The last time I saw my little sister, Lorraine, was in a soundproof hospital room that smelled of sweet soap. She lay in a huge metal bed with sterile white sheets, surrounded by tanks and tubes and oxygen equipment. The doctors confirmed what she herself knew:
“Mommy,” she said in her calm, sweet voice, “mommy, I’m going to die.” She asked us to pray for her—we who had forgotten how to pray.
The night before she died, I sat at her bedside while mom and dad got a few hours of much-needed rest. She was in a coma, and I held her delicate hand in mine under the oxygen tent, willing her to live. My throat ached as I thought about how little I really knew her. Ten years separated us—ten years and my bachelorette apartment and exciting career.
After a few minutes, I heard someone enter the dimmed hospital room. I looked up to see a man, slightly balding, with soft eyes and a kindly smile.
“Hello,” he said in a gentle voice. “I’m Brother Hughes, your home teacher. I—I just found out.”
“Brother?” I wondered silently. “Oh … a Mormon.”
Home teachers were those men who always came in dark suits and who were very nice and chatted for a while and then politely left. Or were those missionaries? We were inactive and in fact had avoided contact with the Church during the two years we had lived in this city. I wondered how he had found us.
“How is she?” he asked. He was smiling a soft, wise smile, the kind that comes mostly from the eyes. I knew this was no self-righteous busybody. Somehow I could tell that he really cared.
For some reason, my first reaction was to try to impress him by delivering a detailed clinical description of the many complications that had led to the hopeless prognosis the doctors had given. But instead, only a strange groan escaped my lips, and the tears began to fall unrestrainedly.
I don’t really remember everything Brother Hughes said to me that night, except that when he left I knew Lorraine would be alive somewhere, and that this pitiful little body with the thin, golden hair was only the shell that had housed her for a time. Not that he actually came out and said it, but somewhere in the back of my mind I could see her running and stretching out her arms to a loving being who held her just like dad had done.
Lorraine left us, but Brother Hughes came again and again.
A year later, in the temple, we shed tears as the Spirit bore witness to us that Lorraine was with us as we were sealed together as a family. And a few days afterward, I was married in the temple.
I often think about Lorraine, and when I do, I remember that wonderful home teacher who taught us once again to pray, who showed us again the one true way where tragedy is supplanted by eternal hope.
I suspect that Lorraine, at eleven years of age, had somehow gained that hope for herself. It shines through clearly in a poem she wrote shortly before she died:
I like to watch the moon in the stillness of the night,
And dream I am an astronaut making ready for a flight.
First I’m in my rocket, and then I’m on the moon,
Looking down on little earth, singing a happy tune.
Then I look at my surroundings to see what I can see,
But all of a sudden I feel very eerie and wish for company.
Then all of a sudden, far below, I see a child’s face,
Dreaming as I once had done before I entered space.
So then I wave a cheery hello, and even try to call,
And all of a sudden my foot makes a slip, and I begin to fall.
I keep on falling and falling until I find myself by my windowsill,
Looking up into the sky where all the heavenly bodies be.