She Was a Stranger …

By Marjorie P. Ericksen

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    What comfort could I offer after the death of her son? But I somehow knew I needed to visit her TODAY.

    Occasionally we have a spiritual experience so singular that the memory of it remains forever vivid. I had such an experience many years ago.

    One night a neighbor rang our doorbell and shared the shocking news that a sixteen-year-old boy from up the street had been killed in a car accident. She was collecting funds to help the family with expenses, and we gladly contributed.

    I did not personally know the family—they lived at the top of our hill, about nine houses away. I knew only that the mother, Sherry, worked in a nearby grocery store, but I had not met her. I thought about the tragedy a lot during the next few days. Wanting to do something, I baked a loaf of bread and left it at the house while the family was at the funeral.

    But all the while, in the back of my mind, was the thought that what I really should do was to talk with Sherry. The reason for this, I’m sure, is that my younger sister had recently lost her husband in an auto accident, leaving her with four young children. She told me that what had helped her most was to talk with someone about the way she really felt. Talking about the weather seemed so inconsequential when her heart was breaking.

    She also noted that about six weeks after the funeral, the people around her had adjusted to the loss and assumed that she had, too. The phone calls and visits slacked off dramatically. Yet it was at that time that the weight of her emptiness hit her with full force, and she needed her friends’ support even more than before.

    The obvious time for a visit with Sherry seemed to be during a weekday—but Sherry’s job prevented that. I worried that if I dropped by at night or on a weekend, her husband or her other teenage son, Jim, would be there, and I would be intruding on their time together as a family. So although I thought frequently about visiting her, the days and weeks passed.

    About two months after the accident, I remember waking up knowing that this was the day I had to visit Sherry. With this thought constantly in the back of my mind, I proceeded through my day, hoping to find just the right time. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to make my visit, and I began to feel anxious as the day slipped away.

    Finally, I decided that I would go right after the children were in bed. But it was 10:00 P.M. before I closed the last bedroom door, feeling frustrated at the late hour. However, I still had the strong feeling that today was the day. I began to wonder if I were creating my own sense of urgency. Why today? Look at the time! How could I go up to a house I had never visited and say to someone at the door, whom I had never seen, that I had dropped by for a chat?

    But the Spirit would not be quieted. I finally told my husband I was going to make my visit and went out the door into the night.

    As I walked up the hill my heart was pounding. The closer I got to my destination, the more ridiculous I felt. As I approached Sherry’s house, I took a deep breath. Flashing into my mind was the opening line of an old familiar comic routine: “Hi. You don’t know me …” And that is what I said when Sherry answered the door. “I live down the hill and have wanted to come talk with you ever since Mike was killed,” I continued. “It’s late, I know, but I wondered if you have a few minutes.” The words tumbled over themselves as I tried to explain my appearance.

    The instant she spoke, I knew beyond doubt that the Spirit of the Lord had indeed prompted me to come at this seemingly illogical time. She warmly invited me inside, explaining that it was hard for her to be alone at night since Mike had died, that her husband was working a night shift, and that Jim would be out until late.

    We sat down—two strangers—and began to talk. We talked for a long time, and I was touched by her ability to express what she was going through. I felt great love for her, wishing to ease her burden somehow.

    I told her that because my sister had been recently widowed, I was able to relate at least in a small way to the devastation that can accompany losing someone you love, especially unexpectedly.

    The hour was growing late, and I kept wondering how I might be able to tell her that I was a member of the Church and in some natural way convey the certain testimony I had of life after death and the eternal nature of our spirits. Suddenly she said, “I have something that might help your sister. A lot of people have sent me things, but this one was particularly comforting.”

    She located a sheet of paper and handed it to me. I began to read with interest and found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the philosophy expressed, which included life after death and a renewal of relationships beyond mortality. I said aloud, “This is really good.” And then there it was, at the bottom of the page, the author’s name: Richard L. Evans, who was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

    I couldn’t believe it. The Lord had answered my unspoken prayer. I said to her, “The author of this is one of the leaders of my church!” I went on to affirm my beliefs in the doctrines taught in the writings, silently thanking the Lord for once more helping me reach out to this dear woman.

    We talked until almost midnight, and just before I left I asked her if she had any flowers in her yard to take to the cemetery the next morning, which was Memorial Day. She answered no, but said she was going to buy some. I told her that I would bring up a bouquet of peonies from my backyard. My husband was allergic to them, so I never brought them into the house. Finally—a special use for my beautiful pink flowers!

    As I walked down the hill, I was exhilarated from the entire experience. After arriving home, I located a Church book I had on death and began looking through it, hoping to find something that would be of interest to my new friend.

    Yet another coincidence occurred. As I began reading, I was amazed to find the exact paragraphs that someone had typed up and sent to her! I excitedly underlined other passages in the book that I found especially beautiful, hoping that she would enjoy them as well.

    With great anticipation, I took the flowers and the book to her early the next morning. I explained that the thoughts she had shown me were in the book and left it with her to read. She graciously thanked me.

    But that’s not the end of the story. A few weeks later, there was a knock at my door. It was Sherry returning the flower vase. When I suggested we take a walk around the block and talk awhile, she agreed. As it turned out, my offer came, once again, at the perfect time.

    Well, that was years ago; since that time, our relationship has continued. I wrote Sherry a letter, telling her how the Lord had guided me in her behalf. I shared with her the tape recording of the funeral of my sister’s husband, which taught powerfully the truths of the resurrection and of eternal life. I have continued to provide her with bouquets of peonies each Memorial Day. We have shared remembrances with each other at Christmastime, and I have taken something homemade to her family each year on March 2, the day of Mike’s death.

    This annual pie or loaf of hot bread is my way of saying to her that I am thinking of her at this difficult time. On those occasions, we have put our arms around each other, although the rest of the year we see each other only every week or so at the grocery checkout counter.

    I don’t know if I have increased Sherry’s hope through my testimony. She has expressed no curiosity about our church’s teachings, so she has yet to taste the joy of having her family relationships cemented through temple sealings. That would be the ultimate gift—for her to know what I know through the witness of the Holy Ghost. I do not know if any of those things will ever occur, but I do know that we have touched spiritually.

    This experience has shown me how much the Lord loves all of his children, and how aware he is of what each of us needs. He knew of Sherry’s suffering, and in his love for her, sent me to her. Perhaps I was an answer to an unvoiced prayer. I also learned that when the Spirit says, “Today is the day”—he means it!

    Illustrated by Keith Larson

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    • Marjorie P. Ericksen lives in the Omaha Second Ward, Omaha Nebraska Stake, where she serves as stake newsletter editor.