26904_000_019As a missionary, I found myself seeking the very comfort I was teaching people about.
I sat at the piano, listless. My shoulders drooped as my eyes scanned the black and white keys. Usually music was my therapy. Angry, sad, or happy, I’d sit at a piano and play tunes that would lift my heart. But not tonight.
The entire day I had been lost in a numb stupor, going through the motions of the missionary work I had been called to perform in the Wisconsin Milwaukee Mission. My companion and I would strike up conversations with people on the streets or in their yards; we’d speak of Heavenly Father’s plan, of who we are, where we came from, where we are going after this life, and of Jesus Christ’s role in that plan. But try as I might, I couldn’t concentrate on the words. How could I focus on what was right in front of me when my heart was thousands of miles away in an operating room with my dad, who was undergoing yet another heart bypass surgery?
Finally, my companion and I had gone to Relief Society homemaking meeting (now known as home, family, and personal enrichment) at the meetinghouse on the outskirts of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. I tried to focus on the lesson; I even made a comment or two. After a while, though, we excused ourselves and quietly made our way to the chapel.
I went to the piano and played favorites from the hymnbook and the Children’s Songbook, but listless fingers stroking smooth ivory were not enough to break the somber mood I had fallen into. I couldn’t explain it. My dad had gone through surgeries before; he was strong, vibrant, with a wide, bright smile. Mom had said this surgery would be routine—well, as routine as cutting into a man’s heart could be. Why, then, did I feel so out of sorts?
Again I pressed upon the piano keys, aching for some solace from the notes. Tears came to my eyes. I quickly brushed them away, chiding myself for this foolishness. I had always been overly dramatic. This was just more proof. Everything was fine.
I glanced at the clock. Dad’s surgery should be finished. My mission president had given me permission to call home. Mom would tell me that everything was OK, that Dad was OK.
We returned to our apartment, and I went straight to the phone and dialed my home in Brighton, Colorado. I waited for the ringing to stop. I didn’t expect the voice that answered—a deep voice I recognized as Bishop Gormley’s. Something clutched at my throat, suffocated my next words. I asked if Mom was home. There was a pause; I heard Bishop Gormley’s deep voice in the background. Then I heard my mother sob.
Miles from home, from family, in my apartment in Wisconsin, I fell to my knees when Mom came on the line. Somehow I knew. She didn’t have to say the words, but she did anyway. Dad had died. He wouldn’t be waiting at the airport when I flew home in three short months. I wouldn’t be greeted by his smile.
Sobs came in painful gasps. My companion did her best to console me as I cried into the phone. She cried with me—the best thing to do when words will bring no comfort. All I could say over and over was, “I love you, Mom.”
I had been raised in the gospel. My parents had been converted before I was born. Missionaries had knocked on Mom’s door. Dad was serving overseas in the Marine Corps. She wrote him about the Book of Mormon and what the missionaries were teaching and encouraged him to seek out the missionaries himself. He did, and when he started reading the Book of Mormon he knew almost instantly it was true. He was baptized two weeks before Mom was. Ever since then, the gospel had been taught in our home. Mom and Dad had taught us about the plan of salvation. Each of us had a testimony of Jesus Christ. We had grown to love the Book of Mormon. And we had all been raised to be prayerful—to believe in a loving Father in Heaven to whom we could go in our greatest need as well as when everything was going well. But never in my life had I prayed as fervently as I did that night.
How ironic that I had volunteered to travel to Wisconsin to teach anyone who would listen that there was a purpose to life, to let them know that because of the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ death wasn’t to be feared, because it wasn’t the end. But there I was, seeking the very comfort I was teaching people about. I needed to know—not just believe—that my dad still lived. It’s one thing to believe in something, to feel in your heart that it’s right and true; it’s quite another when that faith is tested and tempered by trial.
So in the darkness of my room, while my companion frantically called our local mission leaders to get them to come to our apartment, I knelt and entreated Heavenly Father for some kind of comfort.
Many people in the world today are skeptical that prayers are actually answered. Some wonder if you’ve been brainwashed to have faith in a real and living God. Others just nod politely and tell you, “That’s nice.” As for me, I know He answers prayers. I knew it before I entered the mission field, but that night, kneeling alone by my bedside, that knowledge became even more real to me. After a day of confusing stupor, after a heartbreaking conversation with my mother, amid all the agony I was suffering, the moment I spoke the words “Dear Heavenly Father,” peace enveloped me, my pounding heart stilled, my breathing calmed.
In that instant, I knew that Father in Heaven loved me. On a lonely planet in a vast galaxy among countless other galaxies, a tiny, suffering voice was heard and solace was given.
People have wondered since that night in early January 1990 why I didn’t go home for Dad’s funeral, why I stayed and finished my mission. Considering the lengthy mourning process I endured after my mission officially ended, I’ve had my own moments of doubt about that decision. But then I remember that I had gone to Wisconsin to give people a message of hope. In the beginning, it had been a message delivered by a young woman who had faith that it was true. But how could I possibly have left my task behind when I knew it was true?
Dad would understand. He was a great believer in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. My family learned later that the night before Dad died, he had been a missionary as well, discussing the gospel and the Book of Mormon with his hospital roommate who was seeking answers to the often chaotic riddle of life. That made me smile because for a brief moment my dad and I had been missionaries together. Separated by miles, true, but nonetheless connected.
Today there are still moments when I sit at my piano and recall the night I sat at another piano in a distant chapel in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, seeking solace for some sadness I couldn’t name. I remember Dad and wonder what he’s up to because, thanks to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I know Dad still lives. Then I play and let the music wash over me and enter my heart, thanking Heavenly Father for the symphony of truth He restored to this world.