21 June 2020

My Last Father’s Day with My Dad

It must have been close to midnight when Dad knocked on the door of the Stubbs’ bunkhouse where Jim and I and some other family members had gathered. The unbelievable, the unthinkable had happened. Our daughter Rachel had been killed instantly in a car crash just west of Salt Lake City. We had been celebrating my dad’s birthday at a family reunion at Lake Mead and Boulder City, Nevada. The spot was chosen to honor him since he had spent many years serving there, both as bishop and a teacher at the high school. It was hot and miserable in the motel at Lake Mead where Dad was staying, and he wasn’t feeling very well. He hadn’t told us, but the illness that would end with his death in early September was already taking its toll on his body. However, when we called and told him about Rachel’s accident, he quickly got out of bed and came up the winding road to Boulder City to comfort us as we prepared to head home to Utah.
Bert N Whitney on a desert outing
The plan was to spend the next morning, Father’s Day, at church meetings in Boulder City, celebrating our dad’s service there in the building he helped build so many years ago. Now, Jim and I were traveling through the night to meet with our children and grandchildren in Utah, while the rest of the extended family reunion went on without us. In those early hours of what would be his last Father’s Day, he gave both Jim and I father’s blessings that would carry us through the hard days and weeks ahead.
I remember and treasure so many blessings given me by my father. He was known in our family, and perhaps beyond, for his gift of healing. He served me and my family generously with that gift over the years. The parade of memories as I consider this includes the time Carl fell off the top of the slide in Logandale Park, when Rachel fell into the window well of their home, when my eyes needed healing, times at the reunions and precious private blessings in his home. I always expected the healings to be miraculous and speedy until one time during a blessing when he counseled me that growing older meant my body would be breaking down in ways that were long-term and persistent. That warning proved true, yet I treasure the security I felt and still feel when he blessed me with protection as I go about my work in serving others.
Dad taught me to value and enjoy schoolwork. He was quietly proud of my academic success. I saw him continue to extend his own education year after year. That made it natural for me to have the same pursuits as an adult.
He gave me a love for the outdoors, especially the desert. I remember his patient instruction as I tried to climb up the red rocks. “Put your foot right there. Now, do you see the next place to hold on?” He didn’t worry about his beloved 4-wheeler when I turned it over. He encouraged me to get right back on and go again, this time a little faster.
I learned to love and respect my ancestors through his example. The Whitney reunions were sacred occasions that we never missed, no matter how young the youngest baby was. He never gave up learning the latest technology to help us keep our family history current. Dad was a private person but he wrote regularly in his on-line production of the family newsletter. His last family history goal was to find and photograph all of his great-grandparents’ graves. A worthy goal, in my cemetery loving heart. He was always the first to donate time and money to family history projects.
Dad gave service to so many in his public callings in the church and on the job. He was a schoolteacher and dean. He served in Church callings as a bishop, in the temple, and as executive secretary to the stake president of the Logandale Stake. He also went about doing good in his small towns he called home. He was a renowned handyman and would often be found helping repair something for someone. He built and remodeled our homes and church buildings. I thought he could fix or build anything. It was an adjustment for me to find out that not all men have the same talents.
This year (2020) his birthday and Father’s Day, always intertwined in my mind, are actually on the same day. I’m thinking about you, Dad. I’m grateful for you. I especially remember the first early hours of your last Father’s Day in 2005. Thanks for your service that day and so many others. I love you.

29 April 2020

Mr. Nathan and His Grandpa

My son, Nathan, made this video about the fun and the comfort of looking at family history. Take a look at his work. I'm so proud to be his mother.
It is so relevant for the times we are now in, with the novel coronavirus shutting down so much in our country and even the world.
This virus is threatening our precious senior citizens. They are the repositories of so much history. The history that makes us who we are. Looking back and seeing our grandparents as people who were once young with different lives than what we see today helps us move forward with greater confidence and hope into our own lives.
That confidence and hope are essential for our survival today.
I challenge you to do as he suggests. Talk to someone about who they are and who they once were.
Link to Nathan's video: https://youtu.be/_CvPoDnImig

Photo featured in Nathan's video, his grandmother and his grandfather,
holding Nathan's father as a baby

06 March 2020

Stories Live On

Last Sunday I listened to several people talk about their strongly held beliefs. It was their desire that their children and grandchildren know of these beliefs. Unfortunately, most did not have all their children and grandchildren present as they testified. Even if they had been there, would they have been in a time and place in their lives to hear what was said?

