Around midnight last night our daughter awakened us to let us know of the passing of our beloved Prophet, Thomas S. Monson. We were at once saddened for us and so happy for him. Maurine and I both said, “Can you imagine how happy he is to be with Frances again!” That thought made us so elated. I reflected all night on many things I learned from him over the years and will share some of my experience.
I first shook hands with Thomas S. Monson in 1964. He was the junior member of the Twelve and his assignment brought him to our home stake of St. Louis, Missouri. I remember as he came into the chapel a feeling of love just began to fill my young heart. I don’t remember what he said; I remember what I felt.
After the meeting my brothers and I went up with our parents to shake hands with him. My mother introduced herself as “Martha Proctor, sister of Keith Facer.” Keith and Elder Monson were in the same home ward. This 37-year-old apostle brightened up and said how much he loved Keith and Virginia Facer and how blessed he was to know them. He let my mother know how personally delighted he was to meet her.
41 years later President Monson and my mother spoke at Keith’s funeral. President Monson came right up to my mother after the service and said, “Martha, you are a treasure.” He was right, but coming from him, it became part of our family culture. Those personal acknowledgements in 2005 and in 1964 set deep in my heart.
Enthusiasm and Strength
I shall never forget attending the Cebu City Philippines Temple dedication in June 2010. We all anxiously awaited the arrival of President Monson and his entourage of general authorities and their wives. After that very long flight over the Pacific Ocean, they finally came. President Monson was very tired and not feeling well. His assistants took him right into the temple president’s home to be refreshed and to rest. We talked briefly with President Eyring and with Elder and Sister Oaks and Elder William R. Walker then we were on our way. We felt for President Monson and prayed for him and all that lay before him in this temple dedication.
The next day was the youth celebration. I was standing right by where his car was pulling up to come into the arena where the anxious Filipino youth were waiting to greet him. There must have been at least 400 or 500 youth who were lined up and just behind a security line. I had seen them closely and talked to them. They hoped with all of their hearts they could shake hands or at least see the Prophet.
As President Monson got out of the car (knowing that he had not been feeling well), I was standing about five feet from him. I watched as he looked at all those beautiful youth. I could feel his love for them. It was palpable and encircled me as well. I shall never forget the next moment. He gathered his strength, took a deep breath (I was close enough to hear that) and then he just walked quickly along the security line and high-fived as many of the children as he could as he headed into the arena. This was the one moment in a lifetime that these kids would have personal touch with a Prophet of God. It was exhilarating. His enthusiasm enlivened the entire host of youth. His strength lifted all these young ones. They were energized to give the most wonderful performance and they shall never forget his enthusiasm and strength.
Noticing the One
Everywhere we have been with President Monson, he was always looking out for the one. It happened every time. He had an extra powerful radar that just seemed to be able to track and find those whose hearts needed lifting, those whom he could personally touch. President Boyd K. Packer said of President Monson: “He is more Christlike than the rest of us. He’s known for emphasizing and elevating things that are most important, the ordinary things. He is the one for whom the widow and the orphan are not just statements in a book.” Oh how he lived like that!
Many of you remember my photo essay I did on him at the Gilbert Arizona Temple Dedication: What I Learned from Thomas S. Monson in Seventeen Minutes.
This is my favorite picture I ever took of President Monson. Amidst all the celebration and circumstance of the coverstone ceremony, and all the requirements of picking people to help and attending to the choir and talking to hundreds of people, he stopped and his face grew tender as he noticed a young special needs girl, Kendell Crum. He could not know that he was Kendell’s favorite person in the world and that she loved him so much.
He took at least two or three minutes talking to her and asking her questions and lifting and blessing her (and all of us who watched what was happening).
Of course, this was but a type of the way he always was—reaching out to the one. Touching the one. Lifting the one. Noticing the one. How many “ones” did he touch in his life? Countless. He touched me and I am forever changed because of him.
We loved being around President Monson, whether it was watching him as we all have at General Conference, or rubbing shoulders with him at temple dedications. Wherever we were with him, no exceptions, he was always exuding happiness.
When he interacted with the members at any event his smile was contagious. He loved to lift and bless with that smile and he did so to untold thousands. In his October 2016 conference address he taught us: “Essential to the plan is our Savior, Jesus Christ. Without His atoning sacrifice, all would be lost. It is not enough, however, merely to believe in Him and His mission. We need to work and learn, search and pray, repent and improve. We need to know God’s laws and live them. We need to receive His saving ordinances. Only by so doing will we obtain true, eternal happiness…From the depths of my soul and in all humility, I testify of the great gift which is our Father’s plan for us. It is the one perfect path to peace and happiness both here and in the world to come.”
He taught those eternal truths through his smile, and through his smile he taught us all about love. His whole ministry taught us about happiness. These lessons will stay with me all my life.
Teaching by Example
My uncle, Keith Holbrook Facer, who I mentioned above, was easy to love. Gentle and unassuming, stalwart and true, he would be anyone’s dream uncle, his face lighting up with delight when he saw us like he’d just been waiting for this moment to fold us in his arms and give us hugs.
