The next few days pulsed with surreal happenings. My Father, barely off the airplane, attended his mother’s funeral the Friday after returning home and watched from the stand as the throng filled the chapel, then the gym, and then spilt into classrooms and hallways. My Mother, then just a friend, showed up at my Father’s doorstep with a casserole and time to talk. Letters came from the First Presidency, the Missionary Executive committee, and from President Jensen, who said, in part:
“Never did I think that you would face such a trial of your faith in going home….I am sure that as you look over the past few months you will see little ‘nudgings’ of the Spirit that have quietly but surely given you the faith and the courage to handle properly this trial of your faithâ€¦.”
And, amidst all of this, my Father suffered–often alone. He would, of course, have had at least two more months with his mother if he had returned home after only two years. As it was, he spoke at her funeral on Friday and then at his homecoming that Sunday. There was something of comfort in that accutely sad time: the throng of loved ones, the flood of letters, the ready embraces, the many comforting voices–all of these combined to weave for my Father a cocoon of sorts to shield him from private, personal, poignant grief. The weeks and months afterward, however, opened into a kind of emotional void, a “nothing time,” as C.S. Lewis called it: as the letters, phone calls, and well-wishes faded, only a space was left, the place Nana used to occupy.
The Comforter was there, though–His presence palpable amidst the dissipating, misty grief. Even these many years later, my Father is adamant about the peace that perfused that empty time, like blood flowing into capillaries. Even in quiet moments, perhaps especially then, my Father became acquainted with something deeper; even in Nana’s absence, he learned, in his bones, of “the things that do not change.” Of course, such spiritual pondering has a way of dissolving itself into the temporalities of everyday life and, before long, life resumed its brisk clip: my Father returned to college, my mother and my Father began dating, they married, and life moved from slogging, to walking, to running at a breathless pace.
In October of 1980, about three years after my grandmother’s death, I was born. At that time, I was my grandfather’s only namesake (the first son of his only son) and he rushed to the hospital the morning of my birth to hold me and cry for joy. Only two years later, my little brother, David, joined me. By that time, we had moved into a small red-brick home in Salt Lake City, my Dad had passed the bar exam and was beginning to practice law, and my mom had given up her job teaching special education to stay home.
Even as life resumed it’s brisk pace, however, my grandfather’s heart and health were slowly failing. The nights spent in the snow had weakened him substantially and he could not shake the lingering effects. His health slowly deteriorated and, about the time of my brother’s birth–much too early to remain in my memory–my grandfather also passed away. There was little drama or fanfare, this time, but still a gnawing, aching sadness.
Meanwhile, my Aunt Teresa had kept up her wild ways. That night spent crying with Brother Christensen, as well as the toll of my grandmother’s death, had begun a change deep within her heartâ€”but her transformation would not be apparent for many years. Instead, she seemed at first to return to the life she had made for herself and her husband in the relative solitude of the Colorado mountains. My father is unsure what her life was like during the years directly following my grandmother’s death, but he supposes Teresa had probably come, with her husband, to a new equilibrium which was not quite “hippy” but still far from happy. Around the time I was born, Teresa divorced her husband and, as time wore on, her soul began to wind its way toward home. She would never abandon her spunk and vim, but in the space of not so many years, the change that had been imperceptibly proceeding within began to show signs without.