Fish Out of Water- Chapter 12
Monday, July 8th 2002
It wasn’t until I was in the shower about to get ready for the funeral that I remembered that I was to speak that day. With all the things that had happened the day before, I had completely pushed it out of my mind. I squeezed the bar of soap and threw it down onto the bottom of the shower. What was I going to say?
I managed to get dressed, dad let me borrow a clean shirt and tie. I shaved off my beard, looked in the mirror and thought, who was I kidding. I couldn’t speak. What did I know about the gospel, about death and about Christ? I felt like a new member myself. Why didn’t mom ask dad to speak?
That was it. I could ask my dad to speak for me. He loved me now. Maybe he would save me?
I ran down the hall and looked everywhere for him, “Dad,” I yelled as I ran from room to room. “Dad, where are you?”
“Dad, where are you? Please don’t tell me you’ve left.” I kept running around the house and finally looked in the garaged. His car was gone. Sulking, I went back in the kitchen to find a small note on a yellow sticky pad.
“John, had to go help with arrangements. I’ll meet you in the relief society room.” Oh, man. Everyone was arriving already. The viewing was going on. There was no way I was going to get out of it and my dad left me stranded on the side of the road to fend for myself.
I looked at the bananas going old on the counter. I wasn’t hungry anyway.
Maybe, I should just go back to bed. They wouldn’t come looking for me. Bishop would step in for me; he’d step up to bat.
I started walking down the hall and pulled my necktie off. I was going to stay at home. They couldn’t make me speak at my mom’s funeral. Besides, I wasn’t qualified. They should have my mom’s sister speak, dad, or some missionary who knew something about the gospel.
I walked into my room and there was the picture of mom. This was her idea. This was what she wanted. Mom didn’t want anyone else to talk. She had asked me. I fell to my knees, I had no where else to turn.
“Oh God, I am sorry. But this is not cool. I am scared to death. I do not want to speak.” I looked up again at her picture and then bowed my head back down. “I am not prepared and I do not know what to say!”
I sat there kneeling silently for what felt like a long time and then I finally asked, “Will you help me father? Will you give me the words I should say? Mom said that you would help me.”
I didn’t exactly feel perfectly peaceful. But I sure felt a lot better. I felt like he would help me at least a little.
“Father, I am sorry. Forgive me for wanting to run away and help me have the courage to say the things you would have me say.”
I closed the prayer, stood up and put my tie back on and drove to the church. I was driving as slowly as I possibly could and prayed each and every mile.
There were lots of cars in the driveway already. There were only a few more minutes left of the viewing. I had done a great job of procrastinating. I parked far away from all the other cars, walked into the building and listened for the sounds of people to lead the way.
The relief society room was around the corner and down the hall from the entrance to the chapel. I walked by it at first and glanced in. There was a beautiful box lying on a white linen table clothe. The lid of the coffin was open and I saw her profile. I looked at her for a while before I walked towards her.
There she was lying so peaceful in a beautiful white dress. She looked like my mom, but so different than she had the last time I had seen her in the hospital room. She had been so alive lying in the bed at the hospital.
That was it. She looked dead. She wasn’t there. I knew she wasn’t there. Her spirit was close, I could almost feel it, but it was no longer trapped in the cancerous cage. She was freed from this life.
Dad was in the corner or the room talking to Bishop Hansen and some other unfamiliar faces. I walked over towards him and then Bishop Hansen announced. “We will be having a family prayer in a few minutes, and would like to invite all other guests to go in the chapel and take a seat.”
A few of the people left the room and then I noticed some of my aunts, uncles and cousins and other relatives I hadn’t seen in years. I stood silently by my father.
Bishop Hansen continued, “Brother Stanley will be saying the prayer and then we will proceed into the chapel and join the rest of the congregation.” Some of the young men closed the doors.
My father took a step forward and bowed his head, “Father, we gather today to thank thee for blessing us with the sweet love and companionship of my dear wife, Carol Stanley. We know that thou hast accepted her life and her sacrifice. We know that thou hast loved her as we do and pray that thou wilt keep her. We also pray,” he had been strong until this point and he got a bit choked up here. “We pray Father that thou wilt allow her to be mindful of us and to bless our minds that we may always remember her, her love and the many gifts she gave us.”
It was the first prayer I heard my father speak. I thought to myself, if dad can pray in front of our family, then I can speak.
