Sunday, May 2nd. This was the day I hoped in my heart would never come, and especially not now, while I am on a mission. Terri called about 9:15 to say that Dad had died. I was stunned. We all were. Except that Dad was 90 years old, this was unexpected. No sickness, no injury, no hospitalization or third party care giving. He woke, chatted with Mom, remarked he needed to get up, and then didn’t. Mom realized he was gone, but called 911, and they tried to help her administer CPR, but in the process, she badly hurt her knee. After talking to Terri, I immediately called Mom, who was shaken. I felt so bad she was alone. RaDene suggested she get some ice for her knee, but Mom said she could not stand, but the police and paramedics were arriving. I told RaDene and we cried together. I urged RaDene to go to church without me. She was scheduled to be the organist and help in nursery. She refused to leave, staying to comfort me. She made a couple of calls to let others know we would not be at church, and then we called Mom again. RaDene thought quickly, and almost called Mom’s bishop, but then remembered that Cliff and Leann Gustin were in St George. She called them and explained, and Leann immediately said say no more. I then briefly spoke to my sister Lori, and RaDene suggested I let Mom know the Gustins were on their way to her house. I called Mom back, and to my surprise, Cliff answered her phone. Cliff and Leann had rushed over and were providing some comfort and structure to the chaos. They got Mom a bag of ice for her knee and Cliff gave Mom a priesthood blessing. They stayed until after the morticians had come and Mom’s bishop, relief society president, and other dear neighbors arrived after church meetings. It was a tender mercy for me and Mom that the Gustins were in town and so quickly available to come to Mom’s aid when I was completely out of position to help. They really are like a big brother and big sister to RaDene and me.
After taking some deep breaths, RaDene and I decided that I should fly to Utah tomorrow right after the COVID vaccination clinic that was scheduled to run from about 9 am until 1 pm for the missionaries to receive their second shots. RaDene would stay until after transfers on Wednesday since we are such an integral part of the process. She notified President Bell and made me a flight reservation. Pres Bell shared some sweet scriptures, including Alma 46:41, and asked me to share my travel plans so he could run them by the Area Presidency. I called uncles and other well loved cousins on both Dad’s and Mom’s sides of the family to let them know of the loss. The conversations were brief, but very supportive and comforting to me. And of course, I called Mom again several times. Then we went to the office and went through our Sunday departing missionary routines. We had a big group leaving in the morning. RaDene worked on flight check-ins and other departure papers, and I collected travel snacks. Then we headed to the mission home to greet missionaries, collect baggage, give departure instructions, and say our goodbyes. It also helped my grief to stay busy. At 10:30 pm, Pres Bell called and said that our plan to travel was not approved. The Area Presidency said that RaDene needed to travel with me tomorrow. We respectfully protested, giving our several reasons, and Pres Bell said he would call Elder Wong again, and if needed join us on the call. A few minutes later he called back and said our original plan was approved as an exception. We thanked Pres Bell, although we felt a bit unsettled about our plan after not accepting the original counsel on the travel. Had we unwisely pushed our way?
Monday, May 3rd began early after a fitful night. At 6 am Sis Hatfield was awakened first by the Lindell sister missionaries and then by the APs. They were in a panic. The sisters were supposed to be driving three departing sisters to the airport, but they had a flat tire. The APs and everyone else driving that morning was full. So, they asked, would Sis Hatfield come help? Well of course she would. She pulled on some clothes and headed out. I did the same, but instead went to fix the flat. I found two sisters and two elders standing around the car looking like they had no idea what to do. I changed the tire, but couldn’t find a nail in it anywhere. The sisters sheepishly admitted they had hit a curb to deflate the tire. Most importantly, Sis Hatfield got the sisters to the airport in time for the flight.
As soon as we got home from our morning adventure, we cleaned up and headed to the stake center for the COVID vaccination clinic. It was a bit hectic and uncertain because we were setting up a new flow in the rooms around the gym where we had held the clinic three weeks ago because the mission leadership council would go on at the same time. As before, my main job is to organize the lunch handouts for the missionaries as they are leaving the building. Many people are there either helping or getting shots, but RaDene is managing the logistics quite well. I head for the office to do some final tasks before heading to the airport. While there, I get a frantic call from RaDene. Pres Bell, looking pale, has come out of MLC to find her and let her know that the missionary department IFR has called and said that Sis Hatfield MUST accompany Elder Hatfield home. What? She hasn’t even had her shot yet. The flight leaves in three hours. Who knows if there is even a seat, and she certainly hasn’t packed. She quickly confirms there is a seat on the airplane, and almost leaves without her vaccination, and relies on the comfort of Paul Hintze and Elder and Sis Jacob to dry her tears, assure her, and send her on her way. I meet her at home to help pack (and in the process forget to move my missionary nametag from one bag to another), and Elder Jacob mercifully agrees to pick us up at the office and drive like a madman to get us to the airport just in time to board our flight to Salt Lake. Our connection to St George in the sprawling Salt Lake airport is almost too tight, but we make it just in time. We arrive in St George and answer the slew of missionary (and landlord) messages that have piled up while Lynn drives us to Mom’s house. Terri has had Mom to the doctor today and we learn that her knee problem is not clear, but probably a cartilage tear or a hairline tibia fracture. She is in a wheelchair for the first time in her life. We reminisce on Dad’s great life until midnight, 1 am St Louis time, and then try to sleep.
