“Elva, We Did It!” Ensign, June 2000, 53
With three Primary-aged children, a husband whose career as a school administrator was accelerating, a demanding Church calling, and my efforts to complete my university education, I was feeling overwhelmed. Then came the request on the telephone: Would I please visit Elva Anderson in addition to my other visiting teaching sisters?
How in the world can I add more? I thought. I really didn’t know Sister Anderson because she had been housebound as an invalid for almost seven years. She was old enough to be my mother. What would I talk about with her?
On my first visit, I learned she had a severe heart condition that caused oxygen deprivation. In spite of her affliction, I found strong evidence of her sense of humor and sharp wit. Our visit was unexpectedly refreshing.
On my next visit, Elva coaxed me to talk about myself, and I revealed my frustration about an English literature class centering around the poet John Milton. I found the course content deep and elusive, and I was unable to participate in study sessions after class because I needed to be home when my children returned from school.
Elva called the next evening as I was cleaning up after dinner. She had asked her professor husband to pick up a copy of my literature text, and she had read the current assignment. While I washed dishes, we discussed the difficult sections of Milton. Our telephone conversations continued throughout the semester, and frequently I would drop in for a brief visit with Elva on my way home from school. In addition to her assistance with my studies, she helped me put my periodic anxieties about one or another of my children into a more mature perspective, and she encouraged me to keep going when the load felt engulfing.
After that semester’s final exams, I raced to her home and said, “Elva, we did it! I got the highest score on the literature final.”
Gently, with a smile, she took my hand and said, “Sit down. I also have something exciting to tell you.” She explained that a noted doctor had accepted her for heart bypass surgery. She expressed her fears that she would not survive, but she said she was determined to go ahead with the operation. We quietly hugged each other.
One week later Elva’s husband called from the hospital to say she was doing well in the recovery room. But two days later she suddenly passed away. Although her heart was functioning well, her arteries had given out due to increased pressure.
Part of me felt ripped away. When we are called to visit someone, we usually expect to work on developing feelings for that person. But this time the tables were turned, and I marveled at how an unwelcome assignment had turned into a great blessing of friendship for me. Demonstrating her charitable heart, Elva had become my academic companion, my friend, my resource for encouragement, and my substitute mother. How grateful I am that I did not neglect the opportunity to become her friend!—Lillian Woodland, Bloomington Third Ward, St. George Utah Stake