James and Annie Forever

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“James and Annie Forever,” Ensign, Sept. 1992, 64–65

James and Annie Forever

It took a few moments to pin on my nurse’s cap and check with the outgoing supervisor. Then I walked over to James, who had been eagerly waiting for my attention.

“Is there something you need? Are you in any pain?”

He beamed as I approached him. “Oh, no,” he said. “I was just hoping you would be able to shave me today. The new girls don’t seem to do it the way I like it.”

I patted his arthritic, twisted hand. “I’m sorry, James. Several of the doctors are coming for patient rounds, and we have a new admission. I don’t have time, but I’ll get one of the more experienced aides to do it.”

James’s smile faded. “I understand,” he said. I knew he really didn’t, but I couldn’t allow it to bother me. As a charge nurse in a 120-bed nursing home, I had little time for individual patients. Nurses’ aides took care of the patients’ basic needs and the medicine technician distributed the medication, so my one-to-one interaction with patients was limited.

In addition, I was a single mother, working the evening shift part-time at a local hospital and attending classes at a nearby university.

My most important priority was meeting the needs of my five children, so I had eliminated unnecessary demands on my time and emotions. I gave my best at work, but at the end of the shift, worries about my patients were put in my locker with my cap.

Among my patients were James and his wife, Annie. They had been in the facility for the last seven years. Sharing the same room, they were staff favorites.

Annie was frail and bedridden, often recognizing only James. James had no mental impairment but was a total invalid. Severe rheumatoid arthritis had kept him in a wheelchair for the last ten years. But he was pleasant, cheerful, and extremely grateful for small services rendered. The nursing-home checkers champ, he loved to sit by the nurses’ station and visit with anyone who had time.

Some time later, Annie passed away. James was grief-stricken. In their sixty-five years of marriage, they had never spent an entire day apart from each other.

The next six months brought slow but noticeable changes in James. His appetite decreased, and he didn’t spend as much time at the nurses’ station. Checker games no longer interested him. The nurses’ aides frequently found him crying, but he refused to explain why.

One day I was changing a bandage on one of James’s feet. The loneliness and grief in his eyes prompted me to ask how he was handling Annie’s death. The tears began to flow and soon turned into sobs. I broke all my self-imposed rules and put my arms around him. I held his shaking shoulders until he was able to speak.

He talked of Annie, of their son who died just two days after birth, of their life together. The memories flowed from the depths of his heart and soul. As I listened to his loneliness, my heart hurt. The thought crossed my mind that I was becoming too emotionally involved, but it quickly faded in the face of his anguish.

In spite of my strict policy against mixing work and religion, I found myself telling him about eternal families and assured him that Annie and their little son were happy and were waiting for him to rejoin them.

James was a religious man, but the concept of families being together forever was new to him. Yet he immediately grasped it and believed. He asked no specific questions; the simple truthfulness of what I explained was enough.

In the days that followed, I found myself trying to spend a few minutes each day with James. I learned more about his life with Annie and their children. He told me many of the stories over and over again, but for some reason I never tired of them.

Often, he would ask me to tell him again about eternal families. I realized my own testimony of that truth seemed to grow and strengthen each time I testified of it to him.

One day, James stopped the story he was telling me and said, “You love Jesus, don’t you?” It was more of a statement than a question and caught me off guard. I had never mentioned my membership in the Church or spoken of the Savior. I nodded. “I knew you did,” he continued. “I can tell by the way you treat me.”

Holding back the tears, I looked into the face of that sweet, kindly man and loved him in spite of my determination to never get involved.

About a month later—on my day off—James died. I cried when I found out, breaking yet another of my self-imposed rules. And the final rule I broke by attending his funeral.

I missed James a great deal, but knowing he was happy with Annie, I thought of him less and less as the months passed.

However, sometime after his death, I suddenly began to think of James. I searched for the program from his funeral and was amazed to find it had been one year since his death—almost to the day. Into my mind and heart came a definite impression. James wanted me to send in his name so that baptism and temple ordinances could be performed in his and Annie’s behalf.

I hesitated, thinking perhaps I was being led by my own personal desires, but the feelings persisted and intensified. Finally I filled out the forms, sending them along with a letter of explanation since James and I were unrelated. Once the forms were submitted, I felt a peaceful calm, and soon the thoughts of James faded.

A month later, I received a letter from the Family History Department informing me that permission had been granted for the work to be done and that the names would be sent to my family file at the Dallas Texas Temple. I wept at the news.

I wept again as I participated in the ordinance work for James and Annie. The most humbling and joyful moment came when I knelt at the altar in their behalf in order to allow them to be sealed together, along with their son, for time and all eternity. Kneeling there, I recalled those sweet words, “You love Jesus, don’t you?”

And I knew that James and Annie did, too.