Comfort from the Past


As I read my grandfather’s reassuring words, I gained a new perspective on the suffering of my infant son.

The doctor placed Ricky’s seven-month-old limp body in my arms. My heart ached as Ricky stared at me in quiet agony. He had survived 10 life-saving operations. He breathed through a hole in his throat with the aid of an oxygen tube. He took nourishment through a tube that went directly into his stomach. He had no voluntary movement below his waist because of severe nerve damage suffered before, during, and after his birth.

Ricky was only 24 hours old when the neurosurgeon told us of the many struggles our sixth child would encounter. “Perhaps it would be better not to perform the first operation,” he said in somber warning. We decided to commit ourselves to saving his life, and the next day the doctor performed the first surgery. The day after that, a shunt was placed in Ricky’s head to control the hydrocephalus. Without this shunt, fluid would quickly collect on his brain and create fatal pressure.

Now, seven months later, the pressure had returned. Relieving the pressure to protect Ricky’s brain was of paramount importance. Despite his numerous physical problems, his mind was extremely bright, and he was intellectually alert. He understood all his age would allow, and he was a wonderfully warm and responsive son.

As I drove with Ricky the half hour from the children’s hospital, I noticed there was a gray tint to his skin. His eyes were open wide, in what the doctor called sunset eyes. The veins across his forehead were bulging; his body was listless. I imagined the look in his eyes to say, “Can’t you help me?” My heart felt lacerated.

“I wish I could have your pain, Ricky. How desperately I want to relieve and comfort you.”

Finally we arrived home, and I put him in his bed. I wanted to hold him in a gentle, healing bond. I longed to caress his small body, to bring comfort to both of us. But Ricky’s body, covered with incisions from the many operations, could not tolerate even a gentle caress. He recoiled from my touch. I felt lost.

I prayed for him. I prayed for me. I cried more and more. “Bless this little boy, Father, bless him—however that may be.”

At last Ricky slept. With his sleep came the impression to read: thoughts to help me cope, words to bring comfort, ideas to relieve my anxiety. I found a pamphlet written by my grandfather Richard B. Summerhays. My mother had given it to me as a teenager, but I had not read it since. As I began to read, I felt my grandfather was close at my side, telling me his story, a dream called “The Day of My Life.” In his dream, he saw his entire life experience taking place in a single day. His task, during the day, was to build a house. This house would be the home he would live in forever. He understood that “it must be built while the sun shines, for as the sun goes down, all work ceases.”

I felt he was talking to me as I read: “The materials must be chosen by the builder. The most desirable materials are hard to get but are closest to you. All good materials appear undesirable and are at first forbidding. They can only be obtained through the effort we call ‘trial.’ He who turns away loses all. Every bit of material requires faith, great effort, perseverance, and repetition, continuing these until the house is fully formed before the setting of the sun.”

At the end of his dream Grandfather wrote: “I now realize that knowledge is bought by experience—the experience gained while building the house. Having finished, an exquisite peace filled my soul as I acknowledged the joy of accomplishment.”

Warmth surged through my body. I too now felt the peace he described, not the peace of accomplishment but the peace of understanding. This house I am building within myself will be my home forever. The difficult materials are indeed closest to me. And I see that Ricky is building his house, using the best materials available to him.

My grandfather’s story gave my life a new perspective. Through his eyes I saw that pain and suffering purchase a type of knowledge and understanding that cannot be acquired in any other way. I looked at my son with new vision; our shared experience seemed priceless.

Ricky is now 17 years old. Many times I have placed him in the hands of the Lord and the surgeons. Yet he silently teaches eternal treasures as he endures with a smile. And I now know that difficulties are trials that allow me to build a worthy and eternal home.

[photo] Photograph by Craig Dimond

Sharon Summerhays Hendrickson is a member of the Park View Ward, Palm Springs California Stake.