Merle never had any visitors, and he seemed always depressed, tense, and anxious. But those feelings were understandable—he was literally dying by inches.
Merle, a patient in a nursing home where I worked, had atherosclerosis obliterans, a rare, fatal disease. As he slowly lost circulation in his extremities, his feet and legs would become gangrenous, necessitating repeated amputations. He wanted all the morphine we could give him, and as often as possible.
My heart was touched as I sensed his anxiety and depression. One night when duties were light, I visited him during my lunch break. I sat beside his bed and asked, “Merle, what do you know about our Savior, Jesus Christ?”
I was shocked by his answer: “Who is that? I thought that was just a swear word.”
“No, Jesus Christ is a very real person,” I explained. “He came to earth to teach us the way to live and to bring us the gospel. He took upon himself our sins and gave his life for us so that we could live with him and our Heavenly Father again one day in a far better place.”
“Do you mean when I die that’s not the end?” he asked.
We spent the rest of my lunch break talking of the plan of salvation and of our Savior. “You will live again after death,” I told him. “If you have faith in Jesus Christ and are baptized, you will have the opportunity to live with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in heaven.”
I kept my explanations simple at first so Merle could comprehend what I had to say. As we continued to talk, I realized that he really had never heard any of the gospel at any time during his life. The wonder and awe in his eyes testified of that. He seemed starved for knowledge of eternal truths.
It was astounding to me. How, in an age with religious programs so readily available on radio and television, could anyone have lived more than sixty years and never have heard of the Savior? It was hard to believe, but Merle would tell me later of parents who never taught anything about religion, and of a life in which no one had ever shared personal faith with him.
That first night I told him about the Savior, he didn’t want me to leave when my lunch break was over. I assured him: “We’ll talk about this when I have more free time.”
“Oh, please!” was his answer.
After that night, he wanted to hear more each time I passed his room. “Please tell me more about this Jesus Christ,” he would say. When I had a break or other time of my own, I would do it.
One day he asked, “Where do you learn of this Savior?” and, after a brief pause, “Where does anyone learn of him?”
“The scriptures and the prophets tell us about the gospel, the Savior, and the plan of salvation,” I answered.
“What are these scriptures?” he asked. “How do you get them?”
After my shift was over that day, I drove to an LDS bookstore and purchased a Bible and a copy of the Book of Mormon. The next time I went to work, I arranged to arrive early so I could go directly to his room and give him the books. He was thrilled with them. “Where do I find the stories of Christ?” he asked. I opened the Book of Mormon to Third Nephi and the Bible to Matthew and left them with him.
I think he read all night long. Each time I passed his room, he was sitting up in bed, and he appeared to be studying diligently.
He asked for no morphine that night.
Finally, toward morning and the end of my shift, I stopped in his room long enough to ask, “Would you like some young men to come and teach you more about what we’ve discussed and what you’re reading?”
When I called the missionaries after work to tell them about Merle, I explained that his mind was clear though his body was dying. They were eager to meet with him, and I offered to set up the first appointment.
At the nursing home the next evening, everyone on the staff seemed shocked by Merle’s refusal to take any more morphine. I thought I understood. I believe he had been using the drug for fear as much as for pain, but after he learned of the Savior and the plan of salvation, his fear went away. When I went to his room to make the appointment for the missionaries, a wonderful peace seemed to have settled over him.
Merle had found a deep, abiding faith in our Savior. He met regularly with the missionaries and accepted the gospel with childlike faith, completely, never seeming to get enough of their teaching. Each day, and often throughout the night, he read the scriptures. He seemed not to want the morphine clouding his mind as he studied. The scriptures were his treasures. Often he would say, “I’m so glad all of this was written for us in these books so we’d be able to read about Jesus and learn to know him.”
Still, there were times when I visited him on my breaks that he would say: “Tell me again some stories of Jesus.” This seemed to be the part of the gospel he savored the most. Each night I was at work, we would talk of the Savior, his atonement, his life, his love for us, his prophesied second coming.
I was reminded of a song I had sung as a child:
Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word,
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
(“Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” Fanny J. Crosby, used by permission, Pacific Publishing, Inc.
This song seemed to express how Merle felt. He would remark in awe, “Isn’t it truly wonderful that he gave his life for us so that we might live?” Some of the other nurses were puzzled by the changes that the gospel had wrought in Merle, but all of them knew he had become a different man.
He longed for baptism, but because of his illness, that was never to happen in this life. A few months after I began to talk to him about Jesus Christ, Merle passed away. His scriptures were open on his chest, and there was a look of peace on his face.
I believe he had gone to a better place where he can continue to learn of and prepare to meet the Savior he had come to love so dearly.
How different both of our lives would have been had I been too busy or too shy to share the stories of Jesus with Merle. Seeing his eagerness to learn of the Savior reminded me of the great joy and blessings that come from our sincere desires to “seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written” (Ether 12:41) and to stand as witnesses of him.