Dad shook everyone’s hand as they left the Relief Society room and proceeded to the chapel. I thought a few times about going the other way down the hall and back out to my car. But I followed him into the chapel and up the isle to the stand. We sat side by side and Bishop stood up to welcome everyone.
We sang a hymn that sounded a little familiar. One of my uncle’s said a prayer, that sounded to me a lot like a poem and then the Bishop stood up again. “Brothers and Sisters, the dear family and friends of Carol Stanley, we gather today to comfort one another and to bear one another’s burden’s. Only a few weeks ago, Carol and I met in my office and she handed me the arrangements that she wanted for this meeting today. Perhaps, she knew something we didn’t. She wanted to have a simple program, a memorial service if you will.”
He continued, “I promised her I would do my best to conduct this meeting and bring to pass her wishes. Her sister, Janice Nagar, will be giving a short and brief eulogy. Her son, John Stanley will be sharing some of his thoughts with us. Sister Granger, Hopkins, and Steed will sing “I am a Child of God, and then I will share some of my thoughts with you today. We will proceed up to this point.”
I watched him take his seat and realized this was real. I was sitting at the stand minutes away from standing in front of a congregation full of people who had all come to remember my mom. Maybe, I should just share stories about her. I didn’t want to talk about me. I opened the note once more and read it. I felt some peace, but still didn’t know what I was going to be saying.
I heard Aunt Janice mumbling off dates and a list of people my mother had served in various capacities, but my mind was racing and searching for things that I could say. I looked out at the chapel. The overflow had to be opened. There were people of all ages. I hardly recognized anyone. I felt like I was in a room full of strangers and all that we had in common was my mother.
Much to my dismay, my Aunt sat down and Bishop Hansen looked over at me and nodded. I stood up and thought my knees were going to give out. I swayed over to the podium and cleared my throat much too loudly into the microphone. I watched as the people grimaced.
“I want you to know I wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for my mother.” I raised my eyebrows and hoped for a few laughs. No one even smiled so I continued. “First of all, she gave birth to me and right at this moment I wish she hadn’t because then I would not have to be speaking in front of such a large congregation. And secondly, I would not and could not stand before you today, if my mother had not personally asked me to do so.” A few people smiled and I felt a little better.
I held up the note. “Bishop Hansen handed me this note on Friday, and I have been sweating bullets ever since. I’d like to share this note with you, so that you can understand what my mother has asked of me.” I cleared my throat again, with a little more confidence and read, “,John, I know if you are reading this, my time has come to move on to the next estate. Will you please speak at my services about how we can come unto the Lord? I will be listening and so will He. I do not want to hear old stories about me; I want to hear you bear testimony of the Lord and His redeeming love. I love you, Mother”.
I looked down at the congregation and was grateful I didn’t recognize anyone in the first few rows. I found an empty seat to stare at.
“For those of you who know me or once knew me, you know that it has been a very long time since I have attended church on a regular basis. For those of you who knew me as a child, you know that I faithfully attended with my mother, but once I was old enough to fly with my own wings, I made a choice that lead me to another path. I stopped praying and stopped acting like I believed in God. I didn’t attend church except if I came home for Christmas and if I did attend I felt as though I was putting myself out.”
A let out a deep breath, “The last few weeks have been very humbling for me. I thought that I was going to be called home, home with a capital H as mom use to say. Only I knew that if I was called home with a capital H, it would most likely not be heaven but the other place that also starts with a capital H, only it ends with fire and brimstone. I knew that I was not ready to return to a God that I had forsaken Him and further more I did not feel worthy of the place He calls home.”
“So, for the first time in over a decade I began to pray. These prayers were not as beautiful as the prayers you have heard this day, and I am not sure if they were too sincere in the beginning. But somewhere deep within my soul I wanted to know if there was a God who loved me. I wanted to know if he was punishing me for my sins.”
I shook my head. “You know what I found out. I found out that he wasn’t punishing me as much as he was allowing me the time I needed to repent and change. I found out that I do have a God, a Father in Heaven who loves me and who has made it possible so that I can repent and find the peace that only he offers.”
“Only a few weeks ago, I would have laughed at you if you would told me that I would be standing in a church and testifying of Him. But here I am and I know His Love is real. ‘For God so loved us that he sent his Son.’ I don’t know where you can find that in the Bible or Book of Mormon, but I believe it was spoken in the scriptures and I know that it is true.”
