Shortly after his call to the Twelve, Elder L. Tom Perry’s wife of many years (27 I believe) passed away from cancer. His tribute to her given during the April 1975 conference was beautiful and poingiant. I loved reading it especially because of how his description of her struggles with cancer reminded me of my mother and all of the lessons I learned watching her:
“Even through these multitude acts of kindness, her finest hours were yet to come. Five years ago our lives were shocked with an announcement that she had contracted a terminal disease. Her life expectancy could only be another six months to a year. She accepted this decision with a faith and courage I never expect to see equalled. As the doctor made this announcement to us, she turned to me and said with all the faith and peace that she could muster, “Don’t tell anyone about this. I don’t want it to change our way of life or have anyone treat us differently.” Now her life was filled with physical hardship. It seemed to only make her more sensitive for the physical needs of others. Her empathy for her fellowmen increased, for now she had a greater appreciation for need. …
She placed her illness entirely in the hands of the Lord, and he blessed her with enough strength to endure and just enough energy to live the kind of life she wanted to live.”
What a fitting tribute to a life of service. I also saw something similar at work with my mother. Her suffering helped to increase her empathy and to turn her towards serving others. She loved with greater intensity because of her experiences.
People often wonder why God allows good and even great people to suffer the ravages of illness. For me, the answer is clear. Such illnesses are an ultimate test. Will we curse God and long to die, or will we use our struggle to serve others. In the modern era, this challenge is increasingly one that more and more of us face.
Elder Perry’s wife made the later choice. My mother did as well. I will never forget her example. I hope that in my lesser challenges I will similarly be able to overcome bitterness and serve with my whole heart.