"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
November 10, 2014
At a Loss for Words
by Kathryn H. Kidd

We recently spent eight days on a cruise ship, eating dinner every night with the same four strangers. None of them shared our faith, so when one of the ladies had a birthday on our penultimate night out, it was only natural that her husband celebrated by buying a bottle of champagne for the table.

Nobody was surprised or offended that we didn’t drink the champagne. Fluffy and I had told them earlier in the week that we were Mormons, so all it took was a gentle reminder that we do not drink alcohol for everyone to cheerfully accept that two people at the table were going to be toasting Dawn with glasses of water.

But it was when I cheerfully added that Mormons do not drink coffee or tea that things started to go south. Because this concept was beyond the ability of the birthday girl to understand.

“Cawfee?” she asked incredulously, in her best Jersey accent. “What’s wrong with cawfee or tea?”

And that’s where things unraveled, because Dawn asked me to answer a question about something that actually meant something to me.

Now if she had given me a keyboard and ten minutes, I could have answered her question intelligently, but she didn’t. She expected me to use my mouth to formulate some type of reasonable answer to her question. And then, quite reasonably, she looked at me, open-eyed, and waited for me to answer her.

Envision, if you will, a deer in the headlights. No, envision a deer in a whole herd of headlights. I could no more have spoken than I could have stood up and done a tap dance on the table. The words were not there. Forty-four years of faithfully following the Word of Wisdom had not prepared me for one innocent question, asked without hostility by a person who simply wanted to know the answer.

It was not that I didn’t know the answer. I could have written essays on the subject. But I was not asked to write an essay. I was asked to speak.

Fortunately, Fluffy was sitting next to me. After a silence that couldn’t have lasted more than, oh, thirty-seven years, I elbowed Fluffy and said, “Clark can say it better than I can.”

And Fluffy launched off on a perfectly intelligent explanation of why we might avoid such substances — in addition to the health implications, Mormons are taught to avoid all addictive substances because that helps us control our passions and subdue our bodies.

The rest of what he said doesn’t really matter. All that matters was that it was said in a way that satisfied our tablemates, and I didn’t have to say it. I am not just slow of speech. Sometimes I am devoid of speech. It was bad enough pre-coma, but post-coma I am much, much worse.

I can no longer trust myself to speak in public. I rarely make comments in Relief Society, because when I do, the comments that come out of my mouth are not the comments that I compose in my brain. I am not sure if it is severe enough to be classified as aphasia. Well, maybe it is. I’m not yet to the point that I try to say “God” and it comes out as “toasters,” but I may be on my way.

Fluffy loyally tells me I am doing just fine. He sees no difference from the pre-coma Kathy and the post-coma one. Of course, Fluffy looks at my hair when I have slept on it wrong and it is completely flat on one side and sticking out at a forty-five degree angle above my left eyeball and tells me it is absolutely beautiful.

His loyalty is an endearing thing, but perhaps — just maybe — it is not to be trusted. He (and other friends) have also assured me that this is just part of aging, and has nothing to do with my coma adventure.

I used to be articulate. In all my years of giving church talks and teaching lessons, I have done it extemporaneously. It has been amusing. When Fluffy and I have been assigned to speak at the same meeting and on the same topic, he would prepare assiduously for days ahead of time, going to the meeting with a neatly typed script that served as his springboard for the talk.

This is not to say he didn’t deviate from the script if he wanted to do so. He has never been a robot. If Fluffy decides to make a change to accommodate someone he sees in the audience or a thought that springs to mind, he is fully capable of doing so.

For the most part, however, he is completely prepared when he stands to deliver a talk. He was a Boy Scout when he was a tyke, and that’s what good Boy Scouts do — be prepared.

But that was never the way I did things, pre-coma. I would be assigned my topic at the same time he was assigned his, and I thought about the topic in my own Kathy-like way. Then I would get up to the lectern with a piece of paper the size of a gum wrapper that might have five words on it. Those words gave me the direction, and I went from there.

I told stories that wove messages together. It all worked. The script was all I needed.

