“I Will Not Leave You Comfortless”


Even though I miss my husband, my view of eternity has grown brighter day by day.

The balmy September evening held a tinge of excitement as the sound of my husband’s horseshoe hammer rang through the gathering twilight. With new shoes, our two quarter horses would be ready for the grandchildren to enjoy on our Labor Day camping trip the next day. Our youngest son, Dan, was already en route from Las Vegas, Nevada, with his wife and son; our two other children, Jackie and Lon, would arrive in Vernal, Utah, with their families in the morning.

The screen door slammed, and I looked up from my bookwork. My husband’s red face and labored breathing alarmed me. I had often wished that at age 60 he would turn the strenuous horseshoeing over to a younger man, but I would never insult him by suggesting it.

“Honey, are you all right?” I asked. “Shall I call a doctor?”

He took a breath and grimaced. “No. Cotton fought me on those last two shoes. Warmed me up too much. … I’ll feel better after a cold shower.”

A few minutes later, I found him unconscious on the bathroom floor. I grasped him to me, trying desperately to shake life back into his body. Though reluctant to leave him even for a second, I dashed to the telephone and called 911.

An emergency medical team arrived within minutes. The paramedics worked on him while I watched in terror, unable to believe this was happening, praying for a miracle. I wasn’t prepared to let him go. Our lives were too full, too happily entwined. But it wasn’t to be. Earl passed beyond the veil just a month short of our 40th wedding anniversary.

“Why now?” I sobbed. “Why take him today after sparing his life so many times before?” Scenes flashed into my mind: the time a saddle bronc jammed him into a rodeo chute gate and critically injured him; the day a 40-foot length of pipe broke its chain and smashed him to the ground, damaging vital organs and crushing his pelvis and right leg. Many times throughout his life he might have died, but the Lord had miraculously spared him. Why not one more miracle?

My husband was not restored to me. Yet other miracles were forthcoming in the days that followed: miracles of comfort, faith, and healing. I was surprised at the blessings of peace and even joy I received following my terrible loss. I have since learned these gifts are not uncommon to Church members who experience the death of a loved one.

During the week following Earl’s death, my children and I did much reminiscing and soul-searching through our tears. My son Lon and son-in-law Roy gave priesthood blessings to each of us, including Dan’s wife, who was not a member of the Church but was touchingly grateful for her blessing and certain of its power. These priesthood ministrations allowed the Comforter “to breathe peace to our souls” (James E. Faust, “The Gift of the Holy Ghost—a Sure Compass,” Ensign, Apr. 1996, 5).

Going against my cowboy husband’s instructions to place him in a pine box and bury him beneath a caved-off bank, I planned a conventional service. During the funeral I felt Earl’s presence, his nearness, and I knew his spirit was not far from us. Dan sang a favorite song of Earl’s and mine, and it seemed as though Earl were singing to me himself. Both Dan and I experienced a surge of joy as if Earl were telling us not to mourn but to lift up our heads and rejoice.

Earl’s brother gave an inspired talk in which he told us not to worry about what we “should” be feeling but to allow our true emotions to surface. I thought of his words later when a steady stream of friends and family came to offer love and support. During these visits my children and I found ourselves consoling our guests as much as they consoled us. Laughter came as readily as tears, and we were blessed with a mantle of peace that we didn’t understand. None of us dared admit at the time that our grieving was sweet as well as painful.

Later we discussed this spiritual buoyancy and remembered the counsel to let ourselves experience our true feelings. We had expected our suffering to be as deep, as exquisite as our love for Earl, but the promptings of the Holy Ghost helped us understand that our prayers had been heard and they had been answered. We had felt the Comforter, as promised in John 14:18, 26: “I will not leave you comfortless. … The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, … the Father will send in my name.” We came to realize we would be ungrateful to reject this blessing and dwell only on our anguish.

Part of the Holy Ghost’s role is to make our losses bearable. Accepting this blessing does not show disloyalty to our loved ones who have passed on but possibly comforts them. I know Earl wouldn’t want me to suffer; he would do all in his power to alleviate my grief. And neither would I want my anguish to cause him discomfort on the other side.

President Heber J. Grant said: “No person can tell me that every … Latter-day Saint that has a knowledge of the gospel … can really mourn for his loved ones; only in the loss of their society here in this life. … The wonderful joy and satisfaction and happiness that they are having … robs the grave of its sting” (Gospel Standards [1943], 365–66).

Though it was difficult to be separated from my husband—my companion and dearest friend—I was comforted to know that “the disembodied spirit during the interval of the death of the body and its resurrection from the grave … has the privilege of soaring in the midst of immortal beings, and of enjoying to a certain extent, the presence of God” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine [1939], 440).

I had prayed for a miracle the day Earl died, but instead of just one, I received many. My ability to carry on my life and do daily tasks with joy rather than despair brought reactions of shock and disbelief from others who suffered inconsolably and could not understand my acceptance of Earl’s passing. But I knew then, as I know now, that we will be together again, for death is not the end of the soul; it is merely a step in our progression. I am grateful to our Savior Jesus Christ for His atoning sacrifice, which makes eternal blessings available to all.

Knowing that families can be together forever helps me go on with my life with purpose even though Earl is gone. Our desire to be an eternal family still burns brightly, but we now work toward that goal from opposite sides of the veil. I like to think he might have participated in one of the most cherished blessings our family has received since his passing.

A deep source of happiness for Earl and me was that our eldest children, Jackie and Lon, had both married in the temple. But we worried about Dan, who was less active and seemingly indifferent to the Church. Many times Earl had said, “We’ve got to get Dan to the temple,” while my heart echoed the same. That desire was fulfilled after Earl’s death.

Dan was deeply affected by our priesthood blessings and the spiritual intensity we experienced. Knowing his father’s concern for his salvation, and with a renewed vision of our eternal purpose, Dan committed to take his family to the temple. Shortly after returning to Las Vegas, he invited the missionaries to his home. A few days after completing the discussions, Dan baptized his wife and stepson. They were since sealed together, and Dan to us.

Although I have received many spiritual blessings since my husband’s death, I still miss him every day. Earl was the center of my existence, and it has been a difficult, jarring experience to rebuild my life without him. The Lord didn’t promise to eliminate our burdens but to help us bear them: “Whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 36:3).

Though my burden of loss has not been removed, I have felt the reassuring presence of the Holy Ghost. There are moments when the shock and pain hit me afresh—when I recall certain memories or confront new aspects of my altered life. My first household breakdown reminded me how dependent I had always been on my husband’s mechanical abilities, and I felt as deserted, frightened, and helpless as the day he died.

But beneath every moment of despair, I find the comforting support of the Savior as He helps me through the dark moments, renewing my knowledge of His love and concern. My vision of eternity grows ever brighter.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Christ says. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30).

[photos] Photography by Lana Leishman, posed by models

[illustration] The Lord Jesus Christ, by Del Parson

Wilma M. Rich and her daughter Jackie Rich Howa are members of the First Ward, Mesa Arizona Central Stake.