Standing Strong and Immoveable

Each Monday they rotate drivers. Every three weeks it is my mom’s turn. She picks up Margarete and MaryLou in her Buick and they drive to St. George to visit Shirlee. Margarete and mom tolerate MaryLou’s week to drive with mild impatience. MaryLou only drives the speed limit, while mom and Margarete operate at a faster pace than what the limit allows. Even then their playful banter, in a strange but efficient communication triangle, much of which goes unsaid in half sentences but understood in full, gets them to their destination before mom or Margarete can really complain.

It has been about twenty years since these three women served as the Stake Relief Society presidency, but the bonds of friendship were already tight from prior service in both church and community functions and only grew tighter when they worked together at the stake level.

Mom was the president and she selected Margaret and MaryLou as counselors and Shirlee as the secretary. I was on my mission at the time and recall the letters, asking for my prayers in behalf of the new presidency, most specifically in behalf of Shirlee. Mom would explain that she “knew” that Shirlee was to be her secretary; the spirit confirmed it to her in an undeniable way. Yet Shirlee balked at the number of meetings and resisted giving herself to the calling. The Church was still somewhat new to her. She moved to Utah from Chicago late in life to retire with her husband, Meno. They settled in Moab at first and then in the small central Utah town of Joseph and were taught the gospel there by stake missionaries. They joined the church and slowly began to acculturate to the gospel and to life in rural Utah. They eventually moved to Hurricane where I was their home teacher before leaving on a mission. Mom became Shirlee’s visiting teacher shortly thereafter.

Meno died peacefully in his sleep one night. Shirlee couldn’t wake him the next morning. It was devastating to her. They had no children and Shirlee had little contact with her family. She frequently told me how her mother had placed her in a Catholic boarding school and was content to let the nuns and her grandmother raise her. “You’re a mistake,” her mom would say to Shirlee; “We didn’t want you.” Understandably, Shirlee developed a tough defensive exterior that was difficult to reach beyond. She had nothing but contempt for her parents and similar contempt for the nuns who did their best to teach her values; bitterness and hurt sank deeply into her soul. Meno was her world—all that she had—her anchor, solace, stability, and strength. He led her to Utah and into this new faith and then he left her, cold, waxy, and immovable next to her in bed.

She only wanted her visiting teacher that day, but she couldn’t get in contact with her. Even after the bishop arrived she only wanted to talk to mom. It was hours later when mom finally showed and Shirlee was mad. Mom quickly explained that she had been getting stitches in her leg from a minor accident that occurred while trying to park my motor scooter. (I had made her promise to ride it while I was on my mission so that it didn’t just sit for two years.) “Meno died,” mom wrote me, “and I’m not riding your scooter again.” “Shirlee was mad by the time I got to her house, wondering what took me so long. She understood after I showed her my leg. We talked for hours and I tried to comfort her.”

It was shortly thereafter that Mom was called as the stake Relief Society President. She and Margarete and MaryLou were already close. The challenge was fitting Shirlee into an existing bond. Over time Shirlee softened and the presidency jelled into a formidable foursome. The four women became fast friends and centered their efforts on Relief and personal visits to the homes of those in need. Shirlee became an integral part of the “team” and seemed to enjoy herself to the point that she even stopped complaining about the meetings.

The comments from some sisters stung, however. One told her she had no business being in a stake calling without having first been through the temple. Even more hurtful, Shirlee approached Mom in a bit of a defensive tone one day: “Someone told me that once we are released as a presidency you three will drop me like a hot potato. No more friendship; it is only a calling.”

How wrong that “someone” proved to be.

Long after the presidency was released, Shirlee continues to be a part of my family’s every day life. After my mission, I recall including her in our Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. I’d always be sent to pick her up. I’d ring the doorbell, punching the button incessantly, mostly because it bothered Shirlee so much. She’d come to the door with some comment about how annoying I was and when was I going to get married anyway. “Too picky,” she’d say. Margarete and MaryLou also continued to include Shirlee as a part of the warp and woof of their lives: visits; drives to the store; social, church, and family functions.

