Several months ago, our family suffered the loss of our dear niece Tori.

Tori was 17 years old at the time of her death- just a little over a month shy from turning 18.

Her frail body had given in to the horrible disease that ravaged it for several years prior….

We all knew, as her family, that the day we would loose her was at nigh…  we’d known this difficult truth for nearly 2 years since her diagnosis.

Metachromatic leukodystrophy.

The illness is terminal.

Though for 2 years, we prayed and hoped, she even had moments during which it looked like she was regaining her strength… there were times, despite the diagnosis, that we thought she’d make it- she’d survive! Sure she probably wouldn’t ever talk, walk or be able to really care for herself any longer as she once had, but having Tori there was better than the thought of loosing her…

About a year ago, while our family was still living in Texas, my sister in law Emily, {Tori’s mother} texted us and told us that the doctor had told them Tori only had a year or less at life left… she was loosing her battle on life.  In my selfish state, I recall saying a prayer in my heart, not once, but several times thru out the next several months, that Tori could hold on to life and not leave us before our family had the opportunity to return to live in Utah again {at this time we already knew we would be moving back to Utah}. It was perhaps selfish- but I didn’t want our next trip to Utah to be to return for Tori’s funeral.  I also didn’t want my children’s last memories of their cousin to be such old ones— I wanted them to have “fresher” memories of Tori to think back on…. I wanted them to be able to remember her beauty, her kind hearted spirit and I wanted all of us to be able to see that beautiful smile of hers with those dimples, just one more time if we could…

 

I don’t know that it was my selfish plea, or what exactly for that matter, but Tori held onto life, long enough for us to return and visit with her occasionally.  I remember how at one family gathering, shortly after we’d returned, how her appetite seemed to be strong- surely an indication that she wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon! I’d made taco salad for the family and Tori ate 3 huge servings!  Though she couldn’t walk or talk, she could still smile when I’d crack a joke and she could hold Isla up on her lap.

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I know now that I was deceived then thinking we had plenty of time with Tori- that she’d be around for a while…

It wasn’t long after seeing her at Isla’s birthday celebration in August that Emily texted us to inform us that Tori had slipped into a coma.  As her mother, she had felt that Tori’s last moments here on this earth were drawing near, so once our kids were out of school and Spencer was off of work, we packed our kids into the car and made the drive down to visit with her.

Tori passed away about a week later.   We were all at church when we received the text from Emily.  We were leaving Sunday School on our way to Priesthood and Relief Society.  We didn’t tell anyone there at church what had happened- for we were still fairly new to our ward at the time and didn’t know anyone other than recognizing a few faces here and there from the congregation.  That next hour sitting in Relief Society was painstaking.  I wanted to cry- in fact, there were several times I did and I couldn’t stop.  I’m convinced the sisters sitting beside me must have thought I was just incredibly moved by the lesson on whatever it was that was being taught- and that was fine- let them think so…  When the grief became too much to bear- I slipped out into the empty hallway with Isla.  I counted down the minutes until church would let out.  At last it did.  We gathered our children and quickly made our way out to our car and drove home.  Once home, while sitting around the dinner table for lunch, we explained to our children that Tori had just died.  Their expressions were blank- all except for Noah and Ian’s.  It seemed as if they were the only two old enough to even understand what death meant.  Our other children just sort of looked at us- blankly… they couldn’t quite register what it meant that we were telling them.  So Spencer and I took turns explaining to them that we would no longer be able to see Tori here on this earth because she was gone.  The illness she had, had taken her from us; she had returned home to live with Heavenly Father in Heaven.  To help them better understand, we used the “glove” demonstration with them {one both Spencer and I had used so often during the missions we were called to serve, prior to marriage; we used the glove to explain our bodies and our spirits}… Spencer slipped a glove over his hand and explained to the boys that the glove symbolized Tori’s body.  To help them understand that Tori died, he took the glove off.  The glove remained motionless on the table top- just as Tori’s body does- no longer useful, though Spencer’s bare hand still moved and had life- just as Tori’s spirit does.  We continued on to teach the boys that one day, all of us: mommy’s, daddy’s, brothers, sisters, grandmas and grandpas, all who have died, including Tori, will one day be reunited spirit and body {glove and hand} and for that very reason we can hold onto HOPE and have joy knowing that we will see Tori once again!

 

While Tori, who is our niece from Spencer’s side of the family, died a physical death, I have another niece, whom shall remain nameless out of respect for her privacy, who is dying a slow spiritual death.  Coincidentally, she’s the same age as Tori and the two were once friends.

