An apostle of the Lord made me a promise. “The Lord God will not leave you alone, nor will he be in debt. This you can count on.”
Those were the comforting words of Elder Richard L. Evans of the Quorum of the Twelve as he spoke at funeral services for my young husband. The “compensation” he spoke of was beyond my comprehension, and the thought remained in my memory for years. I could not see the end from the beginning.
That we are not alone, however, and that a loving Father in Heaven hears our prayers was more tangible. Our five children, ages four through sixteen, understood this. Their father, whose career had been in broadcasting, had often taught that their voices and thoughts are audible to the Lord, that they could reach the Lord through prayer if their lives were tuned in to the right frequency. Little David, the youngest, prayed at his grandmother’s knee on that first lonely night, “Please bless my daddy, so he will be well when I get there.”
We were on a family vacation in Utah when my husband died of a sudden heart attack. Still numb from shock, I faced my first major decision. Our home was three thousand kilometers away in Washington, D.C. “What do we do now?” I wondered. “Do we move back to Utah among family and old friends, or do we stay is Washington where we had established our home?” My ninety-two-year-old grandfather, a wise patriarch of a large family, offered good counsel. “Go back home to Washington for the present,” he said. “It is not wise to uproot your family until you think it through for at least a year.”
It was not a difficult decision to make. Our home, with its familiar surroundings, was a haven, and there was a memory in every room. It would have been more difficult for us to start over somewhere else.
Also, the Church in the Washington D.C. area was strong and growing fast. Members from adults to grade-school children felt a strong sense of identity with the Church. The opportunity to identify oneself as a Latter-day Saint promoted awareness of doctrine and practices and, through commitment to covenants, helped build strong testimonies of the gospel.
There was a feeling of missionary excitement. Our neighborhood is filled with beautiful churches of various Christian denominations. In the months and years after we returned to our home, school friends who were members of those churches invited our children to speak to their youth groups about Mormonism, and the interest and questions of the young people and their religious leaders challenged our children to expand their knowledge and test their faith. Many close friendships and several conversions resulted.
Looking back, I see the wisdom of remaining among supportive neighborhood, school, and Church friends. The great loss we had suffered did not disrupt the stability of our lives.
There was little time for grief that first year. The awesome responsibilities of my new role as sole parent were overwhelming. Ralph had been very much in charge, and I relied heavily on his judgment and leadership. Attempting to establish my authority was of prime importance. The children thought they were very funny when they made birthday and Mother’s Day cards depicting me in a general’s uniform. However, I knew my authority was finally recognized when I overheard one small child say to another, “What are Mother and Daddy going to do when they get together again, now that Mother’s the boss?”
But there was a special presence in our home. Father was considered to be out of reach but not out of touch. I realized this one day when teen-aged Alison said, “Mother, I can always get out of your range, but I can’t get out of Daddy’s.” This was a positive moment that reminded me of Elder Evans’ promise.
Our youngest child insists that he never felt fatherless. His departed father was always a real person to him, and he intuitively understood the eternal nature of the family unit long before he learned about the covenants and promises that can ensure its endurance. This awareness also translated into a desire on the part of our children to prove themselves so as not to disappoint the father they had come to idealize. As for me, I was determined to succeed in my stewardship. I could not fail my eternal partner or my Eternal Father. Our purpose bound us even closer together as a family as we shared our trials and successes.
Temple marriage was a subject of special interest. It was an anchor to which we could hold and a prize that all would one day attain. Our primary motivation was that we might all serve the Lord’s purposes so as to be reunited as a family once again.
A second major problem that had to be resolved soon after Ralph’s death was how to provide for my family. This is probably the most crucial and frightening reality that most newly-widowed mothers face. My options were whether to use our insufficient financial resources until they were gone, and then decide how to support the family, or to find employment in the near future and keep some funds in reserve. I chose the latter. Fortunately, it was possible for me to be away during the day because all the children were in school, and an older daughter was responsible until I arrived home. The children’s acceptance of this new situation and their faith in me was viewed as “God’s in his heaven and Mother will provide.”
I had limited qualifications, having married before completing college. But after a refresher course in business English and typing, I was ready to start at the bottom. I became a receptionist. It was a good beginning. Further training brought additional employment opportunities and added responsibilities. These experiences, along with subsequent years in the field of corporate communications at one of the government banking agencies, have broadened my interests, supplemented my education, developed my skills, strengthened my self-confidence, contributed to my financial independence, and provided for my future security. This is compensation I had never dreamed of.
When I first accepted employment, I came to a decision that accounts in great measure for any success I may have had as a single parent: giving prime time to the children. Prime time meant every evening, with few exceptions. Since I was away all day, I decided that I should be home at night. This was a marked change from former days when my husband’s position as a television network executive involved us both in a busy business and social schedule in and out of town. Time and again as I had appeared to be all attention during a conversation, I had been worrying about the children’s homework or how dinner was progressing at home.
As we had traveled, I had thought about where the children were. At length, after Ralph’s death, I concluded that the next year would be different. I was needed at home more in the evenings when the children were there.
All decisions that shaped our future were not mine alone. The children had choices to make, too. They learned to cook through trial and error and became quite adept at cleaning the house. With their mother at work during the day, they went places by themselves on foot, bicycle, or bus. “Ask not what your mother can do for you, but what you can do for your mother,” became the watchword in our home. All children worked at summer jobs as soon as they were old enough. We even caught the littlest one selling his carefully scrubbed rocks from door to door in the neighborhood. Self-sufficiency, they soon learned, was the way to live.
Although I found myself widowed at a relatively young age, I was blessed with a generous measure of faith and hopefulness. I tried to convey this feeling to my children. The entire family felt a strong sense of opportunity and of the Lord’s hand in our lives.
Friends and family members also contributed their suggestions and ideas for our welfare. There was valuable advice and assistance regarding summer jobs, schools, scholarships, and many other things. Friends were there in times of illness, trouble, and teenage crises. They included us in family activities, fathers and sons’ outings, and other events. Our bishops and priesthood leaders were always available for counsel. Being on the receiving end of so much kindness is often difficult, but it has taught me and my children that blessings from the Lord are not just dropped on our heads. They are brought to pass through the hearts and hands of others.
A woman in the role of single parent, whether widowed or divorced, has a very special calling, and she will be held accountable before the Lord for what she does with her stewardship. Although her spouse is absent, she stands nonetheless commissioned by the Lord to perform the charge he issued to all parents: “And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:28; see also D&C 68:25–27 and D&C 68:29–32). She may feel at times that she carries a disproportionate share of that responsibility, yet she has the Lord’s assurance that he will prepare a way for her to accomplish her task. (See 1 Ne. 3:7.)
The principal lessons a parent must teach are those of spiritual values. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve has suggested that when children are interested or teachable we should immediately take advantage of that moment and teach them. (See Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975, page 110.) When they are spiritually hungry, feed them. Without really knowing it, I followed this precept. We discussed gospel concepts freely while preparing the salad, walking to school, or sitting around the dinner table. It was not unusual for us to talk about the Atonement or the Second Coming any more than it was for us to talk about what was happening in the government or in the school classroom.
Through the years, I have proved the following scripture many times: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5–6).
We view eternity through the small window of mortal time: “For now we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). The day will come when we shall each see our lives with clear vision and an eternal perspective. We shall then have a full knowledge of what we understand by faith now: That the Lord does not leave us alone when we seek him, that he is never in debt to us, and that he always compensates. By showing us our weaknesses and providing an opportunity to turn them to strengths, he exchanges our dross for gold.