I’ve been thinking about the ups and downs, twists and trials of life, and that made me think of my beloved maternal Grandmother – “Grandma June” – who left this world on Aug. 10, 2012. It’s still hard to believe that she’s ‘gone’, and even more amazing that it’s been over 2 years already. Talma June Dickson Christensen was a woman of solid strength, courage and faith. I am her eldest grandchild, and so proud to carry her legacy.
June was only 16 when she met Dallis [“Grandpa Red”], who was 9 years older and an enlisted Navy man. They exchanged letters for about 18 months and married while he was on a short leave. Their “honeymoon” was a train ride to Utah to briefly meet his family, then back she went to Denver to live with her mother while Dallis returned to war duty in the Bermudas. June learned she was expecting their first baby (my mother) while he was away. As a Navy wife young June was destined to make many places her home, learn to adapt to continual change, and play the roles of ‘father & mother’ and stalwart companion “holding the fort” as her husband flew missions and trained Navy Pilots, endured the conflicts of World War II, and returned a victorious hero.
While Grandpa’s battles were publicly known and celebrated, Grandma June’s battles were waged privately in the quiet corners of her heart and mind. In the early years of her marriage her battles revolved around raising four active little girls – mostly on her own – as she supported, worried and prayed over her husband through deployments, flight training, and military missions. She experienced the joys and challenges of a “surprise baby” in her older years, and she faced a myriad of family challenges and lists of worries as every wife and mother does.
In her later years June was broadsided with the battle of clinical depression which she fiercely fought, suffered, triumphed or endured in alternating rounds for more than two decades.
On a wall in Grandma June’s home there hung a colorful little embroidered sampler that I used to pause and read each time I visited. Today I found a photo of the sampler and it stirred up a flood of bitter-sweet / happy-sad / “missing-you-so-much-Grandma-it-hurts” emotions.
“If all our troubles were hung on a line, you would take yours, and I would take mine.”
It’s odd how the smallest things can evoke the largest memories (and tears). I never asked if Grandma stitched this sampler herself, or if it was a gift. But she gave it a place of honor on the wall directly across from her bedroom door. She would have seen it first thing every morning and probably several other times during the day. That little mantra would have been embedded into her subconscious. The idea of accepting and “taking our troubles” was one of the hallmarks of June’s life. A reflection of her deep faith, and overriding spirit of gratitude for life, including her challenges.
Grandma taught us all by example how to let our smile shine through our tears.
Worth WhileIt is easy enough to be pleasant,When life flows by like a song,But the man worth while is one who will smile,When everything goes dead wrong.For the test of the heart is trouble,And it always comes with the years,And the smile that is worth the praises of earthIs the smile that shines through tears.~Ella Wheeler Wilcox in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, 1936As quoted by Thomas S. Monson, Meeting Life’s Challenges, Oct. Conference 1993
When it’s all said and done and we look back over our lives, I think we will recognize the grand adventure of it all. As an endurance runner I know from experience the amazing sense of accomplishment and triumph that comes from finishing a challenging course. In the end, it’s always worth every moment of the struggle. As soon as the medal is hanging around my neck it’s almost like magic how all the pain is forgotten! That’s how I imagine it’s going to be when we cross over life’s finish line through those “pearly gates” – sweaty, worn down, totally spent and used up to our very last breath …. and thoroughly exultant!
Every runner shares a special bond with another runner because we’ve felt the same passion, pain, failure and joy. Grandma June developed that same special bond for other world-weary travelers. She worried continually about everyone because she understood worries. She empathized with heavy hearts because she’d borne that burden. She was, to paraphrase Isaiah’s Messianic prophesy “a [woman] of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And yet, as she followed in Christ’s footsteps and exemplified him, she laughed, she loved, she celebrated, and she endured valiantly until her life’s mission was finished.
I was privileged to be at her bedside when Grandma peacefully passed through the veil to the other side, while her sweetheart Dallis held her hand. They’d been an inseparable team for nearly 70 years. Death only had the power to separate them for 20 days. I’m so glad they are together. I can’t imagine them apart. I’m sure whatever they’re up to right now, it’s brilliant.
I’m missing you, Grandma June. I know that you are not far away. I have mementos of you everywhere that I see and touch each day. I hear your voice in my mind from time to time scolding me for not keeping my house a little cleaner, or asking me “how can you possibly stand [something or other I’m going through]” 🙂 I also hear your voice of encouragement and love. I know you and Grandpa will be waiting to cheer and hug me when I cross the finish line. Until then, I carry you in my heart as I take up my own troubles and strive to live as courageously as you. – MoSop