riverton (Utah) Eleventh Ward.

Illustrated by Mark Buehner