This niece from my side of the family is beautiful!  She’s been an Aphrodite of sorts ever since she was little— blessed with beauty. Along with beauty she was given incredible talents and blessings… musically gifted, intelligent, kind and she’d been raised in a good Christ centered home, with parents and siblings who adore her… however, at some point as a young teenager, she began to make bad choices.  Those bad choices sometimes resulted in immediate consequences… sometimes they didn’t, though the choices she was making still worried her parents- particularly my sister.  She had other children to worry about and care for as well, and while she would still carry on with her mother obligations, she worried herself often sick about the troubled path her daughter was choosing to follow.

That niece is now a young adult… by law, she is free to choose- without the worry of parents enforcing punishment on her… some who know her might just say she’s being a teenager- she’s doing what teenagers do and perhaps that is true- though it doesn’t excuse her bad choices she’s made. She continues to wander down the path of living a reckless life and does little to invoke the talents or gifts she’s been given.  My sister continues to worry about the welfare of her child, but now chooses to spend more of her time focusing on the good choices her other children are making and worry her self less sick about those choices her daughter’s making that she can’t change.  Her daughter is dying a slow spiritual death.  As her aunt- it’s heart wrenching to watch it unfold.  We’ve already experienced the loss of one niece from one side of our family- we don’t need to loose another.

 

The following question has been on my mind often lately…. What’s worse??? To endure the loss of a loved one from a physical death or to endure the loss of a loved one from a spiritual death???

 

One is absolute… no matter what we do or how we try it, physical death will happen to everyone- though the matter of how or when isn’t certain.

The other, spiritual death, isn’t necessary or even something that we must ourselves, or for the matter of someone else, watch happen.

How do I know?  I know that spiritual death isn’t necessary because all things come alive thru Christ.  It is through his sacrifice and atoning sin that we may repent of our wrongdoings and LIVE!

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Noah painted the picture above with oil pastels. It is a picture of Christ on canvas that he created when he turned 8, to display at his baptismal service. What I particularly LOVE about it is the heart, radiating light.

 

From a parents perspective and from the perspective I have as the aunt here- I can’t say which is the worst of the two to experience watching unfold- however, watching someone die a slow spiritual death is awful in it’s own way…

 

I have no doubt of where Tori is at or whom she is with… she resides in Heaven and we will see her once again… this separation is only temporal… of course, I don’t mean to excuse the heartache or grief we feel in her absence… we miss her terribly and I have no knowledge of when the grief will ever stop… perhaps not until we meet again… until then, we’ll carry on and hope to be able to make good choices- choices that will help us arrive at Heaven’s doorstep one day too.

 

Spiritual death is extremely difficult to watch a child endure…  that separation between spirit and self, while still alive- only to see “self”, the body, the carnal state triumph over the spirit all for a moments pleasure…  there is no assurance even so that the body will be unharmed… surely with any reckless behavior from spiritual death, physical death can follow too.  Only there is no knowing what or where their spirit will go following physical death.  That idea of not knowing is haunting.

 

Just last week I experienced a pinch of heartache…

I had taken all 6 of our children to the store with me to buy groceries for our celebration on New Years Eve…  as I checked out and paid for my groceries, two of my children, our oldest, Noah and Ian, swiped a pack of bubblegum and left the store with me without paying for it {f.y.i. I was unaware at the time that they had taken it}…  later last week, my 5 year old Bentley came into my room in the morning and told me that there was sticky stuff in the bathroom…  I followed him into his bathroom that he shares with all of his brothers, to find out what the problem was, only to find several wads of chewed up bubblegum stuffed in between the toilet paper roll and the toilet paper roll dispenser.  It was gross sticky mess!  I cleaned it up, but not before I called all 5 of my boys in to see it and talk with me.  After some discussion, I learned that both Noah and Ian had put the gum there and later learned it was gum they had stolen from the store earlier in the week.  I asked for the pack of gum and for them to go get $3 from their savings…  I packed up all 6 kids in the car and we made our way to Smiths. I first had some grocery shopping to do- so I did it quickly- after which when it came time to purchase my items, I paid, then I asked Noah and Ian to explain to the cashier what it was that they had done there earlier in the week.  Ian was slightly terrified…  he’s a perfectionist by nature and does not like to ever error- let alone have to admit he’s done wrong, but in his brother’s company, it made it slightly easier to confess and ask for forgiveness.  He and Noah lucked out a bit…  the pack of gum I told them that would probably end up costing them $3 ended up only costing them 89 cents.  It was on sale!  They both said they felt good about admitting their wrong doing— I pray this incident will serve a reminder to them never ever to steal again… perhaps it will- I HOPE it will, but of course there’s always that chance that it will happen again.

