“The Choice,” Ensign, Apr. 1996, 22
Early one spring morning in April I held my three-year-old son in my arms as he died. He had fought a brave battle with leukemia, but had lost. His doctors had sent him home from the hospital the week before, when it was no longer a matter of if he would die, but when he would die.
We had been given only one week to say our final good-byes. We spent that last week doing our usual happy things one last time. One last walk around the neighborhood. One last reading of a whimsical storybook. One last pancake breakfast. One last ice cream cone. One last singing of “A Happy Family” (Children’s Songbook, p. 198). One last hand holding. One last hug. One last “I love you.”
I prepared my mind and heart for the separation. I urgently needed to study and memorize all the beautiful and wonderful things about this little person: his large brown eyes full of sweetness and love; his soft skin, rosebud lips, happy smile, and silky blond hair; his little hands so eager to hold my hands and his pure spirit so full of trust and so willing to please.
There were so many wonderful things about him to love. Not wanting one thing to be lost, I tried hard to memorize his favorite way of saying things and the sound of his voice as it tugged my heartstrings. My hands tried to record the miniature size and feel of his soft hands. In doing this, I wept over my impending loss.
I knew that whatever I captured of my little one would have to last me through an earthly lifetime of separation. But my memory was inadequate, my mind finite, my heart limited. Sadly, I recognized that I could not memorize enough of him to last until eternity began. Loving him had been a joy, and that joy was about to slip away.
I sat on the edge of his bed, holding him in my arms for the last time. His breathing was so slight as to be nearly imperceptible. He seemed unconscious, yet I felt he wanted and needed my reassurance. My deepest heartfelt prayer during the previous week had been that his father and I could be with him at the moment of death. We had brought him into the world together, and we wanted to escort him to the edge of the veil that separates time from eternity. He was too little to die alone, too frail to begin the journey unaccompanied.
He had just turned three that week. He didn’t understand his illness, his medical treatments, or his dying. He didn’t understand why his body was bloated and distorted, why he could no longer walk, why he was hemorrhaging through his nose. Dying can rob one of dignity—even a three-year-old. I was determined to love him so tenderly and respectfully that his dignity and grace would be intact as he journeyed from this life to the next.
I had frequently hummed the sacred hymn “O My Father” (Hymns, 1985, no. 292) while picturing in my mind his heavenly parents being there on the other side of the veil to welcome him. I was grateful for my knowledge of the gospel and my trust in our Father’s perfect plan of salvation, which had brought me great peace during my son’s illness and which would reunite me again with him. I had frequent thoughts of a time in the premortal world when I stood among others and shouted for joy at the beauty and wonder of it all (see Job 38:6–7), regardless of the trial, pain, and heartache that would be experienced in the learning and perfecting processes of mortality. I knew that my child’s heavenly parents had known and loved him and that he would be returning to another home where he would be happy and well loved.
“It’s all right, sweetheart—Mommy’s here,” I whispered into my son’s ear. I quietly thanked him for being my son and for giving me the joy of being his mother. I told him it was okay to return to his other home. With that whisper, he slipped away from us gently, quietly, invisibly, like morning mist dissolving in the dawn. His passing was marked only by silence, stillness, and a profound sense of loss.
I held his little body in my arms. The pain of losing a loved one cannot be expressed in mortal words, and only those who have experienced that pain truly know it. The pain drove itself deep into my heart and was magnified as I pondered the losses of a lifetime cut so short.
As I wondered how there could be so much pain, the answer came: The pain goes as deep and as far as the love. It made perfect sense. If the quality of our love is eternal, then it seems that some degree of pain and sorrow can persist until eternity returns our loved ones. As our mortal sorrows are “swallowed up in the joy of Christ” (Alma 31:38), they can remind us that our love also is enduring. We become like God as we learn to love deeply and eternally. Having settled these things in my mind and heart, I knew it was time to let go.
But my sense of peace was interrupted by another battle—one for my own soul, it seemed. I laid my little one gently on his bed as though tucking him in at night with his favorite toy animal and blanket. As I turned to call the funeral home, I was assailed with strange thoughts—questions about the reality of the Resurrection and the plan of salvation. I was amazed at how quickly these doubts had entered my mind. Like fiery darts, I thought, fiery darts of the adversary (1 Ne. 15:24; D&C 3:8). The questions were very much like those that Korihor posed to Alma (see Alma 30). Then I recognized their author. I remembered the phrase “father of all lies” and that it would be an anti-Christ who would be the “author of confusion” (2 Ne. 2:18; Ether 8:25; Moses 4:4; 1 Cor. 14:33). I knew that the Holy Ghost had brought these scriptures to my remembrance. Faith was to be used in quenching the fiery darts of the adversary. I remembered that truth dispels lies. I knew that I must exercise faith and stand on the truth.
