When enough time passes, you feel like you can resume some of the things you used to do that maybe you didn’t feel like doing for a while. But in order to do that, you sometimes have to acknowledge the thing that kept you away. As I begin, I already feel some of the tender emotions returning to my heart. It is, in a sense, a witness to me of the unbreakable bonds of family that dismisses time as a non-absolute. I miss Henry because he’s not here now, and the eternities innately hold the expectation of constant, joyful presence. There is something temporal and synthetic about familial absence that never sits well with a person who loves another. And so it is with me and my son.
On May 27, Lily called me at work to express concern about decreased movement in the womb, a pattern she had first observed the night before. I calmly told her that we’d make a quick trip to the hospital just for the peace of mind, but that we shouldn’t worry. As I hung up the phone, I braced myself for an unanticipated outcome, something you never think about when jumping and crying and whooping at those first news of another baby, another absolute miracle you’d dreamed about for years following your sweet daughter Abby’s birth. Miracles never cease, though, if you have eyes to see them.
As I waited for Lily to arrive, I asked myself how a husband should handle all of this. How would a man treat this possibility? What does it look like to find out the news that something’s not right, and how does he maintain a calm and strong presence at that point? What will he say to comfort his wife, one of the best women he knows, who certainly does not deserve tragedy as a capstone to the struggles she’s already endured? There wasn’t much time to think, as I ran into an elderly couple from our ward who were in missionary training there in the building where I work. We talked about the husband’s health struggles that were delaying their departure, and the persistent nature of trials and tribulations. Lily pulled up and greeted them with warmth and kindness. We chatted as if we were counseling them on their hardships, but I think we were likely testifying of certainties to ourselves.
The nurse accompanied Lily to a room at Orem Community Hospital. Abby and I played pacing games in the reception area. She was so happy and funny. I think we were there a long time, though it’s hard to say exactly. I called a professor with whom I was to have a meeting that morning and explained my need to cancel. Abby and I played some more games. The door opened and the nurse told me in a neutral voice that my wife wanted to see me. And, of course, that’s when all planning and confidence begin to crumble like a sandy hillside to whatever foundation you have underneath all of the construction. I took Abby’s hand and we walked down the hall and passed through the doorway into a room with stressed professionals and my wife’s seeking eyes.
I will likely be able to retrieve that image for the rest of my life—the heaviness of a mother who senses some need of her son but can’t remove him from the cross. And I can easily retrieve her first words to me as well, “Oh Steve…I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry!” I immediately gave her a priesthood blessing. We embraced and mumbled expressions of pain and love and I turned to Abby and kissed her and picked her up and doctors were saying that perhaps the equipment was faulty and there could be more tests and Lily’s hands were wet and Abby smiled and I hugged her again, both of them.
We made a long walk down more halls with instructions to sign into another office for another test, so what happened was not finalized at that point, but everyone knows it is. Following a technical confirmation, we then recognized that there was still going to be a delivery that day. There is something comprehensive about subjecting a grieving woman to additional bodily trauma that must signal completion of the sacred trial. I called my mom and dad with the news and took Abby to them. My parents were soft and kind. We didn’t say a lot, and I returned to the hospital. Lily wanted me to contact her mother, so I called her on the way back. Lily’s simple explanation for wanting the news shared with her as soon as possible was “I know she will pray for us.”
Eventually, we were in the operating room and the procedure commenced. I remember distinctly how crowded the room felt, which is remarkable as I sheepishly recall shrugging off similar stories shared by men and women with corresponding experiences. Yet there was more going on and Lily and I both knew it and cried. There is some confusion when the body is brought to you, as you instinctively want to hold it, but it’s like talking to a cell phone when the person you’re calling is there in the room beside you, some kind of immortal echo you hear as you talk. I didn’t know whether to address my words of love and gratitude to the unseen or to affix those feelings to the small, beautiful body in my hands. Only Lily can describe the mother’s perspective in these moments. Henry will have to share his thoughts someday as well, but the distinct impression I had was a sense of grief for his mother’s pain and sadness coupled with peaceful reassurance.
There are additional memories that I have preserved in other documents:
- the previous Relief Society president hunched up on the floor in the hallway of the hospital, unable to make it back to her car, just sobbing and sobbing after her visit with Lily, and her repeated expression of how she wished she could take the pain away from this woman she loved so much
- the couple who showed up at my front door early the next morning to help Jane get to school and to take Abby for a Pepperidge Farm goldfish and juice party at their house for the day
- family, ward members, and co-workers who wept with us and offered just about anything we could possibly ask for and more
- the service rendered by volunteers to take photos and create a little plaster mold, along with the respectful generosity of the Walker Sanderson funeral home in offering at-cost services
- Jane and Abby’s humble faith, and Jane’s calm, reassuring simplicity in her verbal responses to the events
- Dad Huntington sharing Philippians 1 and our discussion about his brother Robert who passed away while on his LDS mission
- our kind, reassuring doctor who would later refund the delivery costs
- Betsy’s beautiful painting of the mountains as they appeared on May 27
- the brief graveside service with our dear PV3 bishop and close family, along with Dad Huntington’s singing of “How Great Thou Art” on a sunny field of leftover Memorial Day flowers
- the sense that with so many people reaching out to us in heavenly love and the peace and comfort that brought us, Henry must be perfectly safe and comforted to dwell amidst the source of that love
- countless other precious experiences
In the recovery room, a nurse told Lily that she was free to scream and curse and throw anything she could get her hands on. Lily offered a smile for the nurse’s good intentions, but would later tearfully express to me, “Why would I curse and yell at my friend, my God? I am not angry. I am grateful.”
And for any and all who read this, that is the key to the entire experience. We had just discussed President Uchtdorf’s general conference talk on gratitude at church that previous Sunday. I had just read William Ellery Channing’s breathtaking discourse. Lily and I had just participated in an unforgettable sealing session at the Provo Temple with Peter Mourik, a sweet man whose story was shared by President Monson. The offer for the house we had wanted so badly was turned down the day before so we weren’t in the middle of that when this happened. Our Heavenly Father knew of the experience we would soon have and prepared us as gently and softly as a Father can. And he sent us a son—I have seen his body with my own eyes, and for those things and more, I am grateful.
I can be nothing but grateful. As I testified with greater conviction than ever before that following Sunday, I record here with absolute surety that God lives and that He loves us. How do I know that? Because He sent His Son. Darkness sometimes helps us to appreciate and recognize the source of light—when we fumble about in darkness, we can see the light sources that approach us so distinctly. In the perfect day, it’s easy to take light for granted and cease wondering from whence it springs. I will try to live my life so that I always acknowledge the source of our family’s brightest light.
Henry, I love you. I will miss you all the days of my mortal life even as I feel you near from time to time. I know that your sisters will be so glad to see your bright face someday, and how pleased you will be to enjoy their company more fully. Perhaps more than anything, I really look forward to the day when I can see you and Mom embrace. God bless you and keep you close as you go about His beautiful, holy work. And please send our love and gratitude to all who help us and watch over us—we will do our best to share the love and light we feel from Heaven with those around us.
These feelings, too, are witnesses of the unbreakable bonds of family through generations. I miss Henry because he’s not here now, and the eternities innately hold the expectation of constant, joyful presence. There is something temporal and synthetic about familial absence that never sits well with a person who loves another, as families were always intended to be eternal. And so it is with me and my son.