A few years ago I was in Arizona with my youngest daughter, Rosie, who was then nine. Following a family decision to move to the Midwest, my husband, Dee, had taken his tools and our last son at home to Missouri to build us a new home. That left Rosie and me with a good-sized house and two and a half acres of fruit trees, lawn, garden, and pasture to care for.
Only after most of the family were gone did I realize the blessings we had shared by doing things together. I had a strong, energetic husband, three healthy sons, and an older daughter who helped enthusiastically, and I had come to take for granted that gardens and weeds needed only a little time to keep their place. I had a few things to learn.
Dee had patiently tutored me with respect to my turn for the irrigation water, but I missed it the first time around. By the second irrigation I wanted so much to be prepared that I rose early in the morning to open the ports, clean the ditch, and at last move the metal dam in the ditch. But I had forgotten to wear gloves, and I burned my hands as I grabbed the metal in the 107-degree weather. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have watered the pasture, I thought, as well as my husband would have done. Then horror took over as I pumped the plastic hose and waited for the water to gulp its way to our little fruit trees. Nothing! I tried again, but with the same result. My watering time was gone, and still I could not coax water from the ditch. Despairing, I pulled the dam free and the water moved swiftly toward its next bidder.
Tears welled as I looked again upon the parched earth; then I turned toward the barn and Dee’s tools. My thought was to pick the dirt loose and make a dirt dam around each tree, then quench their thirst by hand watering. But all the strength of my slight five-foot frame could not even dent the parched earth; and my tears flowed as the last hope faded.
Overwhelmed, I began to pray. “Heavenly Father, please make me equal to the task—and please let it be over soon.” I felt a sudden comfort, and the impression was clear: “Do not despair. You are not alone yet; your husband is only in another state. Take this opportunity to strengthen yourself and to learn what you can, for the day will come when you will be alone.”
An uncle stopped by shortly after my frustrating experience with the water. Together we worked the ground and finally saw that the trees were watered. I met my watering turns after that, day or night. The weeds were pulled and the lawn was cut, too—but not without pacing myself and a great deal of effort.
Even more overwhelming than the work was the loneliness. I had never faced that demon before, and it carried with it the most desolate of feelings. During the day it took on faces as I vacuumed an empty bedroom, as I looked at empty spaces at the table, as the cookies were not devoured. At night it was bold and gaunt and hollow. Even though Rosie slept near me, the stillness was almost unbearable. The emptiness would often wake me from a sound sleep.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the exhaustion and loneliness, I learned two very important things. One was the value of sharing my life and time with people around me. I took a neighbor’s little boy with me when I went to the dump; we would sing and talk all the way, and occasionally he would slip his arm around my neck and give me a hug. He was only two years old and loved the big trucks at the dump. His mother, who had a new baby, was delighted to have a break. I sometimes offered to babysit and in turn was invited to dinner, which I eagerly accepted.
An elderly couple lived nearby; the wife was in bed at home after being in the hospital for several days. I loved to cook and was having a hard time cooking for only two when I had always cooked for eight or more, so it was actually a relief when they helped eat the extras.
I took the time to call on uncles and aunts. My favorite pastime was a five-generation picture chart, and each new face was a new friend. I kept it in the family room where it was in full view, and my loneliness eased greatly as the picture chart grew.
And I had my little daughter Rosie. We set up a special table in her room and began to do crafts together. She was better than I at most of what we did, but we laughed and talked and found joy in being together.
My experience that summer taught me that lives do change—that mine had now “shifted gears,” and that it would continue to do so. I began to make a mental list of things I had not yet tried, but, given the time and opportunity, in the future, I would pursue. I knew I needed to be ever learning, ever doing. But most importantly, I had learned to appreciate my brothers and sisters around me in such a way that I could serve and love them and keep company with them.