And yet I felt strangely confused, for a great truth lay before me in the flesh: death had claimed my child. Others had told me that death was a friend in disguise, relieving our loved ones of suffering. But the physical devastation before me clearly was no friend. Death had cruelly overcome my beautiful, innocent child cell by cell, inch by inch, hour by hour. Growth had stopped. His little boy hands would not become a man’s hands capable of doing a man’s work or of showing a father’s love for his children. The reality that lay before me spoke a convincing witness that perhaps death was the final victor and had the last word. I saw no evidence to the contrary. In that moment, for me to believe in the Resurrection seemed to be a leap into the unknown.
Trying to dispel my confusion by being logical, I decided to weigh the pros and cons of belief versus disbelief. I reviewed my life during the previous years and the effect the gospel had upon me and my children.
Had I not believed in the promises and teachings of the gospel, I would never have had the direction or the desire to put my life in order. Years before, my life had been chaotic, undisciplined, undirected. I lived each day anxious and fearful, not knowing who I was, where I belonged, or where I should be going. I had nearly lost my life bearing my first child and was told that I could not have any more children. My health subsequently worsened, and I was on the edge of a total physical and emotional breakdown.
But as I discovered the scriptures and began applying them as the counsel of a loving Heavenly Father (see A of F 1:8), I rebuilt my life step by step. Eventually, the full-time missionaries blessed us with a visit. I immediately knew what they said was true. The morning after my baptism, it became evident that an unexpected and unrequested healing of my body had taken place. My ability to bear children had been restored. I subsequently gave birth to three sons.
Through my work in Primary, I learned to become a good teacher. I discovered hidden talents and abilities, expanded my knowledge, and became far better and stronger than I had imagined I could be. I lived a peaceful and happy life as a wife and a homemaker.
Did not those things make a statement even more powerful than death was making in my moment of grief? Wisdom suggested that I also judge the truth of the gospel by a lifetime of improvement and progress, by many lives made richer and more beautiful through abiding by the teachings of Jesus Christ.
My faith in the scriptures and in Christ has wrought great and wonderful things, I thought. If I give up my faith and trust, what will happen? I knew I would lose hope, and loss of hope brings misery and despair. Despair comes because of iniquity, and I realized it would be a form of iniquity to deny the faith (see Moro. 10:22). The loss of faith and hope would be the real tragedy, not the loss of my child’s life.
Having heard the voices of life and death, I faced a choice. There could be no middle ground, no wavering between beliefs, for no one can serve two masters. My choice must be clean, definite, and clear.
Though I looked at death before me, I choose life. Though I have not seen a resurrected person, I choose to believe in eternal life. I choose to exercise faith in Christ and in his promises.
At that instant of commitment and decision, it seemed as though heaven breathed a sigh of relief. There are no other words to describe what I felt. I became aware that time, for a few moments, had seemed strangely suspended while I weighed my choices. It was as though eternity—my eternity—had been hanging in the balance while I surveyed, pondered, decided my course.
At that same moment, as though to immediately reward a battle hard fought and won, I felt close to the Savior and comforted by the thought that he had died so that death will not be permanent. My son would rise again.
I thought of President Spencer W. Kimball’s book Faith Precedes the Miracle and of Moroni’s words, “Wherefore, he [Christ] showed not himself until after their faith” (Ether 12:12).
That night, after friends and ward members had left, I knelt alone by my bedside, thanking my Heavenly Father that he gave his own Son as the Lamb of God so that the plan of salvation could be fully operational. I also thanked him for the privilege of having been the earthly mother to a beautiful, sweet child. And I prayed for comfort.
The words had hardly formed in my mind when I received a powerful reassurance that my son’s suffering had not been in vain. I knew that from an eternal perspective, his months of suffering were as a mere heartbeat, but necessary to give him the experience in the flesh he needed to progress.
The peace I had known during my son’s illness—“the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philip. 4:7)—returned to me now that he was dead.
“O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
“And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead” (2 Ne. 9:10–11).
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, does live, and because of him, our loved ones who have passed on also live and will be resurrected. On that April morning I had come to know for myself that the promises of eternal life are true and faithful.