Losing Barbara, Finding the Lord

    “Losing Barbara, Finding the Lord,” Ensign, Feb. 2005, 24–27

    Losing Barbara, Finding the Lord

    After tragedy hit my home, I realized how much I needed to change in order to keep my family together forever.

    I was born and raised as a member of the Church. I received my Eagle Scout and Duty to God Awards, went on a mission, was married in the temple, and was active in the Church my whole life—until several years ago. Then, I don’t know exactly how or why, I found myself questioning and doubting some teachings of the Church.

    These doubts led to a lack of motivation in performing my Church duties and attending meetings. When I did attend, I had great conflicts within my mind about what was being said. I became convinced that living according to answers to prayer or being obedient to Church teachings was for the weak-minded person who didn’t take responsibility for his or her own life. I therefore decided to take responsibility for my own decisions, and I all but stopped praying. I continued to get more selfish with my free time. I watched football for most of the day on Sunday and on Monday night while my family did things together without me. Although Barbara stuck with me through all of this, my choices caused great stress on our marriage.

    Suffering and Loss

    During this time Barbara went to the doctor about a lump that had developed in her breast. She had a biopsy, and it came back positive. Barbara had stage 4 breast cancer, which meant that the cancer had already spread to her bones. We were given only a very slim hope that she would survive.

    We clung to this hope as we began a solid year of treatments: chemotherapy, surgery, more chemotherapy, a bone-marrow transplant, and then high-dose radiation therapy to the affected bone areas. For Barbara, this was a year of indescribable suffering that is truly incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. I was by her side for most of the treatments and all of her hospitalizations. Though I know I have no idea of how horrible it was for her, I caught a small glimpse every now and then of what she was enduring, and nothing has hurt me so deeply in my life as watching her suffer. In taking care of my sick wife, I performed the first significant and truly unselfish act I had done in a long time.

    Barbara was given many priesthood blessings of health, comfort, and strength during this period. I remember having difficulty believing in the blessings she was given—but Barbara didn’t. She was always strong and faithful. Through all my questioning and doubting, she held firm in her testimony and her faith in the blessings she had received.

    Barbara finally made it through the treatments and enjoyed one year of good health. She was so very grateful for that healthy year. Then, without warning, her blood counts began to drop. Her bone marrow was failing to produce enough blood cells to keep her alive. For the next year, Barbara received blood transfusions twice a week. She suffered several life-threatening infections and serious bleeding episodes during this time. Near the end of that year, the cancer came back, in her liver this time. The doctors could do nothing for her, and on 1 December 2000, Barbara’s suffering finally came to an end, in our home, with her loving family surrounding her.

    Finding the Path

    Even though I knew the end was coming, I was totally unprepared for the intense grief that overwhelmed me. I seriously thought many times that I would not physically survive it. Nothing seemed to have meaning anymore. I felt totally alone and lost.

    At this time, however, I noticed my children had something I did not. I sensed it was their reliance on God. I grew to want what they had, but I didn’t know how to obtain it.

    I knew that the scriptures said we needed faith in Christ in order to receive a witness of Him, but I could not summon that faith. I felt dead inside. One day when I was explaining this frustration to my oldest son, Steve, he said to me, “Dad, you don’t have to already believe in Him; you just have to humble yourself and be open to feeling Him.” I thought I could do that much.

    This was the beginning of my path back to the Lord. I began to pray again. I hadn’t been attending church, but I knew Barb would want me to take the kids in her absence, so I began going out of respect for her. At first it was incredibly difficult to go, especially to fast and testimony meetings. Hearing testimonies of people’s health being restored through the power of God was particularly difficult. I would look at the families sitting near us and notice that they all had dads and moms sitting with them. I pictured Barbara sitting with us; she always looked so angelic at church. I would invariably end up in the men’s room sobbing for the last half of the meeting.

    Just as I was ready to give up on going to church, I had an experience at a regional conference that changed my outlook. I sat stressing over my current plight. I believed Barb’s spirit still existed. I had no proof, but I just felt she was still there. I wondered what she was thinking, what she was doing. As I thought, a picture opened in my mind. I was standing on one side of an enormous chasm; on the other side I could see Barbara and the children. They were beckoning to me to come over to where they were. I refused and said, “I like it over here. You come to my side.” They insisted that I join them, but the distance between us seemed impossible to cross. Through this experience I realized that my current path in life would leave me all alone with an uncrossable gulf between my family and me. I realized that nothing else really mattered in life if I lost my family. I knew then I had to cross that chasm, no matter what.