As I get older, I often wonder what will I have left of myself here when I am not. The written word is my best chance of leaving a taste of who I am. It can serve as an influence even when my voice is gone.

Last Sunday, our grandson ate breakfast with us. We had pancakes. Chatty, as always, Orson wanted to compare notes with his grandpa. “Remember when your mother made pancakes for you the morning you got baptized,” he asked. “Dollar pancakes?”

“Yes,” Jim replied. “My mother made mine dollar size so I could eat more than my dad did.”
“The Black Tag Secret,” mused Orson. We all knew what he meant. It was the title of a story about Jim’s baptism day that Jim wrote in his recently published autobiography. Orson continued to quote details about various stories in the book until I asked him if he had read the whole thing. “Oh yes,” he replied. It was obvious that he had. In fact, the day before, he requested copies of some stories Jim has written since that book. By the next day, Orson informed me that I had made double copies of one of those stories. He looked over my originals and quickly selected the one he was missing.

Shortly after another young grandson, Alex, received his copy of Jim’s book, his mother told us that he had taken it to school with him, because he was in the middle of a story.

Center: Jim's book on display at RootsTech 2020
The book of stories and philosophy Jim gifted his children and grandchildren with at Christmastime seems to have made an impact already. But to me, the most interesting reaction came from Jim, himself. He worries about losing his memories and even losing himself. Maybe that’s the reason he has become so enthusiastic about writing that he sets aside a time every day to do so. I lose track of him for a time, and then he calls me to come and read what he has written on his computer. He has made himself a list of story prompts on his phone, and he often adds to it. He has even begun his own blog at https://rememberingmylifeinstories.blogspot.com/.

I think there is something very satisfying about recording our life’s journey and our thoughts and the lessons we have gained from that journey. It’s not easy. It’s not fun, at least I don’t think so. But I see more than ever that it’s valuable. I treasure the writings and the stories of my parents and grandparents and ancestors. And I love to see other people treasure them too. It’s the influence we have on coming generations that may have lasting value. I hope so.

And I hope I will soon compile some of my own stories.

01 May 2018

Life's Leftovers

Jim and I started the clean-out of Dad’s house when he entered the Veteran’s Home two years before, but we knew it would take a while. Now the situation was serious. The realtor told us that it needed to be completely empty to sell. Dad had taken up new residence in the Veteran’s Cemetery. His spirit had traveled off, completely shedding all his earthly possessions.

The family had gone through the old home, selecting keepsake items. We had carefully boxed up letters, documents, and family histories. It was time for the estate sale. We walked through the rooms once more. Maybe we could fit one more piece of furniture into the back of our car. Our children had already loaded their cars with the extra “stuff” we thought valuable when they had traveled home from the funeral.

A knock at the door interrupted our conversation. It was an older sister, a long-time friend of both our families, Sister Snow. She said she wanted to see the house one more time, and maybe she would select something to take home, just for remembrance. Her eyes took in the red, white and blue wallpaper in John’s old bedroom. “I helped put that paper up,” she told us. She picked up a spoon from the worn silver in the dining area. “I think I want this,” she said.

I had considered the old chair in the master bedroom. It had pink upholstery, my color. But the paint was worn out on the arms, and the chair’s seat sagged a bit. I passed it by. But Sister Snow didn’t. “The Relief Society chair!” she exclaimed. “This chair came from the Boulder City Ward Relief Society room where both your mothers’ attended every Tuesday morning.” She examined the chair more closely, smiling at her memories. “There were only three with arms like this,” she told us. “Your mother, Rose, got this one when they replaced the chairs in the room with the standard Church Relief Society chairs,” she said to Jim.

