“I think I felt more alone at sacrament meeting than anywhere else,” observes Nina Irene Clements Ricks as she recalls the first time she went to church as a widow, just after her husband died eight years ago.
“I walked in, looked around, and didn’t know where to sit. I was there in a room full of people, but I was alone,” she continues. “Even though it continued to be difficult for quite a while, I kept at it for this reason: if you put something off, it just becomes harder to do. I knew that going to church would be a hard but important step as I readjusted to life without Frank.”
For the same reason, Sister Ricks returned to her work as a temple worker at the Idaho Falls Temple a week after her husband’s funeral. “We had worked at the temple for ten years,” she says, “and returning was another difficult thing for me to do. But I knew that remaining active, spiritually as well as physically, was crucial.”
Being physically active has always been an important part of Sister Ricks’s life. She was sixty-three the first time she hiked down the Grand Canyon in 1974. She trained for months beforehand by walking miles along the country road where she lives in Hibbard, Idaho. Two years later, she returned again with a daughter and son-in-law and their two children. This time, because the weather hadn’t permitted training outside, she’d climbed the stairs in her home to prepare for the hike.
“There are eleven stairs going upstairs,” she says. “The first day, I was huffing and puffing after only three times. A few months later, I was climbing up and down those stairs thirty times a day.”
Walking and hiking have always been a part of Sister Ricks’s life, and the two Grand Canyon treks were dreams come true. “I’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon and wanted to know what the bottom of the canyon looked like, but I didn’t know there was a trail that went down there,” she explains. “When I found out there was and that I could go down, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Jumping at opportunities is what Sister Ricks does to keep active as she nears her eighty-fourth birthday. A mother of ten and grandmother of fifty-one, Sister Ricks has found that focusing on physical, intellectual, and spiritual goals has helped her maintain the independence she highly values.
“Of course, there are things that I can’t do that I used to be able to do,” she acknowledges. “But I can’t focus on those things. Instead, I concentrate on the things I can do and continue to do them as long as possible.”
Physical fitness is a high priority. Although somewhat limited by arthritis, bad knees, and carpal tunnel syndrome, Sister Ricks tries to exercise every day. “I can’t do aerobics,” she says with a smile. “But I do stretching exercises. And my main form of exercise is my determination not to sit too long.”
Although her children have tried to convince her to get a cordless phone, Sister Ricks refuses. “Getting up to answer the phone is a form of exercise, and I’m going to continue to do it as long as I can,” she explains.
For the same reason, she insists on getting up to answer her door whenever visitors come, and when they leave, she walks them out to their car, sending them off with a smile and a wave.
Sister Ricks stays active in other ways as well. She faithfully attends monthly singles activities in her stake, and temple attendance continues to be important to her.
“Two years ago, three of my sisters and I went on a little temple tour of sorts,” she recalls. “We wanted to go through the Las Vegas Nevada Temple, and on the way, we went through the Manti and St. George temples.” Last summer, the Alberta Temple was the destination of a summer temple trip with a widowed sister.
In addition, daily scripture reading has become a source of strength to Sister Ricks. “That’s one of the few things that’s become easier through the years,” she remarks wryly.
A few minutes a day spent reading in the Book of Mormon supplements her other scripture reading, which includes Sunday School reading assignments and other topics that are of interest.
“I love reading and always have,” she says. Historical biographies, books by Church authors and leaders, and the several magazines to which she subscribes fill her shelves. “There is never enough time to read everything I want.”
Above all, it is Sister Ricks’s strong testimony of the gospel that has given her faith and strength as she deals with the challenges of advancing age and widowhood. “I can remember after my father died, my mother told me that without prayer she could never have made it,” Sister Ricks says. “At the time, I thought I understood. But now I really know what she meant.
“Prayer truly is what has got me through this,” she continues. “Prayer gives me peace and understanding and enables me to cope with whatever comes along. I have absolute faith that Heavenly Father lives, that we are his children, and that he is aware of us. He hears and answers our prayers, and blesses us as we strive to obey.”
An alert mind is one of Sister Ricks’s blessings. In addition to reading, she cultivates her intellect by continuing to learn new things. Learning Spanish was a recent goal. “I got some videotapes and watched them on television,” she explains. “I watched several lessons, but I haven’t been able to learn all that I’ve wanted to. I’m just too busy doing other things.”
Another recent project is crocheting afghans for each of her grandchildren. Recent surgery on both hands curtailed her activity for a few weeks, but now that the doctor has approved, she’s happily crocheting away. “I have only fourteen afghans to go,” she reports. “After that I’m not sure what crocheting project I’ll tackle next.”
Her crocheting projects may not all be outlined, but her letter writing projects are. A returned missionary herself (she and her husband served an eighteen-month mission at the Manti Temple Visitors’ Center from 1977 to 1978), she regularly writes to missionaries sent from her ward, the Hibbard (Idaho) Second Ward. She also writes to a missionary brother and his wife, and her children and grandchildren receive prompt birthday greetings as well as other letters throughout the year. Each written greeting contains assurances of love and reaffirmations of her faith in God.
Her service to others extends beyond letter writing. She enjoys calling ward members who are homebound, and she keeps close tabs on immediate family members as well as those in her extended family.
Those family ties are strengthened every year when her family gets together for camping reunions. Although Sister Ricks has added an air mattress to her camping gear and has delegated many of the cooking assignments to other family members, she looks forward to those days spent in the mountains, surrounded by those she loves. “There is truly nothing more important than people,” she observes. “To anyone dealing with the adjustment of being widowed, I would say: get involved. Find something you enjoy and do it. Reach out to others, either family members or ward members or people in your community or neighborhood. There are people who need you—and you need people.
“Making changes isn’t easy; dealing with being a widow and getting old hasn’t been fun,” she continues. “But it is truly pointless to think and talk about what cannot be. Happiness comes from accepting who we are and where we are and going on from there, involving the Lord in our lives and trusting in him to lead us and care for us.”