LEARNING HOW TO BE A CHRISTIAN
by Susan Olsen
Dale and I had been married three months. We both were working at good jobs, had enough money saved to put a sizeable down payment on a little house, and had just found out that we were pregnant. Dale had been accepted into the MBA program at BYU. The future looked bright. Then the surprises began.
We were thrilled when we found out that the baby I was carrying was actually a set of twins. We drove up and down the streets of Provo, honking the horn and screaming out the windows, “We’re having twins! We’re having twins!”
The next surprise came two and a half months before the twins’ due date. I was cramping and couldn’t sleep. Dale took me over to the hospital to see if they could give me something to relieve the pain and allow me to sleep. I was checked and then told that I wasn’t going anywhere because I was in labor! After six intense days of trying to stop the labor, our twins, Mark and Allyn, were born. Fraternal twin boys: on death’s door one hour, stabilizing the next. Ups and downs, highs and lows. A good day for one, a bad day for the other. A veritable roller coaster until we joyously took Mark home after six weeks in the hospital. Four weeks after that, on his due date, with devastation, we took Allyn home to die. But he didn’t die.What he did do, whether I held him or not, was cry a most agonizing cry, sleep for fifteen minutes, and then resume that heart-wrenching cry. One day I was vacuuming, and while I was vacuuming under his bed, his crying stopped. I turned the vacuum off—he cried. I turned the vacuum back on—he stopped! Wearing out vacuums gave him some comfort, and me some sanity!
I noticed that the developmental gap between the twins was getting wider and wider week by week. It seemed like they were always sick, and I asked the doctor often why one was developing and the other still seemed like a newborn. After 18 months of being told “not to worry,” I sought out every specialist in Provo because I knew something was terribly wrong. After seeing eight specialists, and having lots of tests done, we were sent to Primary Children’s in Salt Lake City. The neurologist took the results of the tests, and after about thirty minutes of our worrying and waiting, he walked in and without any hesitation coldly stated as he walked across the floor, “Your son is deaf and blind, and he has spastic quadriplegia. He will never walk, talk, or learn. My advice to you is to put him in an institution and forget about him.” Then he left. SILENCE. I knew at that moment that I could never put my son away and forget about him. What an absurdity! Just as surely as I knew that I could never forget about him, my anger also motivated me to vow to never put our son in an institution!
Dale and I did our best to care for both our sons, even though we were both severely sleep deprived and were constantly questioning how we would ever communicate with a child that was both deaf and blind. It was agonizing. I felt so cheated and so very alone. My faith was shaken to its core. Because of illnesses and difficulty in their care, I rarely made it to church, and after a few months stopped missing it.
I first met Eugene England when he came to our house one evening about six months later. He explained that a new BYU ward had been established and introduced himself as the bishop of that ward. He then looked me straight in the eye and said, ”Sister Olson, against all my logical reasoning and common sense, I came to call you to be the Relief Society president of this new ward. Dale, will you support Susan in this calling?” I don’t remember what else I said after that, but I must have accepted the calling because I remember him asking me to find counselors by Sunday so we could start meetings. He gave me a map of the boundaries, and I set about meeting the sisters.
For the first time in months, I had to focus on others more, and less on myself. As I had the opportunity to serve others, my faith was rekindled. I emphasized the importance of every sister and their callings because there was literally no way humanly possible for me to run the Relief Society on my own. If the sisters didn’t fulfill their callings, there was no one to “bail them out.” I tried to keep our communications in Relief Society honest and open, and I hoped it was a refuge for the sisters to ask life’s biggest questions because I asked real-life questions during lessons and relied on their ability and experiences and knowledge of the gospel. I really believed that we were a “sisterhood” and that we were there to help nurture one another. And we did.
One Sunday I was walking the halls with Allyn, trying to calm his crying, when Bishop England asked if he could hold Allyn so I could go to Sunday school and sit with Dale. No one had ever offered such a kindness to me before! Allyn’s constant drooling, loud and difficult breathing, crying, and spasticity had scared people away. I turned down his offer, but he was so insistent that I finally gave in and showed him how to hold Allyn to maximize his breathing and minimize his spasticity. For the first time in two years, I had a small respite and soaked up the lesson. Bishop England continued to offer his services during Sunday School, and soon after offered his family members as caregivers for the twins so Dale and I could have a date now and then. Others in the ward saw the bishop’s example and offered their help as well. After I was released as Relief Society president, Dale was called to be a counselor in the bishopric and had an exceptional experience under the leadership and love of Bishop England.
Through their actions and love, Bishop Eugene England and his family taught me how to be a Christian. He listened to the Spirit and called me to be a Relief Society president even when his own common sense and reason put me last on his list. The blessings that came as a direct result of that calling have been immeasurable. We were able to care for Allyn for the duration of his life, and after we learned how to communicate with him, he became the light and life of our home—and because of his perfect spirit, the Spirit also abided there. Our lives and our children’s lives have been blessed by the love and service of the England family as they followed the leadership of their husband and father. He and they were instrumental in saving our marriage, my faith, and our sanity. We will always love him and them because of it.