Now? If I were ever asked to teach a lesson or give a talk, I don't know how I'd do it. I have never read a talk in my life, but I think if I tried to do it the old way I would open my mouth and either nothing would come out or I'd start speaking gibberish. No — I know I'd start speaking gibberish, and that scares me.

It frightens me to know that I am not who I used to be. I look at the mirror and I see an old person. I look at the floor and I see feet that do not walk. I look at my hands and I see the skin of a Shar-Pei.

But none of that scares me as much as the tongue that does not work — the beginnings of aphasia. If I cannot communicate, who am I? When am I no longer Kathy anymore?

The idea of losing my Kathy-hood depresses me. I think of all the old people in all the rest homes in the world who cannot communicate. People look at them and assume that nobody’s home. Now I wonder how many bright minds are hiding inside bodies with tongues that can no longer tell people what they want to say. I have worried about becoming one of those silent people.

But then I read Alma 12:9-10. In those verses, Alma is preaching to the bad guy Zeezrom (he is such a bad guy that the only way the Book of Mormon can describe just how bad he is, is to tell you that he is a lawyer). This is a small part of what he says:

And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

What that said to me when I was reading it yesterday is that God is willing to tell us His biggest secrets, but we can’t pass them along to just anybody. Some challenge that would be! Humans are natural blabbers with even little secrets, and if God gave them the secrets of the mysteries of the universe, there is no way we could keep those mysteries close to the vest.

So what does He do? Maybe — just maybe — he waits until those of us with loose lips but who still love Him are no longer able to speak. When they have been silenced with any kind of illness or even with Alzheimer’s, He tells them secrets from the other side of the veil — secrets that they are in no danger of imparting to others.

What we mistake as dementia may be something far different. We may look at Grandma and say that her mind is gone, but we may be wrong. Grandma may be mentally conversing with generations unseen, or she may be sitting with God Himself — learning the mysteries of Heaven directly from Him.

As I get older, my aphasia will only get worse. That’s the nature of the human condition; the body continues to deteriorate until we finally abandon it for something better and new.

But if I end up as one of those who are unable to speak, think of me as one of those who are watching instructional videos from the other side. There’s a lot I need to learn to get me ready for my next existence. I don’t want to miss a single lesson along the way.


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About Kathryn H. Kidd

Kathryn H. Kidd has been writing fiction, nonfiction, and "anything for money" longer than most of her readers have even been alive. She has something to say on every topic, and the possibility that her opinions may be dead wrong has never stopped her from expressing them at every opportunity.

A native of New Orleans, Kathy grew up in Mandeville, Louisiana. She attended Brigham Young University as a generic Protestant, having left the Episcopal Church when she was eight because that church didn't believe what she did. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a BYU junior, finally overcoming her natural stubbornness because she wanted a patriarchal blessing and couldn't get one unless she was a member of the Church. She was baptized on a Saturday and received her patriarchal blessing two days later.

She married Clark L. Kidd, who appears in her columns as "Fluffy," more than thirty-five years ago. They are the authors of numerous LDS-related books, the most popular of which is A Convert's Guide to Mormon Life.

A former managing editor for Meridian Magazine, Kathy moderated a weekly column ("Circle of Sisters") for Meridian until she was derailed by illness in December of 2012. However, her biggest claim to fame is that she co-authored Lovelock with Orson Scott Card. Lovelock has been translated into Spanish and Polish, which would be a little more gratifying than it actually is if Kathy had been referred to by her real name and not "Kathryn Kerr" on the cover of the Polish version.

Kathy has her own website, www.planetkathy.com, where she hopes to get back to writing a weekday blog once she recovers from being dysfunctional. Her entries recount her adventures and misadventures with Fluffy, who heroically allows himself to be used as fodder for her columns at every possible opportunity.

Kathy spent seven years as a teacher of the Young Women in her ward, until she was recently released. She has not yet gotten used to interacting with the adults, and suspects it may take another seven years. A long-time home teacher with her husband, Clark, they have home taught the same family since 1988. The two of them have been temple workers since 1995, serving in the Washington D.C. Temple.

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