After college I finally found my first job as a music therapist at a large institution for the mentally handicapped. My first day on the job was memorable. After a quick tour, my supervisor handed me a long list of patients I was assigned to work with. First on that list was a 12-year-old girl named Bonnie.
When I walked into her room for the first time, I saw Bonnie staring back at me from her hospital bed with bright eyes. Her smile set off an explosion of warmth in sharp contrast to the collection of plastic tubes, blinking lights, and gray machines surrounding her. It seemed odd that Bonnie would be placed in an institution for the mentally handicapped. She seemed so bright and full of life. I was puzzled.
Bonnie’s story was sad but eventful. Born with a rare terminal illness involving her lungs, she needed life-support machines in order to breathe. Even though her intelligence appeared normal, the doctors encouraged her family to have Bonnie institutionalized so that she might receive the best medical care possible. A short time later, her family was forced to move across the country due to a work transfer. Then, much to the surprise of everyone, she survived her first year. She also pulled through a second; then 5, 10, and now a full 12 years. Bonnie’s will to live was extraordinary.
Over the weeks, we became best friends. I learned of her affection for turtles, calico kittens, mysteries, stuffed animals, and strawberry ice cream. Above all, Bonnie liked to sing. Her voice was like a bell, ringing a message of joy to all who heard it. She learned to read music, play the autoharp, and harmonize when we sang together.
Bonnie had spent her entire life inside the hospital. She longed to find out what wind and rain might feel like on her face. She dreamed of walking barefoot and picking pretty flowers. Her greatest wish was to be free from the noisy, sterile machines that kept her alive.
About Thanksgiving time, Bonnie took a turn for the worse. Her breathing became labored. Now she was only able to sing for short periods of time or not at all. I tried to cheer her up by asking her to choose a favorite song. Her answer that day, however, had nothing at all to do with singing.
“I’m going to die soon,” Bonnie said, “and I’m afraid. What do you think death will be like?”
I tried to explain the plan of salvation. I told her that she had been sent to earth for a special purpose—to obtain a body, to experience the joys and pains of life, to learn about keeping the commandments, and to learn about God’s plan for her.
I also explained that she didn’t need to fear death. When it was her appointed time, our Heavenly Father would send for her. Peacefully, her spirit would leave her body and be ready to return to his presence. When she arrived, there would be loved ones to welcome her. In her new heavenly home, she would be strong and healthy, with no pain, tubes, or machines.
Bonnie looked at me with piercing eyes, thinking. A feeling of peace filled the room. She heard and believed. It reminded me of the Primary song “I Am a Child of God.” I sang it to her. She was so touched by the words that she refused to let me leave until I taught it to her.
Over the next few weeks, this song became her own special anthem. When the pain was terrible, she sang this song to herself. She said she could feel Heavenly Father’s arms around her whenever she sang it.
One chilly morning in December, I entered her room and suddenly knew that Bonnie had died. I saw an empty bed with clean folded sheets and blankets stacked on top of it. The machines had been turned off. Bonnie’s journey to her heavenly home had finally come.
I was stunned. Then sadness began to consume me. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was afraid. What if there was no life after death? If there truly was a God, then why did children like Bonnie have to suffer and die? My soul hurt.
Then I remembered Bonnie and her sweet voice, pure and true. I saw a young face racked with pain, clinging to hope with eyes full of faith. She was singing to me with all her heart, pushing away all doubts and fears. She knew of God’s plan for her.
Peace then came, replacing my doubts and fears with truth. I knew then that Bonnie had not only found the way but also helped me find it again.
Bonnie’s funeral was two days later. I was asked to sing. When I walked into the room, one of the nurses whispered that Bonnie’s family was sitting on the front row, having just flown in. The funeral service was simple. Some doctors, nurses, and therapists spoke of the special times they had shared with Bonnie.
When it was my turn to sing, I walked to the front with a prayer in my heart that the words to the song, Bonnie’s anthem, would be a source of comfort to her family.
(Hymns, no. 307).
I could almost hear Bonnie singing along with me. Then the meeting closed. I stood in line to pay my respects to the family. As I stretched forth my hand, Bonnie’s mother took me aside. With emotion in her voice, she asked, “How did you know?”
I answered softly, “I’m not sure what you mean.”
She spoke again, “How did you know we were members of the Church?”
I was left speechless as she explained that their family had been taught the gospel during the past few months. They had been baptized only the month before.
I told Bonnie’s mother of her daughter’s questions regarding the plan of salvation. I told them how the song had comforted her in difficult times and how she had felt the Spirit of the Lord bear witness to her of the truth. While her family had been studying and praying to know if they should join the Church, Heavenly Father had provided a way for Bonnie to learn those same principles. The Lord had begun to prepare them to become an eternal family.
We hugged one another and cried as we realized the magnitude of what had just happened. They talked of plans to go to the temple and have Bonnie’s work done. Then their entire family could be sealed in the temple.
I know that Heavenly Father loved Bonnie, his precious daughter, whose simple short life had brought so much joy to those she knew. He knew her as an individual. He was aware of her suffering, trials, even her innermost fears. In her time of need, she heard the peaceful voice of the Spirit of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of God’s glorious plan of salvation, along with her own family, even across an entire continent.