Like President Monson, Keith’s smile was infectious. He was always a student of the gospel, coming in his 80’s to our adult Institute classes, even when he had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and his legs began to quake beneath him. The diagnosis turned out to be false, and he took the year of trauma granted him by the doctor’s inaccuracy like the good sport he always was.
It was wrenching later to hear that Keith had developed a particularly rare and vicious kind of cancer – Merkel-cell carcinoma. This was one where the tumor grew not inside his body, but on the exterior – from a nasty red lump first appearing on the left side of his face, on his cheek, then around to his ear and his neck to grow into a hideous, enormous, almost reptilian-like growth that crawled across his face, first closing off an ear and then an eye, and then finally his ability to breathe or eat at all. The face we had loved was distorted, unrecognizable, and his suffering nearly incomprehensible.
The bright red of the now-enormous tumor, which seemed to grow daily, looked angry, burning. His torso was covered with dime and nickel-sized sores. Radiation treatments were attempted but only burned his body, making the pain even more intense.
We could not have recognized Keith as anyone familiar except for the affectionate tone in his voice, while he could still mumble out a few sentences.
Keith did not live far from President Monson. In fact, at one time they had been in the same ward, before boundaries had been redrawn—perhaps a number of times. President Monson got word about Keith’s illness and called me immediately, wondering if he could come by that very early evening to cheer him and give him a blessing on his way home from work.
“President,” I said, “Do you need the address?” “No, I know right where Keith and Virginia live. My friends. I’ll be by at 5:30 if that is alright.”
I don’t know what else might have been on President Monson’s schedule that day – surely many pressing things, a desk full of urgencies. Yet, nothing was so urgent for President Monson as the soul of the distressed. It called to his sympathies; it stirred his love.
We had been visiting Keith that day before President Monson arrived. He was surrounded by his wife, a son and daughters who loved him, but the situation was so grim, it was hard to be anything but teary. Life just seemed too hard if someone like Keith could be so afflicted and we struggled to say anything besides a pitiful, “I’m so sorry, so sorry.” We felt heavy, grayed over with the burden.
Then, at the appointed moment, President Monson arrived, and it was like the sun came up on a new day. It was not only that the Spirit was with him, which we all felt immediately; it was that his very presence was buoyant. A tangible sense of joy and assurance had entered the room.
Here was someone seasoned in the sickroom and knew what we didn’t. He didn’t look surprised or shocked to see Keith’s condition. He didn’t put on a long face in sympathy. He smiled that large, warming smile and with enthusiasm said, “Keith it is good to see you.”
President Monson then began to give Keith what he needed most. It was the same thing any very sick person needs, whose once energetic and perfect body has been ravaged by an illness until he can’t recognize himself anymore. President Monson gave him back his identity, and a sense of himself.
“Keith,” he said, “Do you remember when you were in the bishopric and I had just moved into the ward and you assigned me to head up the committee to build a new meetinghouse? I told you that I didn’t know anyone in the ward, and you said, ‘That’s OK. Just call them Gunderson and you’ll be right 40% of the time.’”
At that Keith laughed out of the corner of his mouth not yet smothered by cancer. We all laughed, our laughter cascading through the sick room like a blessed relief. President Monson continued the banter about everything he knew about Keith, a heartening conversation about how dedicated and committed Keith had always been.
We were swept away by a series of delightful memories. Each one drove the gray and gloom further and further from our hearts.
Then President Monson did a remarkable thing. He changed the subject to something even lighter. (How completely delightful for a sick person to finally get to hear something besides how sorry all the rest of us are and how sick they are.)
He started to tell us the story about when he had recently gone to lunch with the chairman of the board of Parker Brothers who said that Monopoly was still their best-selling game, and he had asked, jokingly, if President Monson could remember the names of any of the properties of the game. He told him that he could indeed remember them – all of them – IN ORDER. We were all laughing then, and President Monson, with his perfect memory, named them all – right there beside the sick bed – Mediterranean, Baltic, Reading Railroad and continuing all the way around, he ended with Park Place and Boardwalk!
With all of us now in a happy mood, he said gently, “Now, Keith, let’s give you a blessing. Scot, will you anoint?” The Spirit continued to illuminate our hearts.
Then he laid hands upon Keith’s head and gave him a blessing of power and comfort, promising him in a powerful voice that, “This is only temporary.” (And it would be. Keith died ten days later.)
The joy that filled the room, the Spirit comforting every wounded heart, was tangible.
Some of us went in the living room with him, thinking he would quickly be on his busy way. But before he left, he also gave us the complete lineup with their positions of the 1948 Salt Lake Bees (a minor league baseball team). I’m sure he must have been in a hurry, but he didn’t seem like it. For those moments together, we were his entire focus.
This grim sickroom had been transformed by a priesthood blessing and by a spiritual emissary who knew just how to minister with love. That bright moment stayed with our family for the days and weeks ahead and has never been forgotten.
Many thousands have known just such bright moments in their grim times from President Thomas S. Monson.
We shall ever miss our dear President Monson, be we shall never forget him and the life.
We shall ever miss President Monson, but we shall never forget him and the life lessons he taught all of us.
God bless our prophet dear…
His words with fire impress
On souls that thou wilt bless
To choose in righteousness
The better part.