He made me a promise, this Apostle of the Lord: “He will not leave you alone, nor will He be in debt to you in the years ahead. The Lord God always compensates. This you can count on.”
Those were the comforting words of Elder Richard L. Evans of the Quorum of the Twelve as he spoke at the funeral services for my young husband. The “compensation” he spoke of was beyond my comprehension, and the thought slumbered in my memory for years. I could not see the end from the beginning.
That we are not alone, however, and that a loving Father in Heaven hears our prayers was more tangible. Our five children, ages four through sixteen, understood this. Their father, whose career had been in broadcasting, had often taught that their voices and thoughts are audible to the Lord, that they could reach the Lord through prayer if their lives were tuned in to the right frequency. Little David, the youngest, prayed at his grandmother’s knee on that first lonely night, “Please bless my daddy, so he will be well when I get there.”
I also had a trusting faith in prayer. I had been prepared for that in early childhood. As an eleven-year-old, I was permitted to pick up the new baby, the only boy in a family of girls. One evening as we were called to supper, I laid Justin face down in a circle of pillows. My mother found him later with his little face buried in the softness, blue and lifeless, without breath. We frantically summoned my uncle, a physician, who lived across the street. Burdened with guilt and fear, I ran into the next room and called on the Lord for help. In return, I made a promise I have always kept. My prayer was answered; the baby was revived. So I have always known the power of prayer.
We were vacationing in Utah when my husband died. A sudden heart attack took Ralph while he was waterskiing with fourteen-year-old Clare. While still numb from shock, I faced my first major decision. Our home was two thousand miles away in Washington, D.C. “Where do we go from here?” I wondered. “Do we move back to Utah among family and old friends, or do we stay in Washington and try to bloom where we were planted?” My ninety-two-year-old grandfather, a pioneer physician and wise patriarch of a large posterity, offered sage counsel. “Go back home for the present,” he said. “It is not wise to uproot your family until you think it through for at least a year.” I think he was telling me to try my own wings.
It was not a difficult decision to make. Our home, with its familiar surroundings, was a haven, and there was a memory in every room. It would have been more difficult to start over somewhere else.
Also, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Washington, D.C., area was strong and growing fast. Members from adults to grade-school children felt a strong sense of identity with the Church. The opportunity to “stand up and be counted” promoted awareness of doctrine and practices and, through commitment to covenants, helped build strong testimonies of the gospel.
There was a feeling of missionary zeal. Our neighborhood, Chevy Chase Circle on the Maryland/District of Columbia line, is ringed by beautiful churches of various Christian denominations. In the months and years after we returned to our home, school friends who were members of those churches invited our children to speak to their youth groups about Mormonism, and the interest and questions of the young people and their religious leaders challenged our children to expand their knowledge and test their faith. Many close friendships and several conversions resulted.
Looking back, I see the wisdom of remaining among supportive neighborhood, school, and Church friends. The loss we had suffered did not disrupt the stability of our lives.
There was little time for grief that first year. The awesome responsibilities of my new role as sole parent were overwhelming. Ralph had been very much in charge, and I had relied on his judgment and leadership. Now, establishing my authority was of prime importance. The children thought they were very funny when they made birthday and Mother’s Day cards depicting me in a general’s uniform clutching a big sack: “Mother, left holding the bag!” However, I knew my authority was finally recognized when I overheard one small child say to another, “What are Mother and Daddy going to do when they get together again, now that Mother’s the boss?”
But there was a special presence in our home. Father was considered to be out of reach but not out of touch. I realized this one day when teenaged Alison said, “Mother, I can always get out of your range, but I can’t get out of Daddy’s.” This was a definite plus. It was one of those compensations that jogged my memory of Elder Evans’s promise.
Our youngest child insists that he never felt fatherless. His departed father was always a real person to him, and he intuitively understood the eternal nature of the family long before he learned about the covenants and promises that can ensure its endurance. This awareness also translated into a desire on the part of our children to prove themselves so as not to disappoint the father they had come to idealize. As for me, I was determined to succeed in my stewardship. I could not fail my eternal partner or my Eternal Father. Our purpose bound us even closer together as a family as we shared our trials and successes.
Temple marriage was a subject of special interest to our family. It was an anchor to which we could hold and a prize that all would one day attain. Our primary motivation was that we might all serve the Lord’s purposes so we could be united as a family once again.
