My mother always told me I had been born under a lucky star, and I believed her. I grew up in a loving family, married my Prince Charming, and struggled happily with him while he finished a medical internship and residency and I finished law school. We were blessed with a beautiful family and found joy in living the gospel.
Then one day my lucky star came crashing down.
When I first received word of Van’s death, I felt as if the best part of me had died, too. I didn’t think I’d ever be the same person. I penned in my journal:
“How does one write about the end of an era in life? I feel as if my whole world, my whole reason for being has just been shattered. It looks as if the sun will never shine again.”
My joy in life had centered around Van. He was the nucleus of my happiness. I didn’t think I would ever laugh again. But I had to reevaluate my outlook because I could see that our children would adopt my attitudes, whatever they might be, and I couldn’t let them think that life was over. That would be counter to everything my relationship with Van had stood for.
I can remember sitting in stake conference just two days after the funeral. It was Father’s Day. I still had a knot in my stomach and that ever-present feeling of gloom, but I wanted desperately to cope with the situation. It struck me that I had a great-grandmother who lived to be 102 years old; I could have 62 years left on earth! I decided that there was no way I was going to be miserable for 62 years. I was going to do a lot more than just “cope” with the situation. And so began our family’s pursuit of happiness.
It helped that I had no regrets about my relationship with Van. Even though he died suddenly without me at his side, there wasn’t anything that was left unsaid between us. Somehow, that helped give me the serenity to accept his death.
I needed to find the courage to change my definition of happiness that required Van at my side. As I gained a deeper insight into the eternal scheme of God’s plan and his concept of time, I was in a better position to move on with my life. I came to realize that it doesn’t matter when we die or how we die, but how we live. I had so many blessings. It was comforting to know that I was prepared to support my family financially and that Van had not left us unprepared to face life without him.
I felt a need to know that Van was at peace. I pleaded with the Lord to let him communicate with me just once to reassure me that Van could be happy without us. I would have loved a telephone call, but I would have settled for a dream.
The Lord did not answer my prayers this way. But several weeks after Van’s death, we went to a popular recreation spot for a family outing, and while my thoughts were of Van 100 percent of the time, I found that it was possible for us to have fun together as a family. I can remember vividly the moment I realized that the Lord had answered my prayers through the Comforter. How could I have fun and have the peaceful and calm feeling I was experiencing if Van weren’t all right?
This was my first conscious experience with the Holy Ghost as Comforter, and since that time he has soothed my troubled heart on many occasions. I never kneel down to pray without asking for the Spirit to be with me and comfort me.
I have always had a song in my heart. I would wake up in the morning ready to burst into song, much to the chagrin of my children. I often found myself singing during the course of the day. But after Van died, the song in my heart seemed to die, too, and all we could sing as a family were songs like “God Be With You ’Till We Meet Again.” Even three-year-old Christopher knew the words.
After several months, however, I realized that these songs were actually contributing to our grief rather than helping us find joy in life. I forced myself to start singing “You Are My Sunshine” and “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” At first, my children and I were singing empty words, but after days of singing “My, oh my, what a wonderful day!” we couldn’t help but start to believe it.
I could see that we were going to have to learn to laugh again, and I began to think of situations that would help us forget our plight. One day, on Grandma’s birthday, we planted signs on my parents’ yard and hung crepe paper streamers in the trees and on the house. As we lay on the lawn waiting for my parents to come home, I was conscious of our laughter.
Our next target was our home teacher. It was his birthday. We left him a big pan of our favorite dessert and lots of signs lamenting the passing of another year.
We turned special days like Van’s birthday or our wedding anniversary into wonderful family parties, celebrating them at a restaurant or some other noisy, public place where it would be impossible to start thinking of our loss. This helped us to look forward to these days with anticipation rather than dread.
Still, I can remember how lost I felt that first Christmas. We are in the habit of putting our Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving, and everyone has an assigned task. While we were working on the tree that year, the thought crossed my mind that we weren’t even a family at all. But as I look back over the years since my husband’s death, two things stand out that have helped us recapture our family unity and fill the void we felt at first.
We had had family prayer together for years, but on the run. We said our prayers standing up in the kitchen, and the children had one eye on their watches and one eye on the door. I took on the challenge of adding scripture study to our family prayer, and we changed the time and place. We now meet together in the living room an hour earlier, before everyone feels rushed. We started out reading only two verses of scripture, but we’ve worked our way up to reading at least one page before we kneel around the table together.
In addition to all the obvious blessings we have received from these morning sessions, I have observed our family draw closer to each other. Meeting together at the beginning of a new day before the hustle of life takes hold is a unifying experience, and it has helped us regain that feeling of being a complete family unit.
Another way we helped fill the void in our family was to surround ourselves with other people. At first we found it hard to do things by ourselves. Somehow, the idea of packing a lunch for a “family” hike seemed overwhelming. We solved the problem by inviting some of the children’s friends to our picnics and to go hiking and camping with us.
We had the constant support of very loving grandparents, and my brother, Uncle John, and his family. Our friends have also made a significant contribution in our quest for happiness. They have had a great impact on the lives of each one of us.
I had developed the habit of running with Van for exercise, and after his death I continued it with several of the ladies in our stake on weekday mornings. I’m not sure which of my selves benefits the most from this experience—my body or my soul. Sometimes we solve the problems of the world on these runs, and sometimes we discover new problems, but these ladies help me see things in a clearer perspective. I am so blessed to have friends who act as if Van were merely on call, and who include me in their social plans.
Friends and loved ones have observed that the Lindsays are stepping a lot higher these days. We are not the same people we were before Van’s death. When we are next reunited with our father and husband, we will have grown in faith, character, understanding, empathy, and love. We will be better able to meet life’s demands by having had to be more dependent upon the Lord. We will have grown in ways we would not have known through any other experience.
Of course, the price for this growth is more than we would have chosen to pay if the decision had been up to us. But I believe that our Heavenly Father has tailored our mortal experience to help us develop our weaknesses into strengths. He doesn’t permit us to choose whether we will face trials—only how we will face them.
I have often taken heart in the words of former United States President Woodrow Wilson, spoken in a baccalaureate address to the Princeton University class of 1907:
“To one deep fountain of revelation and renewal, few of you, I take it for granted, have had access yet. I mean the fountain of sorrow, a fountain sweet or bitter according to how it is drunk, in submission or in rebellion, in love or in resentment and deep dismay. I will not tell you of those waters. If you have not tasted them it would be futile. And some of you will understand without word of mine. I only beg that when they are put to your lips, as they must be, you will drink of them as those who seek renewal, and know how to make of sadness a mood of enlightenment and hope.” (In Arthur Walworth, Woodrow Wilson: American Prophet, Easton Press, 1978, pp. 114–15; used by permission of W. W. Norton and Co., Inc.)
We all live in a bubble of blessings, and each of us inevitably will experience some times in our lives when that bubble deflates. Because we are given the ability to help design our own destiny, we can inflate that bubble again. We may not fill it with the same blessings, because sometimes circumstances require us to redefine our concept of happiness. But the bubble can be just as full as ever.