Why Was Choka Here?
December 1996

“Why Was Choka Here?” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 50–51

Why Was Choka Here?

The Saturday before Christmas 1992 I sat on the floor of the living room of our new home in Bemidji, Minnesota, enjoying the nativity set on the mantel and the softly flickering lights on the Christmas tree. Through the window I could see pine trees garnished with snow. Into that tranquil scene came the thought of my 93-year-old grandfather, Henry Thomas DeCora, alone for the holidays. I tried to put the thought out of my mind, but it persisted.

On Sunday, as our family was returning home from a wonderful Christmas program held at church, my grandfather (or “Choka,” as we called him, a name meaning “grandfather” in his native Winnebago tongue) came to mind again. This time I had a strong feeling that he was ill and that I should call him. When we arrived home, I called and learned that he would be alone for Christmas and that he was very ill, too weak even to get up from his bed. We immediately made arrangements to have him brought to our home to spend a week with us.

When he arrived, I saw a gray-haired, gaunt-looking man who asked, “Who are you people?” I was shocked. He had been in our home three years earlier and had been baptized at that time. Fighting back tears, I said, “I’m Kandy, your granddaughter, remember?” He seemed to accept that.

Later that night my husband and I wondered if we’d done the right thing by having Choka stay with us. After praying earnestly about this situation, we felt strongly that his presence in our home was no coincidence. I thought how happy Marie, his wife who had passed away, must be to know that Choka would not be alone for Christmas.

Christmas came, and we were happy to share our love and joy with Choka.

We nevertheless found it challenging to care for him, and it became increasingly obvious that we could not send him home. A family conference was held by telephone, and it was decided that Choka would stay on with us.

We worried about how we could care for Choka, for he required help with everything. Often we wondered why, when there were other available options, we felt so strongly that Grandfather should live with us. After long days at work, we would come home tired and still have Choka to care for. We continued the best we could and prayed often for strength and understanding.

Just when I seemed to be at my wit’s end, help would come. Sometimes we found messages in the Ensign that helped us, such as one about caring for elderly parents. Members of our ward opened their arms and hearts to Choka. One ward member even offered to stay with him while my husband and I made a trip to the Chicago Illinois Temple.

One night my husband said, “I have figured out why Choka is here. He’s here so that he can learn about the temple and go there to be sealed to Marie.”

I suddenly knew it was so. Marie had been a faithful Church member for 30 years but had not lived to see Choka baptized. Helping prepare Choka to go to the temple became our family’s focus. Such a change took place in our home! Our entire family worked diligently with renewed enthusiasm to help Choka prepare by having family prayer and scripture study each day and holding family home evening sometimes twice a week.

The day came that Choka received his patriarchal blessing. Then he was asked to bless the sacrament. His desire to live the gospel fully became increasingly evident. Finally, in August 1993 at the age of 94, he went to the temple and was sealed to his wife for time and all eternity.

Four months later, just before Christmas, he passed away. We rejoiced that Choka had lived to receive his temple blessings and that he would now be with Marie. As a family we are grateful that we found out why Choka came to live with us that Christmas and for the gift of gospel blessings that resulted for all of us.

  • Valerie DeCora Guimarães of the Bemidji (Minnesota) Ward teaches early-morning seminary in the Fargo North Dakota Stake.