    This gave me renewed motivation to keep going to church. Even though it evoked hurtful emotions, I went, and gradually it became a little easier to get through sacrament meeting. I began looking forward to Sunday School and priesthood meetings. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I was being taught by the Spirit to understand and internalize gospel principles. Week after week, little by little, I would understand more. I marveled at how concepts seemed so clear and how I would understand them not only intellectually but also emotionally and spiritually. This was so opposite to my experiences of the past several years that the contrast was unmistakable.

    A Conviction of Truth

    I was finally receiving the testimony I had always wanted but somehow had never obtained. I was seeing the entire world through different eyes. I wondered why I had never had such unmistakable spiritual confirmations of truth until now. But with the help of the Lord and some good people in the Church, I think I finally understand why it took so long.

    First, I lacked humility. Never before had I been humbled in the way Barbara’s death humbled me. Second, I hadn’t focused enough on keeping the commandments. My true focus in life was on other things—success in the business world, money, and my selfish pursuits—rather than on the gospel, the Lord, and my family. My perspective focused primarily on this world.

    The Holy Spirit was now teaching me a much greater perspective of things. Losing Barbara and thinking about what she must be doing led me to study and pray about the plan of salvation. Because of Barbara, I now felt much closer to the next world. I started to comprehend how short this life is. I felt comforted that someday the horrible wrong of losing Barbara would be made right and I would understand why it had to be this way, although my finite mind could not totally comprehend it now. Many people had tried to explain this to me in the days and months after Barb’s death, but it was not until the Holy Spirit explained it to my soul that I was able to accept it.

    I remember receiving a distinct sense of urgency about turning my life around, following the counsel of the prophets, and making the gospel and my family my main focus. I learned that it is only through living close to the Lord and following His commandments that we can keep this sense of urgency.

    Armed with this new knowledge and conviction, I continued to progress in the gospel. I started paying tithing, doing home teaching, holding family home evening, and continuing with family and personal scripture study and prayer. I also suffered great remorse for my sins during this time. I felt something of what Alma described: “My soul was racked with eternal torment” (Mosiah 27:29). Only after experiencing this remorse did I feel cleansed and forgiven by the Lord.

    Also during this time, my son Steve became engaged. I set a goal with the bishop to be worthy to return to the temple before Steve’s marriage. On 11 August of that year, I realized my goal and witnessed one of the most special events of my life. The Spirit was overwhelming, and I sensed Barbara was there, too.

    Figuring Out Fatherhood

    Parallel to my conversion process was my attempt to cope with the grief of Barb’s loss and the hardships of being a single parent. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed. Since I was now the only parent, I had to take over the everyday duties that Barbara had always handled so masterfully—caring for sick children, driving them here and there, buying clothes, helping them with homework, and fixing meals. After just a few weeks of this, I panicked when I realized that if I wanted to be a good parent, I would have to give up most of my treasured, selfish activities. But I decided the sacrifice would be worth it.

    The little things I do for my family may not necessarily be enjoyable from a personal, selfish point of view, but the long-term rewards are amazing and eternal. I am so much more involved in my children’s lives. They feel they know me and have said that I am finally the dad they always wanted.

    For the first six months as a single father, I felt I was doing all these extra things because Barbara wasn’t there and it was now simply my responsibility instead of hers. Then one day it dawned on me: everything I had been doing for and with the kids, I could just as easily have done when Barbara was here. In fact, it would have been easier. I had to face the daunting fact that I had missed out on many of the true rewards of fatherhood all those years.

    I had also not been a celestial husband in keeping Barbara first above all other things. Since losing her, I have realized profoundly just how important the marriage relationship is. Nothing in this world is anywhere near as important, except our relationship with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. In the end, all the other things we do in this life will pale in comparison.

    A Second Chance

    I feel so fortunate to have been given another chance to become worthy for eternal life. I cannot express how grateful I am to my wife and to the Savior for not giving up on me when I strayed from the truth. I know that I have been pulled back to the strait and narrow path because of the Savior’s love for me. I testify that the Lord loves each of us, even us sinners, for I have felt His love for me in a way I cannot deny. I really, truly believe in Him as never before. It feels so very good. It will be worth whatever sacrifices we make in this life to be with our families forever. As Barbara said on one of her last days on earth, “Do whatever it takes to be an eternal family!”

    Illustrated by Daniel Lewis