As a physician, I have been with many patients who were close to death. But few of these experiences have torn at my heart the way my experience with Cal and Lola Hamilton did.
At sixty-two, Lola had been ill for years. Nearly blind from the complications of diabetes, she had severe arthritis and chronic heart and lung disease. She was so weak and short-winded from illness that she had a hard time walking from her bed to the bathroom and back. She seemed haggard, worn, and older than her years.
But her husband, Cal, did not think of Lola’s ill health as a burden. He seemed to be the epitome of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s admonition that we should have “an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.” (Cornerstones of a Happy Home, pamphlet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1984, p. 5.) Cal was healthy and strong. He looked ten years younger than he was, and he still managed an active farming business. Yet in the two years I had known them, his foremost concern was always his wife’s comfort and well-being.
He had a heavy responsibility. Lola needed insulin shots, multiple glucose readings requiring finger sticks, and running blood sugar checks done on a small glucose machine. She required ten to twelve medications a day, many of which had to be given at specific times. Her vision was so poor she couldn’t do any of it alone. She also needed to visit the doctor frequently—a trip which took an hour each way from Duchesne, Utah, to Heber City.
Caring for Lola was practically a full-time nursing job. Yet Cal himself carried most of the load, always cheerfully and enthusiastically. The children, all married now, also helped. The care Lola received at home was often better than she could get in a hospital.
In the two years I had known her, Lola was hospitalized four times—each for an extended period. Cal stayed with her constantly, sleeping in a chair at her side or on a little cot the nurses put in her room. He left long enough to eat a meal only if one of the children was there. He took care of many of the details of her care; day or night, week after week, he was always there. Never through all those days did I hear a critical word about a nurse, an aid, or anyone else. Instead, Cal praised and thanked us for the care we were giving Lola.
When Lola finally had a massive stroke, Cal was devastated. He never left her side as, hour after hour, she lay in a coma, oblivious to her surroundings. As she lay in her hospital bed, Lola received a priesthood blessing, surprisingly promising that her full functional capacity would be restored. Because of that blessing we did everything we could to prolong her life.
The days passed and Lola remained in a coma. Cal never left the hospital, but day after day the strain and agony on his face increased and the creeping discouragement showed. He began to appear unkempt; the whiskers grew longer on his unshaven face. He looked so thin and tired that I wondered if he had stopped eating. He caught only a few minutes of fitful sleep here and there. Each time Lola’s noisy breathing caught or changed a little, he jumped up to check on her, only to find her near-lifeless form still and unresponsive.
Such stress often brings out the worst in a person’s character. But Cal continued to be courteous, with never an unkind or critical word. My heart went out to this gentle man who showed such dignity in the face of his grief.
One Saturday after leaving Cal and Lola, I went back to the doctors’ lounge and slumped down on a bench. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about Cal’s pain and grief.
Once again, I bowed my head to ask Heavenly Father if there was something, as Lola’s doctor, that I could do to help. Was there something I had left undone—something I had not thought of, some medicine I had not used? I asked about Lola’s priesthood blessing. Why would anyone make such a rash statement? Was the priesthood holder truly inspired to say what he did?
At that moment, a thought came forcefully into my mind. The only way Lola could be restored to her full capacity was to leave her disabled, diseased body behind and move on to the next life. I had had this thought before, and I had even mentioned it to Cal. But this time it was accompanied by a feeling of great joy from a source I did not doubt. In my mind, I could see Lola, sweet and attractive, with her eyesight and all her functional capacity restored.
My grief was gone. I felt only joy—the unmistakable joy and peace that only the Holy Ghost can bring. I remembered the Lord’s words, “I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;
“And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me.” (D&C 11:13–14.)
I left the doctors’ lounge with peace in my heart. A few hours later Lola died quietly and peacefully, and Cal finally went home.
I am grateful to Cal, who, by his example, taught me the meaning of love and sacrifice. It’s wonderful to see true love in action from a front-row seat as I did. I am also deeply grateful to the Lord for the miracle of personal revelation, a miracle that turned a distressing, faith-shaking experience into a sweet, faith-building one.