“I absolutely insist that you take this home with you,” she said. Her insistence was unnecessary. I, too, was remembering. I remembered how nice the Relief Society room in the Boulder City Ward church was. There was even a small bathroom immediately adjacent to the room. Nothing but the best for the Relief Society sisters. I’m sure those were the thoughts of both bishops involved in the building of that chapel, Jim’s dad first and then my father. As youth, we were forbidden to take food or drink into the room, and we treated it with reverence.

Suddenly the chair looked wonderful to me. The saggy seat and imperfectly preserved paint on its arms seemed to hug me as sat in it once more. I remembered our mothers’ faithful attendance in Relief Society, and our fathers’ respect for the valiant women of our ward. The Relief Society chair has a treasured place in my own bedroom now. I think I’ll sit there and reminisce a bit on Mother’s Day this year.

14 April 2018

All Things Restored: Miracles from RootsTech 2017

I made this video March 1, 2017 to celebrate finding Animoto. Today I worked on it a little more with my year's worth of experience. It's really just for me. RootsTech 2017 was when I first purchased the Animoto video program. It had been my heart's desire to be able to put a video together ever since my daughter died in 2005. She was an expert at videos and it was one of the things I had sorely missed since she left us. I stood in the Expo Hall of RootsTech, transfixed, as a woman demonstrated it to me. As I stood there, the short video she was making was rendered in a few minutes. I remembered my deceased daughter Rachel at the high school all night long, rendering her beautiful videos. Suddenly Rachel was there beside me in spirit, encouraging me to "Go for it, Mom." Unexpectedly, my frugal hesitant self didn't care how much it cost. I asked the salesperson if even an old woman like me could learn it. "Yes," she replied.
I went home and began my video-making journey. Videos for my sisters were some of my first projects. I loved being able to express my feelings in this new way. This video celebrates the miracle that Animoto became for me. I even put in part of my sister's "healing time" video just for fun. The cameo of me and my daughter Rachel at the end grabs my heart and reminds me of the miracle of having all good things restored to my life.

29 March 2018

A Plan for Happiness

July, 1981: I was happy and grateful to finally have my mom living close by. I planned to ride my bicycle to visit her across town since I didn’t often have a car available. But baby Nathan was a wiggly two-year-old, and I worried about putting him on the back for that long ride. Still, my husband Jim was home for parts of the summer, and he took over some of the childcare along with my older children. Carl was 12 and Anna 11. I considered them nearly grown and well able to supervise Mark, 9; Amy, 7; and Rachel, 5, as well as the baby. My handicapped son Andy was once again living in the Developmental Center, and that relieved me of his constant care. I made as much time as I could to spend with my mother. We were working together on a history of her great-grandfather, Asmus Jorgensen, and her own history, pre-marriage.

Earlier that summer, when Dad first brought Mom to Orem, he dropped her off at my house. Then, wonder of wonders, Dad put earnest money down on a house just a block away from us. I had worried constantly about my mother’s health, and the wish I had to be close enough to check on her every day was finally fulfilled. Dad went back to Logandale to finish their move. Mom stayed in my bed since Jim was working out of town, river running. In fact, the pain of her arthritis made getting out of bed nearly impossible for her. The six-hour trip north from Nevada had been made lying in the back of their van.

My memories of those days are mixed. My heart was bound to my mother. She was my best friend and I loved being with her. My children were our entertainment. They knew how to be quiet and not to jostle their grandma’s bed. Her smiles were their reward. Alyce, my neighbor, came and played our piano for us. Hymns, one after another, and the classics. Alyce made beautiful music from our old upright. But counterpoint to this happiness was the worry of her illness, growing worse each day.

Mom was in pain, too much pain, limiting, excruciating, severe pain. We called her Salt Lake doctor, on the verge of help with her arthritis, surely. But then the surprise came. Mom had cancer. And it had spread into her bones. No wonder she couldn’t stand to have her bed touched or wrinkles in the sheets. No wonder she was unable to sit, stand or move. Even lying in bed was painful for her.

