An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Suffering—But Not in Silence

If, as many Mormons believe, adversity is the way God teaches us important lessons, my family has enjoyed a fine education. And I do mean enjoyed. For members of my family, suffering is the food of life, meant to be generously shared. Grandma Grypemor probably started it. My childhood memories of Grandma include listening to how poor Uncle Ranch had married a barren woman who not only failed to provide offspring, but refused to live anywhere near Grandma. And then Aunt Loosy married a guy who expected her to leave her widowed mother and live with him. A bachelor neighbor who threw wild parties on Saturday nights gifted Grandma with much suffering. She returned the favor to a couple of his departing guests who staggered to her door one night asking her to call a cab for them. Grandma poked a shotgun in their faces and they beat a hasty retreat grumbling, “That crazy old woman’s going to shoot us!”

Suffering skipped my parents’ generation, but landed full force on our youngest son. Techie suffered dreadfully from growing up with three older sisters and neglectful parents. I felt sorry for him until he went on stage to reveal our family secrets. And no, I didn’t encourage his sisters to tie him to a tree in the backyard after school and leave him until I got home. And, by the way, all of our children were born in wedlock. And yes, I’m really glad I’m not personally acquainted with the sort of people who attend Open Mic Nights.

Probably the best sufferer in my family is my cousin Reuben. When Reuben’s wife left him for a new bedfellow, Reuben decided suicide was the only remedy for his pain. He backed his pick-up truck and camper into the barn out of sight, crawled into the camper, shut the doors and windows, turned on the propane and lay on the bunk—ready for the end. Either the propane was weak or the camper wasn’t airtight, because Reuben finally got tired of waiting. He struggled to his feet to check the time. Since the camper inside the barn was pretty dark, he struck a match to look at the clock. At that moment Reuben learned that no matter how painful a life situation is, it can always get worse. If marital infidelity isn’t causing enough pain, add third degree burns and a burned-down barn into the equation.

I never really got the hang of enjoying suffering. Guilt detracted from the pleasure.  And for that, I blame Dr. Spock and Mother’s Day programs. Raising bed wetters should be enough suffering for anybody, but Dr. Spock upped the ante, blaming the malady onto domineering mothers. Apparently, my bossing the kids and George around was just asking for loads of laundry every morning. 

Then there were the Mothers’ Day programs at church. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s worth a lousy petunia to sit through a series of talks by teens about how a panicked phone call brings a saintly mother rushing to school with gym clothes or lunch or whatever else the dumb kid forgot. The only time my kids ever listened reverently in Sacrament Meeting was on Mothers’ Day when they measured my parenting techniques against the ideal revealed from the pulpit. Other kids’ mothers didn’t say, “That’ll teach you!” when their kids forgot about a major science project until the night before it was due. Other mothers stayed up all night finishing the project for their child.

Yes, I’ve had my share of suffering, but I’m too embarrassed to brag about getting what I probably deserve.

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