“Indomitable Ann,” Ensign, Mar. 1992, 59
I didn’t want to be Ann Douglas’s visiting teacher. A former ward and stake Relief Society president, Sister Douglas greatly intimidated me. Her house was immaculate; mine suffered from the effects of four active children. She was an excellent homemaker; I struggled to make bread rise. What, I asked myself, could I possibly teach her?
What I forgot to ask was what Sister Douglas could teach me.
I was soon calling Sister Douglas by her first name, Ann, as we got to know each other. We discovered we shared a love of reading. Her offbeat sense of humor matched my own. And we were both struggling to become computer-literate.
Ann taught me about setting a goal and reaching it. Though she had never used a computer or taken a writing class, she decided to write her life story. With the determination that characterized everything she did, she mastered the intricacies of word processing and enrolled in a class in writing personal histories. When the teacher floundered, Ann filled in.
Ann taught me about grief. Several years earlier, her husband had died unexpectedly. Ann mourned him unashamedly and honestly, teaching me that grief has no timetable and follows no schedule. I cried with her and laughed with her as she recalled memories from her forty years of marriage.
Ann taught me about courage. The first diagnosis of cancer came in 1985. Following a mastectomy and chemotherapy, Ann thought she’d licked it. Three years later, the cancer resurfaced, this time spreading to her bones. A colostomy, an ulcerated mouth, and hair loss followed. Pain became her constant companion. But Ann managed it all with her own blend of dignity and humor, often joking, “I’ve majored in cancer.”
Ann taught me about living. During her second bout with cancer, she recarpeted her house. Caught up in my own heartache over this latest diagnosis of her illness, I didn’t understand until later the courage and faith necessary for her to take this step. It wasn’t a question of if she would live. It was a matter of how she would live.
Ann continued to work on her autobiography, always believing that she would finish it. And she did. Her book, Ann, arrived from the publisher two weeks before her death.
Ann taught me about being a survivor. “I’m a survivor even though I’m not going to survive,” said this woman who I had once dreaded getting to know. “Surviving does not mean being cured. Surviving means living.”