Then the dementia started, the voices, the kids sitting on the hot stove, the noises in the night. The police brought her to mom’s house at 2 a.m. They found her wandering the streets in her night gown. She threatened to cut mom’s liver out and to kill Margarete that night. Mom, Margarete and MaryLou took turns sleeping on her couch after that. She refused to see a doctor. They eventually convinced a doctor to make a house call and prescribe medication. They administered that medication each day and stood by to make sure she swallowed it.

When the medicine no longer effectively controlled the symptoms, the trio made plans for a more permanent solution. They hired a lawyer, went to court, appeared before a judge, and attempted to gain power of attorney. Shirlee’s will made provision for such an event and they were already signatories on her bank account. They itemized her furniture, divided it up according to Shirlee’s will, orchestrated the move, cleaned her home, sold her home, and placed her in a dementia care facility.

Each month they pay for her care out of the proceeds from the sale of her home, as well as Meno’s small pension, and Shirlee’s Social Security check. Each year Social Security requests an accounting of how the government money is being spent. Mom gives an accounting of the cost of the care facility and medicine. This year Social Security wanted to know more: Who provides her clothing, lotion, tooth paste, and other necessary items? Why are there no expenses for those items? Mom replied diplomatically, explaining that she, Margarete, and MaryLou buy those things, out of their own pockets.

Mom’s answer, however, fails to explain that these “women who know” provide those necessities more out of the goodness of their hearts than out of the depth of their pockets. Meno’s and Shirlee’s will stipulates that their surviving assets be given to the missionary fund of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mom, Margarete, and MaryLou feel a sacred obligation to preserve as much of that money as possible to honor Meno’s and Shirlee’s wish.

Every Monday morning (a bit later if MaryLou drives) the former Stake Relief Society Presidency reunites in Shirlee’s room at the end of the hall on the left. Sometimes Shirlee doesn’t wake for the reunion, but they rub her back and arm, leave her a chocolate, and whisper in her ear anyway. Sometimes she’s alert and tells them to leave after only a few minutes. Occasionally she says, “Thank you.”

And so they keep coming back. Charity never faileth, after all, and is kind.

12 comments for “Standing Strong and Immoveable

  1. queuno
    December 5, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Wow. Thank you.

  2. December 5, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. The bonds that are formed through service and friendship are amazing.

  3. Wilfried
    December 5, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Beautiful. The stories of such unfailing dedication, friendship and charity must be told. Thank you, Paul.

  4. December 5, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Thank you, Paul. Beautiful.

  5. December 5, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    These women “know.” Thank you.

    By the way, no matter how odd it feels, I hope you’ll tell us “Mom’s” first name too. Everybody needs a name.

  6. Adam Greenwood
    December 5, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.

  7. manaen
    December 5, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Thank you, thank you.

    My present stage of understanding is that the Church is for the “perfecting of the saints,” until we come “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” which, following Christ’s great commandments, means loving God and loving one another. The Church, then, is a vehicle that teaches us to love and it’s structure provides opportunities to learn and to do that through service.

    Thank you for sharing how these women’s service created a Christlike love that is enduring to the end.

  8. December 5, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    This really is good stuff, Paul. Thank you.

  9. Lupita
    December 5, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    What an excellent example of the pure love of Christ. You’re lucky to have such a wonderful mother. As someone who is working on being more charitable, this story was particularly poignant for me. Thanks for sharing it!

  10. Matt W.
    December 6, 2007 at 9:59 am

    Reminds me of my mom. Thanks.

  11. Paul Reeve
    December 6, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    #5, Ardis,
    Mom’s name is Ruth.

    I called her to fact check the post before I submitted it. Explaining a blog to her was somewhat of a challenge. I thought I’d done a fairly good job until she called back the next day. She said she told MaryLou that I had written a “blob” about them. MaryLou said, “That sounds about right, for me to be featured in a “blob.”

    Long live the Blobbernacle.

  12. Ardis Parshall
    December 6, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Long live the Blobbernacle.

    Indeed! Proposed definition, open to revision:

    “Blobbernacle: The corpus of friends and relatives, chiefly aged or technophobic, of LDS bloggers. The Blobbernacle is to the Boggernacle what Muggles are to Harry Potter.”

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