Too Young to Be a Widow
January 2004

“Too Young to Be a Widow,” Ensign, Jan. 2004, 29

Too Young to Be a Widow

Was I supposed to ask that my husband be healed from cancer, or was I to say, “Thy will be done”?

In August 1990 my husband, David, and I went on a long-awaited vacation, attending Education Week at Brigham Young University. At that time, we had been married nearly 11 years and were parents of five children, ages 20 months to 8 years. My sister and her family agreed to watch our children.

David and I loved our time together, growing in spirit and strength. When the week was over, my sister insisted that we stay for their stake conference because Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was going to be speaking. We were easily persuaded. Our families sat on the second row. What a thrilling conference! I was impressed with one of Elder Maxwell’s thoughts about the clinical experiences of life, that we must pass through them to be more like our Savior. Seated on the second row in the presence of an Apostle, I found it easy to call out in spirit, “Yes, I can do all that is asked of me!”

A Turn of Events

Once David and I went home, we quickly eased into our normal routine. Four days later, David mentioned his stomach hurt. As the days passed, the discomfort increased. Since he usually has such a high tolerance for pain, I was concerned when he began to complain. By the fifth of September, his stomach had become so distended that we went to the doctor. David was immediately admitted into the hospital. After many tests and exploratory surgery, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that had spread throughout his abdominal cavity. He had to be fed intravenously. Knowing he walked a fine line between life and death, we consented to a tough regimen of chemotherapy.

Life as we had known it changed rapidly. Fortunately, we didn’t have to right ourselves with each other or the Lord. We had current temple recommends, we had a strong, close relationship with each other and the children, and our testimonies were intact and growing. We felt we were on the right path. These circumstances, then, instead of being a catalyst for righting wrongs, were a path for growth and preparation.

There was much time for reflection and pondering—in the car traveling back and forth from the hospital, at David’s bedside while he slept, and alone at night. Many times I wondered what faith was supposed to feel like in this case. Was I supposed to ask that David be healed and focus all my energy toward that end? Or was I just to say, “Thy will be done,” and refrain from further wonderings? I wasn’t sure what I was to do. It seemed my whole self was being given to help David and our children.

Comfort in Ether 12

After a month in the hospital and one treatment of chemotherapy, David had finally stabilized enough to return home. I was often exhausted emotionally and physically. Though I wasn’t reading the scriptures consistently at this time, the truths I had diligently studied earlier came to my remembrance during the quiet moments. When I did read, I was led to Ether, chapter 12, time and time again. The principle of faith began to be more defined. It was as though with each step on this journey, I would gain just enough understanding to illuminate the next step.

Prayer and fasting helped bring understanding and direction. David’s attitude and spirit lifted all who came near him. He was at peace with the course that was his. I, on the other hand, struggled with all the responsibilities of caring for the children, home, and an ill husband. Sometimes I felt anger and, on occasion, despair.

At this time, I was serving in the stake Relief Society presidency. On one occasion in early December I attended a Saturday night leadership and testimony meeting. After the training and dinner, we adjourned to the Relief Society room. The second counselor in the stake presidency stood up. Immediately, I was arrested by his countenance. A man never at a loss for words, he struggled for a few moments. “I just love the Spirit,” he said. Emotions overcame him. He took a deep breath, then said, “I would like to talk about a special chapter in the Book of Mormon.” I felt that he had been directed to change his talk during the few moments of struggle, and I also knew what chapter it would be. He started again, “Ether, chapter 12, is full of truth.”

I find it difficult to express what occurred while he spoke. I felt as if my entire body were filled with light. Truth permeated my being to the exhausting of my strength. I wept, for the words he spoke were familiar. He spoke of things that the Holy Ghost had revealed to me. As he recounted the marvels and wonders wrought by the power of faith, I felt then that I too would soon add testimony about the wonders of faith. I was humbled.

Four More Months

In late December it became apparent that the chemotherapy was not working. We sought Heavenly Father in prayer. What would He have us do? We went to the stake presidency for a priesthood blessing. As we listened to the words spoken, we felt their truth. David was told that his time was short and that he had been spared for this space of time to be able to share the holidays with his family, to see the help and love shown his family, and to finish anything left undone. He was told this was because of his faithfulness in following the counsel of the Lord. I knew then that the Lord had rewarded my faith in Him by letting me know His will. I never once had to wonder, “If I had just had enough faith, David would have been healed.”

David lived four more months, during which time he baptized our second child, bid farewell to his extended family, finished some important family history and temple work, and gave me and each of our children a priesthood blessing.

By faith we are propelled into the arms of Christ to be healed. In Ether 12:6, Moroni declares that we “receive no witness until after the trial of [our] faith.” During the trial of my faith, I learned more of charity and patience than I had ever learned before. My witness came before David died. Two nights before his death, I read to him Elder Maxwell’s April 1990 conference address, “Endure It Well.” I guess it was more for myself than for him. When I finished, he meekly asked, “Do you think I endured it well?” Of course my answer was a resounding yes! The next night our stake president and his counselor came to visit. David had taken a turn for the worse. He was hallucinating and was very agitated. I asked that they give him a blessing of comfort and courage. I desired that we have the strength to face whatever was required of us. In that priesthood blessing, David was told that he had endured it well and that the Lord was pleased with all we had done. That blessing was my witness.

Hope in Christ

The scriptures had led me to the power of the Savior’s arms. The knowledge of His Atonement and promise of resurrection had filled David with peace and hope prior to his death and his release from the ravages of cancer. The Lord continues to heal me through the knowledge that it is He who “comforteth” me (see 2 Ne. 8:12). I add my testimony to those of others that Christ has taken upon Himself our infirmities that He may succor us and be filled with mercy toward us (see Alma 7:12). And I pray that through the Savior’s help, our family may face our challenges with courage and endure them well.

Patiently Enduring

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“Endurance is more than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance; it is not only acceptance of the things allotted to us, but to ‘act for ourselves’ by magnifying what is allotted to us.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Endure It Well,” Ensign, May 1990, 33.

  • Kareen Landsem Harrison is a member of the Elkhorn Springs Second Ward, Las Vegas Nevada Tule Springs Stake.

Illustrated by Keith Larson