"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
June 13, 2012
Do You Believe?
by Marian Stoddard

I sat in that temple session with Barbara, saying to myself, Well, do you have a testimony or don't you? We had been coming to the temple together for thirteen years, but this was not quite like any other time.

This time I knew that my best friend was going to be passing the angels who stand as sentinels, as Brigham Young put it, very soon. We were going to the Distribution Center after the session and lunch to buy her a temple dress for her burial. It was the only thing she needed that she didn't have, and she didn't know who it was that had brought the funds to me to make that purchase. It is a measure of how inseparable we were that I was the first person to call if there was a question about her.

My answer to myself that morning was yes, I absolutely have a testimony. There was not a doubt in my mind. It was just an adjustment. My heart was still taking in the new reality -- she would be leaving us. I thought we would be sitting on her porch someday and watching our grandchildren run around together.

The last carefree event before all this happened was my fortieth birthday. I had decided that I ought to have a party, nothing fancy, but we invited a few couples to have a riotous evening of cake and Balderdash and just say life is fun. I had a great time.

Not long after that Barbara found herself having an unexpected struggle with the Spirit. The Lord was whispering to her that her testimony of Him was not complete. She prayed, she pondered, she asked what it was she lacked, what was she not doing that He wanted her to do?

It's all right, she was answered, I will show you. It will be hard, but I will be with you. Don't be afraid.

Then she started having physical problems. Her doctor diagnosed an obstructed bowel, probably diverticulitis. As treatment attempts and further tests progressed, the news was much more ominous: cancer. She had surgery and radiation. Through all of this, she told me that she was spiritually assured that she would be okay.

A follow-up showed that the cancer had metastasized to the liver. That was not the only spot, but it was the one that mattered. The earthquake word 'cancer' was now way increased on the medical Richter scale: the word now had become 'terminal.'

"I thought you were going to be all right! That's what you said. I've been counting on that--"

"I will be all right. I just won't be here."

She had nine children, an ex-husband who was a danger to them, and a brand new marriage. How could this possibly be right? Yet it came down to this--do you believe or don't you? I did, and she was serene. I know all the stuff about stages of grief, but anger wasn't even anywhere near the equation, and bargaining wasn't either. Acceptance and preparation, that's all that applied after stunned.

So we sat in the celestial room of the temple that day, a few days after this cataclysm, in no hurry to leave. She was a convert, the eighth of ten children in a good Catholic family. I asked if I could speak at her funeral to convey her testimony to her family, and she asked if I would help dress her body. In a couple of months I would do both those things for her.

She came to church with her children. (Her new husband was not LDS.) By Relief Society she was tired out, and she would sit all the way into the row, against the wall, and lean into it and doze a little. When the meetings were over, she would gather up her kids and go home. When she became too weak to attend and was put on home hospice, the Relief Society passed around a sign-up calendar to cover the time between when her husband had to go to work, once all the kids had left for school, and when social services had someone come in daily at 3:00. They had decided that what was most needed was someone to be there when school got out and fix dinner. Feeding eleven people every day was a big task. The rest of the time, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., we covered in 90 minute blocks.

I was there every day. Some days I had a shift, some days I didn't and just went over. We had so much deep history together that some days I just couldn't chat. I couldn't find much to say, because the important things were already understood and the trivial didn't matter. I was just with her.

I said at her funeral that even with a true knowledge of the Lord's love, we need a tangible, human anchor, and Barbara was that for me. Her support was so important at certain moments, and mine to her. She said on one of those days, that we never did the things best friends are supposed to do. We never went to the mall, and we never sat around with a carton of ice cream and two spoons. My reply to that was that we had done something much more important: we had gone to the temple together.

She promised that she would continue to be with me in the temple whenever she could. I took her temple bag home from the mortuary and kept it as my own, with the permission of her family. It made me feel like a part of her was still with me. I missed her very much.

The angels who help watch over us are those who know and love us. I have truly had her presence there with me in the temple, as the work is done from both sides of the veil. We can each ponder who might be loving and guarding us, because they are. Love doesn't forget, nor does it ever end.


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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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