Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Top 5 List of Things To Be Grateful For

Every year at this time I think about why I love Thanksgiving more than any other holiday in the calendar. It's always been a chance to sit down and take stock of the year as it quickly passes away. This year is no exception. We have so much to be grateful for, and I can always think of more than my top five because it's a very long list. But for 2014, here are my top five:

Ashley, Dianne, Patsy, Peggy
1. My mother-in-law, Peggy Ruth Brazier Hewlett Weight. Yes, at the top of my list this year I have ranked my mother-in-law. She recently passed away after almost 93 years on the planet. But I am not grateful she passed away. Rather, I am grateful for the long legacy of faith she represents to me and all her posterity. I am grateful for all the happy memories she has given us. I am grateful to her for living in such a way that we all learned valuable life lessons of repentance, forgiveness, diligence, hard work and dedication. Legion are the examples of people, family and otherwise, who were welcomed to her home when they were in town for visits. She was always the "hostess with the mostess."

By the world's standards, this would seem an odd choice at the top of a list of things for which I am grateful, but in my case none of the standard mother-in-law jokes apply. Peggy was world-class in essentially all the things that matter most in mothers and human beings in general. She was a consummate networker and connector of people. She had so many friends, even after such a long life, that the chapel for her funeral was filled to overflowing and back into the cultural hall. Never underestimate the impact of being a good friend. Indeed, nearly all her posterity and everyone who knew her thought they were her favorite. What capacity for making people feel special and valued!

I first became aware of Peggy when her son Lin was killed by a drunk driver when I was a junior at East High School. Lin was a senior and Patsy was a sophomore. I watched their family grieve over Lin's death, along with the whole student body. I was at the cemetery in October, 1963, when Lin and his friend Flemming Christensen were laid to rest fifty-one years ago. As I stood over the open grave the other day to dedicate Peggy's final resting place, the memory of Lin's and Flemming's funerals came rushing back. Now the circle of life was complete, and the glorious reunion that was taking place on the other side of the veil was revealed clearly to me and all the rest of us.

Peggy and Harold were role models of applying the atonement's principles to their lives, and they became diligent missionaries wherever in the world they went. Eventually, they would travel to the far corners of the earth, touching foot on every continent except Antarctica. Her son John sang "O That I Were an Angel," as a final tribute to her at her funeral, and when I thought of Lin and Flemming doing missionary work in the spirit world for fifty-one years before she joined them there, I was thrilled at the prospect of her wish finally coming true! How grateful I am for the knowledge of the plan of salvation that has been revealed in these last days.

2. I am grateful for her daughter, Patsy. I don't think there is a more compassionate and loving woman on earth than Patsy. She has spent the last several weeks at her mother's side both in the rehab center and the hospital. Peggy fell and broke her hip about seven weeks ago. It proved to be a game changer, and accelerated her demise. Until that event, we had all thought Peggy to be invincible. At the peril of her own health, something I have been worried about, Patsy pressed on in service to her mother, ignoring her own well-being. I insisted that she go to see the doctor this week after all the events of her mother's passing were complete, and as I was writing this post they called from the doctor's office to give an alarming report about Patsy's anemic condition, something that has been a lifelong challenge for her but has been exacerbated by the events of the past several weeks. We spent the rest of the day in the emergency room until well into the night, while they transfused her with two units of blood.

We never know when or how life will end. There are no guarantees, no extended lease terms on life. Our sojourn here on earth has an expiration date, we just don't have that information. I am grateful for each day I have with this remarkable woman, knowing factors beyond our control may overtake us someday. When I think about why Patsy has a lifelong pattern of little or no sleep at night and seems to be so focused on the needs and comforts of others ahead of her own, I need look no further than the example she saw in her mother for the answer.

At Merilee's wedding reception, summer 2014 
3. I am grateful for all our children and grandchildren. In our family we don't make distinctions about in-laws. They are all ours, and we count them that way. When we were counting up grandchildren of Peggy's we included all the spouses of our children in the count, and we were instructed that's not an accurate count. Peggy never believed that - she always sided with our way of counting. So, when the program for the memorial service was being prepared I listed everyone as though they all belonged to Peggy and Harold, because they do without reservation. One well wisher in a card to Patsy after the funeral, summed it up best:

"Your dear mother was loved by so many! She brought a lot of happiness and joy, especially to her grandchildren. They have expressed so many great things about their experiences with her. Her family was so important to her, her friends loved her, and she always was full of life!
"You were so fortunate to have had her in your life for so many years. Her zest for life, her love of family was so evident.
"Patsy, know I love you, you have so many wonderful traits of your mother."

4. The knowledge I have of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. That testimony anchors our existence here in mortality. He suffered for each of us. As the only Sinless One, He took upon Himself our sins and our afflictions. There is nothing in this mortal experience He does not know and understand intimately. In a way I do not fully understand, He knew us in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. He knew about all the sins we committed, and He knew about all the wrongs that were inflicted upon us by others, and He forgave everyone who has ever afflicted another and been afflicted. I am thankful I share that knowledge with Peggy.

On the back of the program for her memorial service, we printed a written testimony she offered when she and Harold were serving as missionaries in Ireland. We found it among her papers as we were preparing for her funeral:

"Today is Mother's Day in the United States, and I am missing my beautiful children and grandchildren.
"My heart is overflowing with gratitude to my Heavenly Father for these beautiful children and grandchildren.
"The privilege of partnership with God in bearing and nurturing His children has been the greatest blessing of my life!
"I thank my Father in Heaven for noble heritage, ancestors who pulled handcarts across wonderful country, parents and brothers who love me and taught me to love the Lord, wonderful friends and associates.
"I am so grateful for a fine and noble husband to love me and care for me.
"I am grateful for gospel callings and teachings, for the Holy Spirit to lead, to warn, to strengthen and to comfort me.
"I believe in Christ. I love him with all my heart. I know His power."

5. I am thankful for a blanket of white that now covers Pine Valley. Last night ten inches of snow fell and all the trees are now cloaked in white that sparkles with a brightness beyond description. I said to Patsy as we drove down the road to our three-hour block of meetings this morning, "This is the most beautiful scene imaginable. The winter presents some challenges to overcome, but if you love white this is the place to be." Whenever the Utah ski resorts get a big winter storm before Thanksgiving, it bodes well for the tourist trade in these parts and the water reserves for next summer. We can be thankful for water content in snow.

White is such a remarkable and consistent gospel symbol. We dress in white clothing to go to the temple to participate in all the ordinances of salvation. We are all dressed alike. There is no class distinction there. When Peggy was lying in her casket at her viewings, her white temple dress was the one she selected and told Patsy, "This is the dress I want you to bury me in." In life she was beautiful and arrayed in spotless white when she attended the temple with us, and in death she was translucent, appearing to be at peace in her restful repose and twenty years younger than her 92-plus years.

Babies are blessed in white. Brides are dressed in white. A white shirt is the "priesthood uniform" for boys and men alike. White is the color for all participants in a baptismal service. Often, though not mandated, white bread is the symbol for the sacrament. We wash our garments in the blood of Christ through His atonement, and when we do we are told we are made "spotless white."

And now in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, alongside her beloved Lin, the graves are covered in a fresh blanket of white.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know that Peggy had passed away. She was in my brother Bert's ward (which was also my parents' ward before they died) and I saw her a number of times when I was there visiting. She was always such a sparkly woman and so full of life. Having grown up in the same stake with the Hewletts, my parents knew both of them, and, of course, I knew Lin, John and Patsy. So much life has passed, and we are so blessed with great parents and families. My condolences to you and Patsy. Jill Wonnacott Dunford