By Lani Axman
I’ve been pondering what I should write here today for a couple of weeks. I had one topic in mind, but as the time came closer for my blogging turn, it felt like there was something else I needed to write. Even now, as I sat down to write this post, what came out of me wasn’t what I was expecting. I’m not sure why this is what I needed to write today, but I hope it touches someone out there who needs it.
When I start feeling sorry for myself or overwhelmed by all the day-to-day problems and concerns in my life as a wife and mother, it often helps me to think about my great-grandmother, Cassie.
Cassie was born in 1890 in a two-room log cabin in Mapleton, UT, “one mile west of one of the most beautiful mts. in the world,” as she described it. Cassie wrote, “Well you know that the years from 1907 to 1918 were the happiest and grandest years of this mortal life to me.” 1907 was the year she met and married her sweetheart, Edmund, and the autumn of 1918 was the start of several years I can’t even fathom enduring.
In October of 1918, Cassie was approximately eight months pregnant with my grandfather. At this time, her mother-in-law (Grandma Roundy) came by train to visit, but she was unknowingly exposed to influenza en route. Within three days, Cassie’s husband Edmund, their four children, Grandma Roundy, a sister-in-law and family, and Cassie’s sister Ella and her husband had all come down with influenza.
These are Cassie’s words about the days that followed:
Memory you can never forget the agonizing hours I spent in those days and the following weeks and months. We had 3 cows, 4 calves, 14 sheep, and 6 head of horses. They must be fed, watered, and the cows milked twice a day. How my back would ache when all was done for the night. It was almost beyond my strength to endure. Edmund raised up in bed and said the most beautiful prayer I ever heard for me. He asked the Lord to bless me and make my back able to bear the burdens that were placed upon me and many more beautiful things.
All of this while eight months pregnant.
Within three days, Cassie’s beloved Edmund passed away. Six weeks later, she gave birth to my grandfather, Edmund. Of this time, Cassie wrote: “No one that hasn’t had this cup of sorrow can understand the awful sorrow and suffering I went through.” And yet, despite her pain, she was able to say, “Thy will not mine Father. All is well done.”
A year later, Cassie married a widower named Moses whose wife was also taken by influenza. Between 1919 and 1923, Cassie gave birth to two more daughters, but she would also lose two sisters, her mother, and finally her second husband Moses. Cassie wrote:
Moses was snatched from me so suddenly I didn’t have time to plead the dear God to spare him to us. I am again a widow and cannot say, ‘Thy will.’ The camel’s back is broken. God has been unkind I feel. He gave me a good husband, a kind father, and now he snatched him home. I cannot forgive him this time. I do not feel submissive. I am miserable and try to feel that I do not love God anymore, but his spirit again softens me and I am ashamed that I pitied myself. I say, ‘I am in your hands, father. Do with me and mine as seemeth you good. All is well, all is well.’ How the days drag on yet always plenty to eat and clothing to wear. Thank God for his blessings.
It wasn’t long until the Great Depression hit, but Cassie managed to raise her large family as a single mother.
On July 20, 1931, Cassie wrote a letter. It was to be placed in a box and opened in fifty years. In it she shared the words she would have her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren hear. These are some of the words she wrote, to me:
Let me here bear you my testimony that I know that God lives, that he can and does answer earnest prayers and faith. I have seen the sick healed. The hearts of the sorrowing made glad. . . . I know that I am writing to a vast amount of spirits unborn that will be born because I choose to fulfill the measure of my creation and have my family instead of following after the teachings of the worldly. . . . . I would that I could look down 50 years and meet you all and shake your hands. Maybe my life of trials and hardships that I am now passing through would be welcomed that great things may follow. . . . You are all literal descendants of the pioneers on your mother’s and father’s side. Don’t fall short of what they expected of their heirs! . . . May health, strength, and happiness and God’s blessings be yours is the prayer of your mother, grandmother, great grandmother, etc.
And here I am, looking back at her, eighty-one years later, living in the lap of luxury compared to Cassie’s life and the lives of most of this world’s inhabitants, and I struggle to say, as she did, “I am in your hands, Father. Do with me and mine as seemeth you good. All is well, all is well.”
Cassie’s strength and courage inspire me to step up, “shake myself from the dust,” stop wallowing in self-pity, and recognize how incredibly blessed I am. She inspires me to do as President Hinckley’s father told him, “Forget yourself and go to work.” She beckons me to set my sights on the vast number of spirits unborn who will come after me, who will look back at me (as I look back at Cassie). What kind of legacy am I leaving for them? Will they feel proud to call themselves mine? Is Cassie proud of what I have done with her genes… her blood, sweat, and tears? What am I doing with my blood, sweat, and tears?
I love these words, shared by Richard G. Scott in our recent General Conference, originally spoken by President Joseph F. Smith:
I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. . . . We are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors . . . who have preceded us into the spirit world. . . . Those who have been faithful, who have gone beyond . . . can see us better than we can see them; . . . they know us better than we know them. . . . We live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; . . . their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves.
Does Cassie pray for me, as her Edmund prayed for her, that the Lord may bless me and make my back able to bear the burdens that are placed upon me? However small they may be compared to the burdens she endured?
I like to think so.