Before my father-in-law passed, somebody asked me, "why?" Why meaning, why did he have to lose his mind and capacities to Alzheimers? Why did we have to struggle so hard to get him back after somebody preyed on his weakness and took him from us? Why was it so hard to take care of him? Why us? What could possibly be learned? So many whys?
I don't know why, but I know "what" taking care of Grandpa has done for my family. Selfishness, pride and impatience have been weeded from our hearts. We have learned to love unconditionally and to find joy in the moment and happiness in simple things. And when there was no joy or happiness to be found, taking care of Grandpa taught us to turn to the Savior who promises to "wipe away tears from off all faces"(see Isaiah 25:8). We learned to trust, to believe, to have faith when we couldn't see the end from the beginning. These things can't be learned from a text book or from the mouths of others, but only by experience.
Now that he's gone I feel disconnected from my surroundings, yet at the same time, keenly aware of the world around me--the stirring breeze, sunbeams of light sifting through a room, the honk of returning geese, the sun warming my back, the earthy smell of fertile soil, the blossoms on my pear tree that appeared the day he left like flowers from heaven.
We used to walk around the temple by his care center. We talked about what his wife, Maxine might be doing. We wondered what we might do when we joined her. We made a pact. If I died first I would come back and tell him what heaven was like. If he died first, he would come back and tell me. On his death bed, I kissed his brow, held his hand and reminded him about our pact.
And now I wonder if he were to gently tell me of heaven, if he might not send a gentle breeze, a beam of sunlight or white, fragrant blossoms. Or perhaps he would let me witness the very best qualities in my children and experience a little bit of heaven on earth.