90908_000_008Daniel’s near-drowning left him severely handicapped. As we struggled to cope with our feelings of loss, we learned much about the purposes of adversity.
November 1, 1975
“Just take him home and love him,” the nurse said. She doesn’t understand. He isn’t going to stay this way, in a coma, a tube through his nose to his stomach to feed him. He is going to be my beautiful baby again, running around with his triplet brothers, adored by his six older sisters and brothers.
My screams still echo in my ears after finding him three weeks ago, floating facedown in the neighbors’ swimming pool: “They can’t be separated. They can’t be separated.” God sent us three little boys at once because they are meant to stay together. I will have faith. I will fast and pray. God will make him well.
Those words from my journal describe my thoughts nearly fifteen years ago, three weeks after Daniel’s near-drowning. He and his brothers Patrick and Michael had just turned two. The pain of watching his suffering and of not knowing whether he would live made me feel as if my spirit was being mercilessly trampled.
My feelings haven’t changed all that much since then, except that they’re not on the surface all the time. Sometimes I dream of finding dead babies in deep pools of green water. Sometimes I dream of Daniel running toward me. And he can talk. But the reality is that his body is severely diminished in its capacity to function in this life.
I do not pretend to know why this tragedy happened to Daniel and to our family. I do know that it has affected us deeply in both positive and negative ways. I find myself dwelling on the negative effects when one of our other children is having problems. I go over the whole Daniel scenario—past, present, and future—and wrestle with guilt that we may have spent so much energy coping with his condition that we have sometimes lost sight of the needs of our other eight children. Words cannot express how deep my desire is at those times to change our history, to make life fair, to heal the ever-present pain. But, of course, that is not possible.
December 21, 1975
Christmas choir music tonight in sacrament meeting did little to lift my gloom. Despite having great faith in Daniel’s recovery, I felt depressed today to see how thin he is. How I long for his chubby body to return, and I sorrow that he shows no recognition of me, even though I have been able to get eye-to-eye contact with him since last Sunday night. A smile will help. I will pray for him to learn to smile again.
I often think about adversity, sorrow, and pain, not only because of our experience with Daniel, but also because of my work as a psychotherapist. Every day I see people who are in deep pain, and I find them asking many of the questions I have asked. Am I on track in my divinely appointed mission? Are my trials helping me grow? How can I get through the pain? Why aren’t other people hurting as I am? Can I find the faith to believe that my Heavenly Father knows why?
The answers are difficult—and they may differ for each person. For me, talking to Heavenly Father through prayer is a source of peace, and letting Him talk to me through the scriptures is a kind of private tutorship toward understanding.
December 28, 1975
While I cared for Daniel today I thought he looked more alert. Our night nurse told me that last night he lay with both his legs stretched out. I have not seen him that way since his legs moved up in a fetal position about four weeks ago. We have worked hard with leg-unlocking exercises, so maybe it won’t be long until he makes this small advancement. Daniel seems to be making tiny attempts at cooing noises. We are delighted with anything new he does.
Reading that journal entry reminds me of my happiness the first time Daniel sneezed, several weeks after his accident. I thought his body was being restored. I had great hope for the future because he was alive. Our lives revolved around designing programs to strengthen Daniel and hoping for each small advancement.
However, as the stress of caring for Daniel and the trials of rearing a large family increased through the years, I found myself searching the scriptures for words of assurance. I read that if we are striving to be righteous we should expect trials: “The Lord trieth the righteous” (Ps. 11:5); “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22); and “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Heb. 12:6). Knowing this, how can I use the absence of adversity as a measure of my worth or of God’s love for me?
I try to accept that the trials of my faith are “much more precious than of gold that perisheth.” (1 Pet. 1:7.) But when I neglect to read and ponder and pray about the scriptures, I find it easier to slip into bitterness and despair. The process of my pain has been the process of my learning.