An operation removed the worst of the cancer and after a hospital stay, Mom was able to come home from the hospital. Dad had moved their belongings north, from southern Nevada to central Utah. But the location of home had been changed. The house next to us was no longer an option. Medical bills necessitated temporary shelter in our old house in south Orem, conveniently vacant. Dad worked all day in the back yard there, screening rocks from the dirt. He went back to Nevada, still settling their affairs. When he was gone, I stayed all night with Mom. She wasn’t sleepy, being bed-bound all day. One memorable night she wanted to talk. I was tired, and I kept drifting off. I had worked hard in the house and yard. I had picked cherries and canned them, preparing for her winter needs that would never come. How I wish I had been able to stay awake that night. Like the apostles of old, I fell asleep and could not watch through the night with her.

During that long night she asked me to find her patriarchal blessing. The living room of the small home was filled with files and boxes of belongings, but I dug through and retrieved it to read to her. “I’ve done it all,” she said wonderingly. I guess she had, though I argued to the contrary.

August came, and the watch was over. Mom’s earth life was finished August 2, 1981.

The months that followed seem foggy to me as I look back. Depression stalked me day after day. Our son Andy died October 4. Mom was constantly in my mind and heart. I was convinced she had called Andy home. My dad was severely depressed too, and I worried about my younger sisters. I wanted to be there for them, but he had shut me out.

In January 1982 we discovered abuse in our home. My sweet young children had been victimized. The darkness seemed overpowering.

Finally April dawned. The second Sunday in April was Easter Sunday. That Easter morning my mother was once again in my thoughts. I envisioned her in her casket, where I had last seen her. But then, in my mind’s eye, I saw her open her eyes, sit up, stand. She was rising from the dead, resurrected whole and well. We embraced. The wonder of that vision stayed with me throughout the day.

Later, at church, I sang in an Easter cantata. As I sang the words, “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” my heart burned within me, and my eyes to filled with tears. I felt those words. I would hear my mother's voice once more and feel her arms around me. My son, Andy, would no longer live in his small atrophied body, but would stand strong and straight and tall. I knew through Christ all wrongs would be righted and all things restored to their proper order; loved ones would be reunited and all death overcome at last. The Easter holiday gained a meaning for me that I had never seen or felt before.
I celebrate this season again this year with those same words that mean the world to me. “Death is swallowed up in victory. . . . Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). No more. No more.

10 July 2017

Golden Wedding Anniversary

My grandparents, MJ and Hazel Christensen, at their 50th.
I remember my grandmother's golden wedding anniversary very well. My mother made her a cake. We all dressed up and went to the party. I was awed by the fact that my grandparents had been married 50 long years. A desire was born in me to reach that milestone too.

In June this year it happened. We have now been married for 50 short years. On July 4th we celebrated with a family party. We had lots of family type fun. My granddaughter made me a cake. My daughter and son-in-law produced an awesome Kahoot! trivia game. We stayed up late and talked. I played volleyball with my volleyball playing daughter. We modeled our silly hats to celebrate the silly looking wedding veil I wore 50 years before.

We played ping-pong and my river-running sons took everyone who wanted an adventure white water rafting. Finally, I tossed my dried bouquet to the singles in our group and my 14 year old granddaughter caught it.

Around the fire that night we shared our love and commitment with each other. Each member of the family read a paper plate full of positive comments that the others had written about them. Then Jim and I talked about how much we love each other and our children and grandchildren.

And the day passed. And the celebration is now over. I don't really feel any older. It's kind of the same feeling I had when I turned 70 at the beginning of June. It seemed bigger in the looking forward than in the looking backward. I still haven't arrived. And our marriage hasn't "arrived" either.

How to hold onto some of the magic? Be aware, write, record and share. Today one of my favorite ways to do that is to produce a video. For this occasion, one wouldn't do. I made two:

Jim and Joy Wedding Video
Fifty Years of Family
Here we are last year at our grandson's wedding

Here we are 50 years ago.