Rose passed away two weeks ago. The only reason I knew her was because I was her visiting teacher.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a visiting teacher is a woman assigned to watch over and help specific women in her congregation. Typically, a visiting teacher will have a partner, and they will visit at least once a month.
The men of the church are called home teachers, and are assigned families to watch over and help take care of. When my grandma was at the end of her life, she couldn’t leave her home. She had two wonderful home teachers — a father and teenage son — who visited her and helped her regularly. Since I lived 800 miles away from her, I was grateful for her home teachers and friends who visited and cheered her when she was homebound.
Because of this, I specifically asked to visit teach a homebound woman. I wanted to be a light to someone the way my grandma’s home teachers were a light to her. I pictured visiting a cozy house, with a grandmotherly woman to dote on my children.
Rose is who I got, and it didn’t turn out that way.
It became immediately apparent I wouldn’t be bringing my children along on my visits, as my stomach lurched at the smell of her stairway up to her tiny apartment. Exposed wires were within reach of my daughter’s curious hands, the steps seemed rotten and flies were everywhere. I knocked on her door that first time, quickly introduced myself and got the heck out of there.
After that, I mailed letters and left notes on her doorstep. I rarely tried to talk to her in person. Then one day, she needed food. In my current church assignment, I am the one who helps families when they need food. The bishop of our congregation (similar to a pastor) called to ask me to visit Rose and fill out a food order (like a grocery list to take to the bishop’s storehouse and receive food at no cost).
I went, but was completely unhappy about it. She invited me in to sit at her filthy table. Choking because of the smell, I swiped bugs away so I could sit down. I hardly looked at her as I took in the horrible state of every surface of her apartment. We filled out the food order, and I got out of there as fast as I could.
Then God worked on my cold heart. Later, it occurred to me that she didn’t get home-cooked meals very often — and what do you know? I make home-cooked meals regularly. So I brought over some pork chops, and included enough for her to share with her dog. She was overjoyed.
I continued doing this every now and then, and she was always so happy. We began to visit more, and I learned she loved her adopted mother with all her heart, that her dog was the mother of the dog downstairs, that her son passed away years ago, that she didn’t see her siblings very often. She was sweet and funny. She made jokes more than she spoke seriously. It began to be a delight for me to visit her.
I got a fantastic new visiting teaching partner who suggested we bring a Thanksgiving dinner to Rose. Rose was like a giddy school girl when she saw the oranges my partner had included. She hugged us, and we didn’t worry about the filth. We loved her.
The last time I saw Rose was in January. I was at her home, helping to fill out another food order. I didn’t notice the filth in her apartment this time. This time, I actually looked at her. I saw a thick layer of dust on her clothing that I could have written my name in. I was shocked and so sad. But because I was looking at her, I also saw her sweet face with its sweet smile, a smile I never once heard complain about her situation. In fact, she loved her broken-down apartment for its view of the mountains. I saw her deep wrinkles, made deeper by deep suffering, deep suffering I only knew about because someone else had told me. She, herself, had never told me of her trials. She was too cheerful for that.
I saw this image in my mind of Rose pressed deep into the chest of Jesus Christ, His arms around her, her face a mixture of exhaustion and… finally — relief.
Kind of like this.
I loved her because God let me serve her, even though I was at first a brat about it. I had dinner in the oven for her when I received a text from my bishop telling me she had passed away. The dinner was cheesy and creamy. I knew she was going to love it. My heart broke — I sobbed. My 2-year-old was reverent and hugged me while I explained that Mommy was sad because Rose had died. She patted my back, and as I let myself be comforted by a 2-year-old, I felt so grateful that I loved Rose enough to be heartbroken when she passed. Does that make sense?
When my grandma passed away, her teenage home teacher was a pall bearer in her California funeral. I wasn’t there — I attended her Idaho funeral instead. But my mom tells me that teenage boy was crying as he helped carry my grandma’s coffin.
This shocked me because this was a boy who had a happy family and full life, who probably didn’t need another grandma. But he mourned for my grandma — a woman nearly 80 years older than him — because he was there for her during her life. Now that I mourn for Rose, a woman who had no relation to me, I understand.
Rose knew few people. Few people in our congregation knew Rose. But her past visiting teachers, my partner, her home teachers and I loved her. We mourned for her. And she deserved that.
God places people in our lives to help us feel His love. I hope that by the end of Rose’s life I had made up for my bad behavior so she could feel His love through me. But even if I never succeeded at that, I felt God’s love through her.