January 2, 1976
We hope that 1976 will be kind to us! Allen (my husband) is surprised that I am discouraged tonight, because he feels Daniel is making good progress. But when I see Michael and Patrick so far ahead of him, I feel such sadness. I should be grateful for his warm body to cuddle and that he can follow me with his eyes now. I doubt if am learning patience from this because I feel so impatient. I wonder—if I had more faith, would God give him back to us faster? Or are we supposed to accept God’s timetable? I wish I knew!
At my request, a friend wrote about her struggles with enduring adversity: “I deal with the subject of the fairness of life. … I examine myself and discover where and to what I am anchored. I suffer, I sacrifice, and I wonder if this is where I really want to be. But I find that as I resolve these issues I become more tolerant, less judgmental, more pliable. I understand that a greater power is there to sustain me.”
Another friend wrote: “I expected more direct relief through prayer and sincere appeals for insight and cures. I cried for help, but what I got were bits and pieces of understanding and hope here and there over a long period of time. I found that God does not work the way I do. I want to relieve distress quickly and directly. He stretches it out to the limit, until we are shown for what we are.”
January 4, 1976
Last night, Allen and I went out and had a lovely dinner together. When we came home, Kathleen was so excited. She had been getting Daniel to smile by tickling him gently in the ribs. Allen phoned his parents to tell them the good news. Daniel is looking more like himself now, and his increasing responsiveness thrills us. Several times in the last few days I have thought he smiled, but now I am sure. It is a funny little smile, mostly from his bottom lip.
I am learning that joy is closely related to sorrow. Lehi, a man of both great sorrow and great joy, taught his son Jacob about these extremes of feeling when he told him that if Adam and Eve had not been cast out of the Garden of Eden “they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; … But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:23–25; italics added.) We, too, must experience misery in order to have joy.
January 24, 1976
Daniel is becoming so responsive! All the children are spending more time with him. Today Allen had him laughing aloud by tickling him. What joy we felt! Daniel has helped me to know how precious each of my children is. I am finding that all my feelings are enhanced, both highs and lows, and my desires are increasingly toward my family instead of the world.
The sorrow that living in a fallen, mortal world creates can move us toward spiritual life and joy or toward spiritual death, depending on how we choose to deal with the trials we experience. For many of us, affliction causes us to reexamine our lives, our motives, and our need for a power greater than we are.
I have found that asking “Why me?” is a way of avoiding the source of the pain. We get caught up in comparing our lives with others’ rather than looking closely at our own, and the result can be anger, hopelessness, and helplessness. A better question might be “Why am I feeling so helpless (angry, hopeless)?” As we answer, we allow painful memories to flow into the open, where we can work toward understanding them.
Often I hear friends, family, and clients talk of feeling that they “aren’t supposed” to experience negative emotions. But when we don’t acknowledge these feelings, they fester and grow. Eventually, we might express them in ways far out of proportion to the original emotion, from violence to depression. I am sometimes pierced with the knowledge that much emotional pain could be lessened or even avoided if someone had listened, cared, or understood years before.
September 28, 1976
I am reminded of a year ago. We never felt inspired to pray for a quick miracle, but always felt reassured that the Lord was mindful of Daniel. When his blindness weighed on us heavily, we prayed specifically for his sight to return—and it did, quite rapidly.
Still, I become so burdened with depression and grief that I don’t function well at all. It seems that the closer we get to October 8 [the anniversary of Daniel’s accident], the more nervous and upset I become. I weep easily and often, especially at night. The beautiful fall days are a reminder of a year ago when my heart was broken.
The expression of feelings is a complex subject, but the scriptures give us many examples of feelings. The most moving to me is described in Moses 7:28–31, of God and the heavens weeping, and Enoch’s astonishment that, with all His power, God would weep. We also know “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) while he was living on the earth. Yet we are sometimes ashamed of such deep feelings—feelings that could help us to heal.
