Orlando is a great vacation destination, but its location at the lower east corner of the United States makes it difficult for the majority of my family and friends who live in the northwest U.S. and Canada to pop over for a quick visit. My nearest and dearest knew about the difficult life of my son, Ethan, and although they knew and loved him from afar, very few had stepped inside my home. In the nearly 10 years that we have lived in Orlando, my family has come to visit, but very few of my close friends. In early 2013, all of that changed. In January, to my delight, Justine and her family came to Orlando for her daughter’s 12th birthday. We spent some time together at the temple, went to church, and had dinner in our home while they were here. They stood at Ethan’s bedside, murmured loving phrases to him, and held his hand.
Then in May, Julie came to visit on her way to Cuba via Miami. She had known him in Sacramento when we lived there, but marveled at how he’d grown since she saw him last.
A few weeks later, the delightfully saucy Kel messaged me and asked if she could spend a few days with us while on her whirlwind trip through the U.S. from Australia. She brought the little boys gifts of boomerangs and Tim Tams and a kangaroo pelt for Ethan because he loved soft, fluffy things to touch. Later, she told me this about meeting Ethan:
“I remember walking into his room behind you, checking out the equipment, and as I turned I saw your face as you straightened. I had yet to see you mother, to see you with your kids, and your face in that moment was so soft and fiery and devoted it choked me up. It was a moment of truth, and I realised again that just being in your house, being in Ethan’s room, was a gift, a vulnerability, and I loved you for it and felt honoured.
‘Hey, Ethan,’ you said, “this is my friend Kellie, she wants to meet you.’
My god, did I.”
Heather was also able to make it down from South Carolina during Kel’s stay, and showered us with gifts and lively conversation. I realized after they left that three of my beloved Segullah friends had met my son for the first time.
Later that year, as Ethan’s health began to decline, Heather and Nate, Brittney and Andy, and Aaron and Stina all were in Orlando and all visited my home. These were dear friends, some of whom I had known since college, who stood at Ethan’s bedside, stroked his soft hair, held his hand, and kissed his cheek as he neared his last days on earth.
Mosiah 18:8 – 9 counsels us to “…bear one another’s burdens that they may be light…mourn with those that mourn…comfort those that stand in need of comfort… and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places…” It is not uncommon to feel helpless in the face of another person’s tragedy. Death, divorce, disability – these things and more leave us groping for the right thing to say or do. Our case was no exception. Ethan’s disabilities were profound and his health was very fragile, and although my friends and ward members were willing, only a person with specialized training or a nursing degree could give me hands-on help with his day-to-day needs. What meant more to me during that time in Ethan’s life were the people who came into my home, stood by his bedside, stroked his hair, held his hand, and bore witness to the life that he and our family lived.
Not all problems can be solved. Not all hurts can be healed. Not all losses can be restored. Sometimes it is enough to stand as a witness.