One Plus One Equals

As I flipped through the pages of a dictionary, I decided to look up a word that means a lot to me—family. As I read the definition, I thought how different it was from my definition. The dictionary read, “two parents and all their children living in the same house.” Well, all my 11 brothers and sisters don’t live in one house, and we are not from the same parents. But we’re a family, a very special family.

I knew why we gathered that night. I could hardly make myself come to believe it, but I knew. So did everyone else. Looking at my father, I could tell he was trying hard to control himself in front of us. But in his eyes, he couldn’t hide the pain.

We were brought together that night for the strength we knew we would receive through prayer. We all knelt, my grandparents, my father, and five of my brothers and sisters. Each of us held another’s trembling hand as we called upon the Spirit to help and guide us in whatever our Father in Heaven had planned. For a moment, it felt like everything was all right. We were a family, and my mother seemed to be there, smiling and looking over us so proud and happy. It seemed like our little circle was hurled into space where nothing could enter, not even the ugly disease that was slowly taking our mother away from us.

After the prayer we all knew the Spirit was there, even though my mother wasn’t. Every few seconds you could hear a little sob, but nobody looked into anyone’s eyes for fear of not being able to hold in all the emotion. My father broke the semisilence with tears in his eyes when he said, “Everything’s going to be all right.”

A week later my mother died. How would it be in a motherless home, without the encouraging look of a proud mother to push us along when times got rough? I thought mothers were always supposed to be there. Who was going to teach me all the things mothers are supposed to teach their daughters? Who was I going to have those special talks with? Why did it have to be my mother?

My father knew it was up to him. It must have been like a building falling on him to have all the responsibility of raising the family. After losing the woman he loved so dearly, he had to be strong to set the example for his family. He did. I remember him standing there and asking us if we understood about paradise and heaven. We all hesitated, as if a nod of approval to his question was an approval for her to die, but then with great effort he told us she was gone. My father’s a big man, but he was even bigger then, when I knew that inside his heart was broken and he was full of loneliness.

For about a year I played the role of the mother of the house. I loved my family, and I wanted to take care of them, but I sometimes wondered, “Why do I have to stay home and watch the little kids, fix supper, and do the laundry?” I was only in junior high school. In those moments when I would start to cry, I’d see my father. He tried so hard to make our home happy. All day he would work hard and then come home and listen to our problems and our complaints and smile and say he loved us. I never once heard him complain or break down in front of us. He knew the whole family depended on him. If he broke down, the family would also. But if he were strong, the family would follow.

I remember those days and all the pain and testing we went through. Looking at pictures that were taken then, I can still see the pain when I look into the eyes of those in the photographs.

The bond of trust that grew between my father and me was so strong that when my father asked me what I would think if he remarried, I was able to answer truthfully, “Do what you think is right.” Some of my older brothers and sisters didn’t agree with me, but I trusted him to do the right thing.

As the time grew closer, I grew excited to meet the woman my father loved and wanted to marry. But as I walked into the room, I saw a tall, slim, dark-haired woman who wasn’t my mother kissing my father. For a split second a door within me burst open, spilling all the hurt, jealousy, and anger that I felt for this woman. Then just as quickly, it closed without ever changing the smile on my face. That door was destroyed then, never to be opened again.

Many of our relatives and friends loved my mother and wouldn’t accept anyone else. They kept telling my father that he was wrong and was making a big mistake. But he wouldn’t listen, and neither would I. All I knew was that I had to trust my father. When I saw my two youngest sisters cuddled up to this woman while she sang them little songs she made up, I knew it was right. She was to be our new mother, and we all needed her, especially those two. As we grew to know her, we all eventually grew to love her.

My new mother left behind a big, beautiful house when she packed up her four children and moved into our little green house, a home in which she knew she wasn’t totally accepted. I admired how strong she was to be able to make a move like that, but I knew Heavenly Father, and maybe even my mother, helped her.

From then on it was more a matter of time. Slowly, with all of us pulling, we became closer, a family again. Together my father and new mother brought two more spirits into the world and into our family, making a grand total of 12 children. If nothing else made us a family, it was those two little spirits. Their presence created an unbreakable bond between two families that needed each other.

We were a family by our own special definition.

[photos] Photos by Michael McConkie