January 18, 1981
Danny is happy in his Special Education class, and Patrick and Michael are learning by leaps and bounds in their school. The contrast is painful, but most of the time I can handle it. I am not sure that Daniel can, though. He knows. I am sure. And sometimes I hurt for him for days at a time. Will the pain ever go away?
My writing becomes sporadic after this entry. There is a gap of several years in my journal during which events in our family tested my faith as Danny’s accident never had. I believe I had been living under the assumption that if I endured to the end with Daniel, the heavens would smile upon us with everlasting joy. This belief was slowly shattered. I could not give it up easily. I was forgetting that each member of my family has agency to live and learn.
March 19, 1987
It is hard to explain why I quit writing. I believe as the full knowledge that Danny’s body will never be whole again in this life grew in me, the hurt became too much to face (along with other hurts), so I avoided it by not writing. That was a bad decision, but now I have made the break and will try to record our life and my thoughts again. So much has happened.
Sometimes I find myself believing that others are not suffering as I am, or even that the wicked are happier than I am. This has ever been a human inclination. But it is relieving to let go of such beliefs. One father, faithful in his service to family and the Church, told me, “I think my pain was increased by the idea that lots of other families were succeeding very well and that ours wasn’t. I wanted to hide our private realities. Since then I have learned that virtually every family faces one or more major crises, and I have learned that many of those we think are outstanding examples are about as inadequate as the rest of us.” Such realizations can release us from the defeating belief that we will never measure up and allow us to concentrate on the tasks at hand.
It would be easier to correct our distorted beliefs about suffering if our culture did not drum into us a success syndrome. We hear about and focus on others’ successes and outward happiness, but we seldom hear about talking with close friends or seeking out trusted loved ones with whom to share pain. Why do we hesitate to share our pain? Do we build walls to protect our images rather than building bridges to reach out to one another? When will we become a community of believers living together to love and support each other? (See Gal. 5:22–26; Eph. 4:21–32; Philip. 2:1–3.)
I wish we were more open and that we trusted and loved each other more. Then we could talk about our pain, understand it better, and move toward acceptance of whatever we are dealing with. Acceptance does not mean we give up. It means we accept where we are and start making changes, finding solutions—no longer paralyzed by guilt, denial, depression, or anger.
May 25, 1989
A few weeks ago I gave a seminar on identity and personal growth at a large gathering of young women. We met in a beautiful cabin at Sundance [ski resort]. Near the end, I was trying to develop the idea that we are not our achievements or our accumulation of possessions. Our worth is intrinsic, because we are children of our Heavenly Father. When we become competitive with each other in order to feel worthwhile, we damage our potential for loving relationships and the capacity to experience closeness with others.
Quite spontaneously, I decided to use Daniel as an example to illustrate what I was trying to teach. Most of the young women know Daniel, by sight or from interacting with him. I asked the young women if he had any worth: he can’t walk; he can’t talk; he will never achieve worldly success. They vigorously agreed that he is a valuable person. They love to be around him. He radiates love, caring, purity. His spirit shines forth as a blessing to others.
I believe those who were there experienced a vivid affirmation of what is really of worth in this life. There was a wonderful, loving spirit in that gathering of young women and leaders. There were tears as hearts were touched by the knowledge of their own value. I felt both pain and joy—an emotional paradox. Both feelings were deep and undeniable.
I believe the lesson was more for me than for the young women. In spite of all I’ve learned from Daniel, I would still rather have his body whole, though I know his spirit is whole. But we cannot escape adversity. We can only choose how we will respond to it.
There are times when I feel that my soul will burst with happiness, and I cherish everything of beauty in the world down to the tiniest white alyssum blossom. Then I know that God lives and loves me. When I am enveloped in misery, I also know that God lives and that he loves me, and I pray that He will accept my broken heart and contrite spirit. When, for each of us, these two experiences come together and we “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men” (2 Ne. 31:20), then we will know true joy.