 

This isn’t the first time Noah’s stolen something… last year, while on our epic roadtrip with Grandpa T. thru Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and everywhere else in between that we traveled during those 12 days from Dallas on up to New York and back, Noah swiped one of those little travel sewing kits they keep at gas stations.  I didn’t learn about him taking it until we were several hours away from the place he took it- if I could have, I would have taken him back to the gas station to return it and apologize, however that wasn’t an option since we’d already traveled so far- so I lectured him instead and threw it out.  When asked WHY he took it, he said he needed it to sew a button onto something {I’ve forgotten what it was now as I write this, but his intent was good}…  of course he was and is still young- he hardly understood that what he did was so terribly wrong, particularly since he had good intentions in mind, so trying to help him understand his wrong doing in that instance wasn’t exactly easy, nor is it ever always easy…   I don’t worry that my children will grow up to be Grand Auto Thefts – they all have good hearts- but it’s the less obvious errors, mistakes and bad choices I worry about them making… I couldn’t possibly bear to watch them too die a spiritual death.

No one is perfect, partly due to the fact that we all have agency to choose and do what it is we want to do…  Our agency is a gift from God. It’s a beautiful thing! Thanks to agency, I was able to choose to become a mother; choose to serve a mission; choose to marry in the temple…  Like everyone else, I’ve made some pretty horrible, disastrous, BAD choices in my life… when necessary, I’ve asked for forgiveness and repented.  I try to make good choices. The world, our society, tries to convince us that the fortune and happiness so many people have isn’t because of choosing it- the world lies to us and chalks it up to being all luck.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned and it’s a lesson I have to be continually reminded of- happiness isn’t the result of luck- HAPPINESS IS CHOSEN!

 

Parenting isn’t easy…  I could have scolded my boys for stealing the pack of gum, and never had taken them there to the store to pay for it and admit their wrong doing— but then, they never would have felt that elation they felt once they admitted to the cashier and apologized for stealing the gum!

 

I wish there was a way of knowing that that incident would be the last- that I’d never ever have to worry about my children stealing another thing again…. that would be nice- but then they have their own agency and power to choose for themselves- not to mention, temptation surrounds us all. I pray and hope that as they grow older, they’ll make good decisions.  That if and when they make bad choices, they’ll choose to repent and fix their wrongdoing as Spencer and I have tried to teach them.

OUR CHOICES MATTER!

 

I worry about my children’s well being.  I want my boys to grow up as gentleman….  I want them to be positive influences on society and contribute positively to this world too!  The possibility of them doing so sometimes seems so bleak… not because of them, but because of the evil that resides in this world.  I want my children to know that the war against spiritual death is real…  choosing the right is and will always be the best choice!

 

I am not a perfect person… much less a perfect parent.  There are many times when I’ve gone to bed at night feeling like I’ve failed as a mother.  It might feel so because I lost my patience with one- heck, ALL of my children that day… or it might be because I yelled at them out of frustration…  When I begin to feel like I’ve failed- I resolve to try again. I remind myself often I must try harder to be what and whom it is I want to be.

 

Just this morning as I was making beds and tidying up bedrooms, I came across a mess that Noah and Ian had made on their desks the night before…  I really dislike clutter, so for this very reason I’d gotten them several containers and boxes, bookshelves, etc. to put their belongings in/on- but for reasons only known to them- they like to leave their things left out.  Just as I was about to call them into their room to clean up their messes- I felt the urge not to.  I looked over at the mess collected on their desktops…  legos, pencils, a piece of artwork Ian had been working on, some books— all items that would indicate those things belonged to 2 little boys… Next what I saw was especially beautiful… INSTRUMENTS, that my boys had indeed been using!  A Book of Mormon, Noah’s set of Scriptures, the Friend magazine, a picture of Christ and a picture of the Timpanogas Temple!

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Like most parents, I worry about my children and their spiritual well being— but despite all of the worry, I have a hunch that they’ll be fine.  They might wander from time to time, but they’ll be fine.  And how can I be so sure???  Because they’ve been given instruments to guide them through this troubled world {aka the scriptures, prayer, etc.} and they have been taught how to use them- ever more- they DO use them!

 

As a special side note to my niece if she were reading this, I wish to tell her that I love you! I can’t say that I love the choices you are making or the choices you’ve already made- it’s hard to watch you stumble, but you’re a bright young woman! You’ve been blessed with the wisdom you need to be able to discern right from wrong.  You have parents who love you, siblings who adore you and an incredible future that lays ahead that needs one thing: YOU!  Choose the right.  Choose HAPPINESS!  YOU ARE LOVED!