On Tuesday, May 4th Sis Hatfield and I participated in three conference calls to help the office staff, assistants to the president, and Sis Bell prepare for transfers. I am not sure why it took three calls. I think it had to do with three different groups of people worrying about the Hatfields not participating in transfers but not having Sis Hatfield to coordinate the information transfer into a single meeting. We fit the calls in between and around visits to the mortuary and the flower store.
On Wednesday, May 5th we did our part in new missionary training by video conference. Sis Hatfield was racing from the Gustins’ house to Mom’s place, so I did some conducting, which she usually does, until she got there. It was strange trying to introduce ourselves without seeing the young missionaries’ in person, but we did it, and helped the staff stay on time. For the next couple of hours, Sis Hatfield was on standby for questions that came regarding transfer needs and procedures. Sis Bell, the APs, housing assistants, and others didn’t loop us in too much, which had us nervous as to how things were going and what balls were getting dropped.
On Monday, May 10th we held the funeral in Provo. The office staff and the Bells sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Because it was in the Pandemic, the service was at the Nelson Mortuary and video streamed. The Jacobs and the Evertons watched the proceedings from the office computers. They commented that the talks made them feel like they knew my Dad well. It was so sweet of them to spend time supporting me.
Tuesday, May 11th we left for the airport early in the morning to return to our mission field assignment. We have been getting some strange messages that we have been on “leave,” and the reasons seem to include COVID illness. How did that happen? We have had insurance reinstatement, offers of travel reimbursement, calls to Pres Bell asking if we were returning and if it is okay with him, etc. There has been a good deal of confusion at the missionary department about our short trip home for Dad’s funeral.
We did not like missing the first zone conference of the transfer which was starting today, but in the scheme of things, it was more important to stay for the full day of mourning and celebration yesterday. We had thought of the idea of participating virtually, but our flight schedule would not allow that. A third option was to prepare a video message and send it for display at the zone conference. Ideally, we would have had time to prepare and produce our messages, but the family duties have been consuming and exhausting for several days now. We just haven’t been able to get it done. But now we are at the airport waiting to board and we have a few minutes. Can we do it now, of the cuff, and get something transmitted in time? It seemed improbable, but we decided to try. So we turned on our phone and made a selfie video. It was only a few minutes long, but we had a few key points to communicate, Sis Hatfield talking about phones and teaching materials orders, and me talking about air filters and springtime pests. And it gave us the opportunity to explain why we were away and bear testimony of the Plan of Salvation, which the people in the Missouri St Louis Mission need the opportunity to learn from these young missionaries. Our unscripted, unrehearsed video wasn’t perfect, but it would serve the purpose. Now, could we get it to St Louis? The wifi connection was okay, but we did not know if it would work. Sis Hatfield started an upload to Google Docs, and then we waited. After the “all passengers aboard” call from the gate agent, we literally stood in front of her explaining what we were trying to do. She was gracious, and just as she indicated we needed to be on the plane, the transmission finished.
For several days, Sis Jeanette Mahaffey, wife of the 1st counselor in the mission presidency, had been asking RaDene what she could do. We thought of something: she could give us a ride from the St Louis airport to the mission office. It was a sweet contribution to our needs. And then of course, we were back in the saddle with so much to do to catch up. We were happy to re-engage. But in some ways, returning to the field was harder than leaving the first time. We missed our family very much after being away so long, especially the young grandchildren we hardly knew. And I was broken hearted that I had missed seeing Dad again one last time. And maybe hardest of all, I did not like leaving Mom to adjust and reorder things in her new place in life that I could not do, or do less well, from St Louis. I’ll do what I can, but my saintly sister Terri will need to continue to carry most of the load.
Wednesday, May 12th could have looked to an observer like we had never been away, as we jumped right into the second day of zone conferences. But of course my feelings continued to be tender, and I shared them with the missionaries, who are supportive and loving. Later in the afternoon, I inspected two apartments, partly to see how they were, and partly to be in position to negotiate lease renewals. Between the two apartments, I found eight broken refrigerator shelves, and broken couch, a broken dresser, a broken blind, an outdoor closet stacked floor to ceiling with who knows what, and two filthy, stained carpets. I have a few things to work on. Elder Dayton is leaving in the morning for his new assignment in Cape Verde, Africa. Sis Hatfield has negotiated for the Evertons to pick him up at 4:30 am and take him, thankfully. Sis Hatfield is helping him negotiate newly received immigration instructions: he can only bring a single checked bag of 40 pounds and 65 pounds total, including his single carry-on, he must have $40 to pay an immigration fee, which we are not sure he has access to on missionary support funds card, he must pass an unusual nasal COVID test, which he hasn’t had, and he must complete a difficult Portuguese translated form. I don’t know how church travel keeps up with all the requirements. When he finally finishes for the night, the office looks like a bomb went off—Elder Dayton has cast off all manner of possessions trying to make weight. We tell him we will try to ship the extra stuff home for him.
Thursday, May 13th is the final day of zone conferences, this time in O’Fallon, Illinois at the stake center. We drove together, but Sis Hatfield is feeling pressed to leave early to get back to the office. I stay, take the zone picture, and coordinate distribution of mail and materials, which the housing assistants bring in the nick of time. They had underestimated how long it would take to get here from St Louis. Because of all the car pooling, it wasn’t so easy to find a ride back for myself, but the Evertons had a seat for me. They shared sweet condolences as we drove, which I really appreciated.