When we first learned that my husband, Al, had Alzheimer’s, I felt as if I would suffer alone in fear, apprehension, and loneliness. We were living in Rexburg, Idaho, at the time. I cried a lot and could have been overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and hopelessness. But a tight and taut refuge prevented those feelings from pouring in and rising up to engulf me. Eventually, I realized I need not drown in sorrow because the Lord has provided a way to keep out the flooding rain in times like these: He has given us the structure of wards and branches.
In my first reading of Ephesians 2:19—“Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God”—I assumed that this statement by Paul applied to people who joined the Church and were embraced by fellow Saints. Then when our “household” moved from one state to another, I realized the verse could also apply to members becoming integrated into a new ward after the uncomfortable circumstance of moving from a much-loved ward. At first we were strangers in our new ward. In time we became a part of it with a new group of caring ward members. In my panic and need to be understood and nurtured, I developed a great appreciation for the individuals who rallied to my support. They made sure I didn’t feel like a “stranger” in affliction or a frightened “foreigner” in a wilderness of pain.
Nurturing in a ward is often a result of faithful members fulfilling Church assignments to the best of their abilities. They are Saints in training. Their efforts combine to create a Herculean achievement in shoring up one who is badly listing with despair, showing how “the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect” (D&C 84:110).
I learned many lessons as my husband and I battled with the deterioration of his mind and the subsequent stress on our marriage relationship. One thing I came to firmly believe is that the organization of the Church on earth is of divine authorship. A structure exists to handle human response to the most tragic and devastating experiences one might imagine—“The building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21). I came to know that Christ’s restored Church is organized with every part fitted securely in place so all might join together, forming a safe haven similar to a temple. The parts that joined together to form an emotional and spiritual shelter for me included the following:
An inspired bishop. From time to time I needed counsel badly. A bishop must be “given to hospitality, apt to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). When I talked with our bishop, he was kind and caring. I respected his great efforts to fulfill his stewardship, and I was confident that he prayed in behalf of my family. Often he taught me gospel principles I needed to recall, ponder, and put into action.
A compassionate Relief Society president. What a blessing it was to have a loving Relief Society president, for “in her tongue [was] the law of kindness” (Prov. 31:26). The shift in responsibility from one Relief Society president to another during my long period of affliction made little difference. Both presidents had tender qualities that were enhanced and refined by their callings. They listened to me. They dispensed love. It was the elixir that helped me turn many times from despondency to hope.
Home teachers and visiting teachers. Home and visiting teachers had many opportunities to serve. I let them. I was too tired, emotionally and physically, to argue. As never before, I saw the beauty of these programs unfold. My home and visiting teachers went into action at the slightest indication of my need, ever “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8). My home teachers were a constant in a household that seemed to be turned upside down and that was now largely characterized by unpredictability. Their testimony and hope brought infusions of support. My visiting teachers, with the help of other sisters in the ward, washed the blinds in my house, scrubbed sinks, and generally brightened my environment and my countenance.
Priesthood blessings. As my husband’s abilities fractured and scattered and mixed within his mind, I could no longer call upon him for needed priesthood blessings. Other priesthood bearers in our extended family lived far away. My home teachers came to deliver comfort and strength. When they weren’t available, other worthy priesthood holders within the ward were ready and able as asked.
The sacrament. Another source of strength came in knowing that young priesthood bearers would never fail to do their duty in preparing and passing the sacrament. As I meditated upon the Savior’s sacrifice, I received peace of mind and gained an assurance of the eternal nature of my sacred covenants with the Lord.
Sunday meetings. I received nourishment from the weekly lessons and talks that I had taken for granted for many years. Often the comments made by class members had a great impact on me, and someone’s personal experience would lighten my load.
Church callings. I served as Gospel Doctrine teacher during this period, a calling which required much preparation. As Al and I struggled with the specter of Alzheimer’s, I found it difficult to fit in preparation time for the weekly class. I could have opted to “retire” for a while from the calling, but I chose to remain and do my best. Although the going was tough at times, I received more than I gave. Scripture study and prayer brought me a new understanding of faith. Class members’ involvement provided me with social and intellectual stimulation at a time when my at-home circumstances gave no chance for insightful conversations.
Hymns. The words of our Church hymns seemed more poignant than before. Although I am not particularly talented as a singer, I sang more readily. “I call to remembrance my song in the night: … Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? … I will remember the works of the Lord” (Ps. 77:6, 9, 11). The eternal nature of the gospel plan resounded in hymn texts and reverberated in my mind. Singing hymns lifted my spirits and helped me trust in the Lord.
The ward choir. Al had always loved to sing and had a good voice. As Alzheimer’s caused his abilities to dwindle, his inclination to sing lingered on. Our ward choir met two needs: my husband could attend practices and have a much needed social experience and gain some feeling of worth, and I could have a break from the tending. Choir members willingly took over the shepherding task during choir practice. As long as Al was able to live at home, he was a respected member of the choir and was assisted so he could participate in all the choir performances and activities. “Much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary” (1 Cor. 12:22). Such seemed the saintly attitude of our choir members.
After Al died, one lovely ward member in her late 80s expressed her regret that she had not been of more help to me during the difficult times. With all honesty, I was able to tell her she did help. In her advanced years, she came to all meetings each week. She has difficulty hearing and sometimes has to be content with the unity felt in the meetings when she cannot hear the messages. But her commitment to meet together with the ward group was a great example of endurance to those like me who are relatively new at enduring. She gave prayers in church; she made comments in class. Her systematic contributions added to the total of a great infusion of positive help from a strong ward.
Usually individuals didn’t know what I needed. Most often I wasn’t able to specify a tangible need. But the Lord, in His omniscience, made wards and branches, church units with every part “fitly framed” to handle even needs that are difficult to discern. “Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17).
“In the true Church, Christ is the chief cornerstone, the apostles and prophets are the foundation, other officers and members are fitly framed into the structure, and the building itself becomes a holy temple where God dwells by the power of his Spirit.”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85), Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. (1966–73), 2:504.