“For years, my mother prayed for me. When I was young she taught me, she prayed with me, she read to me, she brought me to church, but I turned away. For years, she patiently loved me with all of my faults and sins. She never turned her back to me, but she called me every week and she loved me everyday. I know of her and her great love. And now I also know of a love that surpasses her love.”
I reached for my mother’s scriptures and opened it up to Luke 15. “Recently, I have begun to read in the scriptures and I feel as though through these words God reached out to me and teaching me more of Him and His great love. I would like to share what Christ himself taught the people in Luke 15, when he was being egged on by those lame Pharisees and scribes.
“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine and go into the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:1-7)
“This I know—Christ will seek after his lost sheep, each and every one. He will seek until he finds them. And when he finds his sheep, he does not harass or scold, but he picks them up in his arms and places them on His strong shoulders. Christ will carry us, each and every one of us who sins. He has placed upon himself each and every one of our sins, not to condemn us, but to lift us up and to take us home to the Father.
“I know that he longs for us to be happy and feel peace in the world. I know that He will heal our hearts and wounds. I know that he will forgive us of our sins. I know because he has sought after me, his lost sheep. I know because he has forgiven me of my many sins. I know because I feel his love and I feel his forgiveness and I feel a change of heart.”
I looked deep into the audience and thought I saw an angel with beautiful blond hair sitting way in the back. I watched her blot her eye with a Kleenex. I thought I must have been seeing things, for this girl looked an awful lot like Sister Savannah Smith. I looked back at my empty seat in the front.
“My mother was a faithful follower of Him. She knew Him, she loved Him and she walked after His ways. My mother taught my father and I of a love greater than her own, of a Savior who loves and forgives us. I love my mother and I forgive her for giving me a task almost too difficult to bear, to speak to you today.”
“I have always been a quiet man, one who generally keeps feelings to myself. But I think I need to repent and today I need my mother and my father to know how much I love them and how grateful I am for their love. And I need my Father in Heaven to know how grateful I am for Him and for His son, Jesus Christ and their eternal love that will allow me to be part of an eternal family.
“It is difficult to comprehend the love they have for us. But I know it is this love that makes the love we build in our families eternal. I have learned for myself, that this life is a time not only to prepare to meet God, but to learn to be like him as we serve in families of our own.”
“I want to be ready to meet him, I want to come to know him better than I know him and I want to become more like him everyday. I know that this is possible only in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
I sat down in my seat and a choir of angels stood to stand where I had been. They sang a sweet melody that I remembered my mother singing to me and I began to cry. My father wiped at his own eyes and then handed me a clean Kleenex. My father’s hand that looked so much like my own reached down and squeezed mine. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted.
Bishop Hansen stood up at the pulpit, turned around and looked at me for a minute and smiled that smile that reminded me of Him. And I felt filled with a peace, a sweet and heavenly peace.
“Thank you,” he said. “I have had the opportunity to hear many testimonies, especially as I have served the Lord, and I have felt the spirit testify to me that the words this young man spoke are true. The Father does Love us, so much that He sent his son into a world that would crucify Him. The Father allowed it in order to fulfill the plan. Christ atoned for our sins, each and everyone and it is in and through him we can return worthy to enter into the Father’s Presence.”
“Carol’s last request was not that we focus this service on her, but that we remember Him, our Lord and Savior. She wanted all of us to remember that it is through Christ and his Resurrection that all will be resurrected. This life does not end with death. This is only the second act of a three act play.”
“Her last few weeks of life were full of joy, because of the love of her son and her husband. I know with all my heart she wishes that she could be with us today. I know that she wishes she could be with her son and husband. But she told me that she knew it was time for her to go and that the time was not far off that they would reunited for time and all eternity.”
“Carol’s faith can be an example to us during hard times. There will be times that we will miss her, but we can know that we will see her again. And we can come to know as she knows that the resurrection is real and we will live again.”
“I know that she is with us this day and there will be times that we will feel her close. It is my prayer that we may learn from her example and it is my prayer that we draw near unto our Savior and endure to the end that we may be filled with never-ending happiness.”
I was no longer ashamed of the tears. Bishop Hansen’s voice was familiar to me and it spoke right to my soul. I knew my mother’s spirit lingered near and I knew that someday I would see her again. I wanted to live my life in such a way that she would never be ashamed of me, but would always be proud to call me son.