A second major problem that had to be resolved soon after Ralph’s death was how to provide for my family. This is probably the most crucial and frightening reality that most bereft mothers face. My options were whether to stretch insufficient financial resources until they were gone, postponing the day of reckoning, or to find employment in the near future and keep something in reserve. I chose the latter. Fortunately, it was possible for me to be away during the day because all the children were in school, and an older daughter was responsible until I arrived home. The children’s acceptance of this new situation and their faith in me was viewed as “God’s in his heaven, Eisenhower is president, and Mother will provide.”
Of course, Mother had zero qualifications, having married before completing college. But after a refresher course in business English and typing, I was ready to start at the bottom. Opportunity came through a call from U.S. Senator Wallace F. Bennett of Utah, who invited me to join his staff as a receptionist. It was a good beginning. Further training brought additional employment opportunities and added responsibilities. These experiences, along with subsequent years in the field of corporate communications at one of the federal banking agencies, have broadened my interests, supplemented my education, developed my skills, strengthened my self-confidence, contributed to my financial independence, and provided for my future security. This is compensation I had never dreamed of.
When I first accepted employment, I came to a decision that accounts in great measure for any success I may have had as a single parent: giving prime time to the children. Prime time meant every evening, with few exceptions. Since I was away all day, it followed that I should be home at night. This was a marked change from former days when my husband’s position as a television network executive involved us both in a busy business/social schedule in and out of town. Time and again as I had appeared to be all attention during a conversation or concert, I had been worrying about the children’s homework or how dinner was progressing at home. As we had traveled, I had thought about where the children were. At length, after Ralph’s death, I concluded that the next year would be different. I was needed at home more in the evenings when the children were there.
All decisions that shaped our future were not mine alone. The children had choices to make, too. They learned to cook through trial and error and became quite adept at cleaning the house. With their mother at work during the day, they found their own way around on foot, bicycle, or bus. “Ask not what your mother can do for you, but what you can do for your mother” became the watchword in our home. All children worked at summer jobs as soon as they were old enough. We even caught the littlest one selling his carefully scrubbed rocks from door to door in the neighborhood. Self-sufficiency, they soon learned, was the name of the game.
Although I found myself widowed at a relatively young age, I was blessed with a generous measure of faith and hopefulness. I tried to convey this feeling to my children. The entire family felt a strong sense of opportunity and of the Lord’s hand in our lives.
Friends and family members also contributed their suggestions and ideas for our welfare. There was valuable advice and assistance regarding summer jobs, a summer Bible camp, schools, scholarships, and many other things. Friends were there in times of illness, trouble, and teenage crises. They included us in family activities, father-and-son outings, and other events. Our bishops and priesthood leaders were always available for counsel. Being on the receiving end of so much kindness is often difficult, but it has taught me and my children that blessings from the Lord are not just dropped on our heads. They are brought to pass through the hearts and hands of others.
A woman in the role of single parent has a very special calling, and she will be held accountable before the Lord for what she does with her stewardship. Although her spouse is absent, she stands nonetheless commissioned by the Lord to perform the charge he issued to all parents: “And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:28; see also D&C 68:25–27 and D&C 68:29–32.) She may feel at times that she carries a disproportionate share of that responsibility, yet she has the Lord’s assurance that he will prepare a way for her to accomplish her task. (See 1 Ne. 3:7.)
The principal lessons a parent must teach are those of spiritual values. Elder Boyd K. Packer has suggested that when children are interested or teachable, parents need to “seize the moment.” (Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975, p. 110.) When they are spiritually hungry, feed them. Unknowingly, I followed this precept. We discussed gospel concepts freely while preparing salad, driving to a music lesson, or sitting around the dinner table. It was as commonplace to talk about the Atonement or the Second Coming as to converse about what was happening in Congress or in the fourth-grade math class. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., has said that Latter-day Saint children have a spiritual maturity that must not be underestimated. “They are eager to learn the Gospel,” he said, “and they want it straight, undiluted.” (J. Reuben Clark Selected Papers, ed. David H. Yarn, Jr., Provo: Brigham Young Univ. Press, 1984, p. 246.)
Through the years, I have proved the following scripture many times: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5–6.) And I now understand that when a great tree falls in a forest, it allows other trees to grow to their strength.
We view eternity through the small window of mortal time: “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” (1 Cor. 13:12.) The day will come when we shall each see our lives with clear vision and an eternal perspective. We shall then have a full knowledge of what we understand by faith now: That the Lord does not leave us alone when we seek him, that he is never in debt to us, and that he always compensates. By showing us our weaknesses and providing an opportunity to turn them to strengths, he exchanges with us dross for gold.