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His Heroine, Frances

By Catherine Arveseth

After leaving for work last Friday, my husband sent me a brief text. “Sister Monson passed away this morning.” I was surprised. I think most of us were. The papers said after several weeks of being in the hospital, she passed away peacefully, surrounded by family. She was 85.

 

Her daughter, Ann M. Dibb, told the Deseret News that President Monson said to Frances the day before her passing, “Tomorrow is May 17. It’s my father’s birthday, and it’s your father’s birthday.” Ann said her heart skipped a beat. “I thought, ‘Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow?’ …That was an indication to me. It’s been almost 60 years since my mother has been with her father. It was time that they welcomed her home.”

While Sister Monson managed to stay out of the spotlight, we were not unaware of her presence, and her grounding influence on her family and husband.

Today at noon, loved ones and admirers will gather at Temple Square to remember her life. I’ve spent some time today learning about her, wanting to know the heart of a woman who could offer such incredible support to a man who spent his lifetime in high-profile church service.

Ann said she was a woman who did not require attention; she purposely chose the role of supporter. One year after she and President Monson were married in 1948, he was called to be Bishop. President Monson was only 22 years old. At age 27 he was called to be Stake President, at 31, President of the Canadian Mission, and at 36 he was called to be an Apostle of the Lord. He was able to do what he did, because of Sister Monson’s selfless service behind the scenes.

Ann remembers that President Monson was gone a lot. Frances developed patience and modeled that to her children. Her mother knew things didn’t get better if you complained about them, so she didn’t. She did everything with quiet acceptance. She was always faithful, always steady, always there to listen when President Monson came home. Ann said that while Frances was given specific gifts and abilities, she was also refined. She let challenges and hardships make her better.

Frances was the go-to person in the Monson family for assembling doll houses and bicycles on Christmas morning. She fixed plumbing leaks and electrical switches on her own (a skill President Monson admits was not his). She had an endearing sense of humor. You may remember one General Conference when President Monson said,

“Several years ago my dear wife went to the hospital. She left a note behind for the children: ‘Dear children, do not let Daddy touch the microwave’ — followed by a comma ‘or the stove, or the dishwasher or the dryer.’ I’m embarrassed to add any more to that list.”

During college, she excelled in Math and Science. When asked why she chose such difficult classes she said, “Because that’s where the cute boys were.”

Ann described her parents’ relationship as complete only with each other. Elder Richard G. Scott said,

“She is so loyal; she would do anything for him and for the work he has been called to do. They certainly have deep love for each other.”

Frances had a history of falling during her later years, and in 2008 suffered a terrible fall that left her in a coma for 18 days. President Monson wept at her side. Ann said her mother knew what it meant to endure well, and at times, chose to keep living because she knew of President Monson’s need for her.

Thinking of the demanding work both she and President Monson had to assume due to his responsibilities, I have reflected on the purpose of supporting each other in various callings, and paths.

A woman I admire once described how helpless she felt as she went to the hospital to watch her daughter give birth to her second child. The daughter’s first child had died soon after birth due to unexpected complications. Now, this mother and grandmother who was hopeful but anxious, wasn’t able to hold her daughter’s hand during the birth, so she stood on the other side of the room and locked eyes with her daughter. Throughout the pain and uncertainty, they simply held onto each other with their eyes.

Sometimes all we can do is be there. Be the face of certainty and calm for someone we love.

I marvel at Sister Monson’s ability to be there for her husband. Her deliberate choice to honor his mantle as prophet and apostle, to keep the home fires burning so he could do his work, is humbling and admirable.

President Monson reflected,

“If there ever was a heroine in my life, it would have to be Frances.”

On this day of celebrating Sister Monson’s life, we sisters at Segullah want to express our gratitude for her sacrifice and service, for her ability to be there for her husband and this great work, without seeking recognition. I am grateful for her devoted life.

None of us do what we do alone. If we look closely, there are usually others, buttressing the beams of our life, holding us up. And in those especially difficult circumstances, when there appears to be no one, there is always God.

What do you remember or appreciate about Sister Monson? How important are the roles of supporter and enabler? Who are you currently supporting or being supported by?

Read more about the life of Frances J. Monson. The public is invited to attend the funeral on Temple Square. And for those who would like to watch the proceedings, funeral services will be broadcast via lds.org, KSL-TV and BYU-TV.

About Catherine Arveseth

Catherine Arveseth is mother to five children, including two sets of twins. She is an exercise physiologist by profession, writer by passion, loves hiking with her family, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and the edge of an ocean. She and her husband, Doug, began their family in Virginia but now live in Salt Lake City, Utah. She blogs at wildnprecious.com.

6 thoughts on “His Heroine, Frances”

  1. I didn't know anything of Sr Monson except what President Monson spoke of her. However, considering everything I ever heard him say of her was bursting with love, affection, respect and devotion, she must have been an amazing woman.

    The efforts of sustainer and enabler are powerful ones, and mostly far in the background behind the camera flashes and instant recognition. I try to sustain and enable my sons, the most important jobs I have for the most important people in my life. It can be sucky, and lonely, but I'd rather be a launchpad for my sons than pretty much anything else. And as you so aptly said, Cath, when it feels like I'm alone in what I'm doing, there's always God, enabling and sustaining me.

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  2. Years ago when Pres. Hinckley was the prophet there was a fireside with the Wives and Daughters of the First Presidency. I have the VHS tape of it. {That's how long ago it was! No DVD!} In there, Sister Monson talks about a time when she just could not handle the naughty behavior of her children for one more minute so she got in the car and left, driving around for hours, before returning home to her responsibilities. I LOVED that! I immediately connected with her as a mother because she shared that experience.

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  3. Kellie – You are one of my heroines. Your boys are so lucky to have you. xo

    Chocolate – Fabulous story. I wish we heard more of those. I can definitely relate as well. Also, I read your post about support for traditional marriage in France. Quite amazing. Thx!

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  4. Kel, you are one of my heroines too.

    And Chocolate! I have a few extra copies of that DVD. I bought a stack when I heard they were discontinuing it. If anyone wants to borrow it, just email me. We can have a traveling VHS. And the Marjorie Hinckley portion is also priceless.

    Thank you Cath, for this beautiful tribute.

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  5. I love that the Monsons only had three children. It may not be what they might have chosen, but I think a lot of families who cannot have more than a few, due to their psychological or biological capacity, have found comfort in their example.

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