We sang another song and another sister in the ward said the closing prayer. I didn’t understand a word she said, because she cried the entire time she was praying. When she was done she turned around and threw herself at my father and I. I wondered if she was like the “professional mourners” that some cultures hire to attend funeral services. That first embrace lead to many handshakes, hugs, and kisses. My father and I patiently endured each moment.
I wanted to go home and lay down before the graveside service. I was exhausted. But I looked in the back and there she was. It was her. She was sitting in the same spot I saw her in early, only now there was no one else around. She looked up at me, smiled and I smiled back.
I walked down the isle away from the group of people. I wanted to run to her, but instead I walked as fast as I felt appropriate to walk in a church. I didn’t take my eyes off her. She stood up and begin to walk towards me. I was not sure if you should kiss someone in the chapel and I was never one for public display of affection, but I just needed to make sure it was her, that it was really her.
It wasn’t a long kiss, but it was one that let her know how happy I was to see her. “You’re here. What are you doing here?” I whispered into her ear and pulled her in for another hug.
She pulled away just a little and looked me in the eyes, “I don’t know. I just wanted to be here today.” She smiled and she looked right into my soul. “Besides it saves you having to tell me the whole story all over again.”
I laughed. “I thought I saw an angel and that my eyes were playing tricks on me. I still can’t believe it is you and that you are here. How were you able to get away from the camp?”
“I have to be back tonight. I flew in and have a flight out at 9 tonight. It will be an early morning tomorrow. But it was worth it to be here today.”
“John,” I heard my father say as he put his hand on my shoulder. “Is this Kat?”
My mouth dropped and I felt Savannah slip out of my arms.
“My name is Savannah. I am a good friend of your son’s and you must be his father. You two look an awful lot a like.”
I let out a sign. Kat would have been furious to be called another girls name. Savannah just took it in stride.
“I apologize, Savannah,” my father said while he shrugged his shoulders. He pointed towards the cultural hall. “Would you like to join us for lunch?”
“I don’t want to intrude.” Savannah looked over at me.
I took her by the arm and said, “I insist.”
My father smiled and led the way to the room full of people and food. You wouldn’t have known it was a funeral, except for the funeral potatoes on the buffet table. Sure there were men in dark suits, but that was normal at church. The women were all dressed in summer dresses and it could have just been a “social”.
I leaned over and whispered in Savannah’s ear while we were standing in line for the food and asked, “Are all Mormon funerals like backyard picnics?”
“All the ones that I’ve been too,” she said.
During lunch, my father and I were constantly interrupted as people came up and told us wonderful things about my mother, Carol Stanley. Looking back, I guess I should have had a tape recorder. But at the time I was somewhat annoyed, by the disturbances. I just wanted to bask in the peace of Savannah’s presence.
She was an amazing trooper. She just stood or sat by my side for the rest of the day. She introduced herself to cousins, aunts, uncles and complete strangers. She hugged people and played with some of my cousin’s children. And most importantly she held my hand when we went to the graveside.
Someone had loaded all the flowers from the chapel and brought them to the graveside. To be honest, I didn’t like the fact they used the beautiful fresh flowers to cover up the mound of dirt that would be put on top of my mother’s coffin. I did not like looking down past the coffin into the ground. It looked deeper than sick feet.
As I glanced into the deep abyss, a thought came to my mind. This could have been me. My stiff, cold, and young body could have been placed in the wooden box and be placed here to rest. And that is when I felt it.
I was overcome with a feeling of gratitude. What would have happened if I would have died without having the opportunity to understand my father and have a glimpse into the battles he had fought my entire life? What would have happened if I had not had the opportunity to come to know my eternal Father and his infinite love? What would have happened had I not chosen to pray and seek to know Him, to really come to know him?
The path that I had been taking was selfish. I could see that clearly now. I was only concerned with self preservation and enjoyment. There was no one I cared about more than myself. I thought I loved my mother, but today was the first day I did something for her that really showed her I loved her more than myself. Today, I was willing to step out of my comfort zone because she and perhaps because my eternal father wanted me to speak and bear my testimony.
I looked over at my father and I felt like I knew him. Here was a man that I had hated and feared my entire life, but I never knew why. And I now felt sorry for the way he had chosen to live his life. He had chosen to push us away because of his past, the war, sin and the alcohol. He had refused to let the light of Christ in and in so doing kept my mother and I at a safe distance.
It was sad in a way, that my mom had to die and be buried in this cemetery for my father and I to learn for ourselves how to come unto Christ. Without her here we had to go directly to the source of her light and her love. Without her testimony and strength, we had to find our own and she didn’t leave us until we both had our feet firmly planted in the gospel sod. And now she was going to be planted under that sod, to hold us close to her, to keep a watchful eye over us and to continue to plead for us.
There was a light in my father’s eyes. I knew that part of the joy he was experience was the forgiveness I had given him. And that brought me joy. I knew that I had contributed a small part to his peace.
I didn’t think it would be so easy to love him after all the things that he had done. I could not and would not have had the strength to do it without feeling for myself the love that Christ had for me. He cleansed me from my sins and forgave me and it was his forgiveness that allowed me to long to forgive others, to feel of that redeeming and sanctifying love.
For nearly, thirty years I never knew my father and now I was granted a gift to come to know him, just as I was learning to come unto my eternal Father. I had to pay a price to receive this gift, I had to fall unto my knees and plead for Him, but it was a gift that the Father longed to give me. It was a gift that I had longed for my entire life, but didn’t know how to seek it and wasn’t sure I was willing to pay the price of humility.
I could see it now, how much I had been like my earthly father. I could see how similar our weaknesses were and I could also see how much we longed to love my mother, but neither of us really knew how, nor could we love her without feeling His love in our hearts.
Savannah was standing a little ways off talking to my cousin and in her arms she was holding a small child. Savannah knew how to love. She had a gift. People were drawn to her, as I had been. Children felt safe around her, as safe as I feel when I am near her. But her gift is magnified because she accepts the Savior’s love and she lives after his ways. She walks the path of love and because of it, she is granted more strength to love and to be loved in return.
I smiled. And because of this love and mercy, she had chosen to take pity on me and fly from Idaho to Washington to be with me, to hold my hand and to stand by my side on the hardest of days.
The people took their places and the bishop dedicated the grave and offered a prayer. After the prayer, he pulled me aside and we walked down the hillside. “John,” he said. “I want you to know how much we appreciated you sharing your testimony with us today. Your mother had great faith and she often confessed to me what her greatest desire was.”
“And what was that Bishop Hansen?” I asked.
She said, “To be with the two men she loved together for time and all eternity; to know that you and your father were securely linked to Christ. She told me that she knew in her heart that someday you both would come back to Him.”
“She could see things and she believed in things that others thought was impossible,” I said.
“She prayed and fasted for you. She loved you. And I felt like she has been with us today and her soul is at peace.” I stopped and looked over at him and again I saw his eyes. They pierced me. He continued, “Her prayers have been answered. You are your father are securely linked to our Savior. She is happy.”
“Bishop, it was her love. It was the love she had for me and for Dad even when we didn’t deserve to be loved. It was her forgiveness that led me to receive of His forgiveness. It was her love.”
“The Lord blesses us with people in our lives who love us the way he loves, who forgives us, as he forgives us, to help us endure all the trials, challenges and especially our own weaknesses that we must overcome. The Lord does not want us to be alone in this life. We must surround ourselves with people who will lift us up closer to him and when we do so there are times we feel we are living in a Celestial world, a world of peace, a world of love and a world of forgiveness.”
I nodded. “Bishop, I am beginning to see that now and understand that I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be selfish anymore. I want to live the life that will bring me real joy, not temporary pleasure or simply gratify my own pride.”
He smiled. “The path that leads us home is narrow. There is no room for pride or selfishness on that road, if we are to have love and a family.” He looked over at his wife and children. “They are my greatest joy. They have given me what money could never buy. They know my weaknesses and despite all of my weaknesses they love me and allow me to lead them down the straight and narrow path.”
“Thanks.” I said.
“Trust the Spirit,” he said as he turned to walk back to the crowd. “He will lead you down the path that will take you to where you were meant to be, to live the life you were meant to live.”
He and Jack talked a lot a like. I was beginning to understand that life began before birth and it helped that they kept pounding it into me. I walked back towards Savannah. She smiled and waved at me. I went over and took her hand and led her back to the jeep.
A week ago our paths crossed and then just as suddenly as they crossed they seemed to be joining. I did not want to walk a path alone. I wanted to walk with her on the straight and narrow path. I wanted to walk by her side and hold her hand. I wanted to be worthy of her love and I wanted to love her. I wanted our paths to join and never separate, and for the first time in my life I wanted eternal life.