I look forward to the Advent and Christmas seasons each year with great anticipation, but where there is light, there must be shadow. This year’s holiday season has been especially poignant in light of our ward’s efforts to serve a visitor whom I regret won’t be returning, not in this life anyway.
It began at a ward council meeting in November. A member from far away had a terminal illness and was planning to move into our ward temporarily to seek a non-traditional treatment offered locally that had served a good friend in good stead after the doctors back home told him there was nothing more they could do for him there. Brother Klein (name has been changed) didn’t want much–just some suggestions of where to look for temporary housing in a big city. So we brainstormed a little and sent back our suggestions.
A couple of weeks later, Brother and Sister Klein arrived. Since the ward council had last met his terminal illness had continued to ravage his body and he was now paralyzed from the waist down. They had managed to find housing, but it was anything but accessible. The 22 steps from the street level lead to a tiny elevator that had been retroactively fitted into the stairwell of a 19th-century building with no room for a wheelchair. The patient would have to be lifted from the wheelchair, placed on a kitchen chair–the only kind that would fit–and held in place by a second person while a third brought the wheelchair up two flights of stairs.
When they moved in, I showed up with several members of the ward to help. While I was afraid our amateur efforts would do more harm than good, Brother Klein remained steadfast and thankful, and after some trial and error, we managed to get him situated in his new apartment. Since it was Sunday, we sang a hymn and took the sacrament.
The stress of travel had taken a toll, however, and Brother Klein was not in a position to receive the non-traditional treatment he had come so far to take. For two weeks he experienced peaks and valleys as he fought to regain the necessary strength. Toward the end of the second week, his condition visibly deteriorated, and on Saturday things looked grim indeed. Although Brother Klein and his wife were determined to attend church and take the sacrament again, it didn’t look like it would be possible.
But Sunday dawned bright–unusual for this clime and season–and Brother Klein did too, awaking in better-looking shape than in the weeks past. It was a small miracle, and his determination to take the sacrament at church was higher than ever. But first we had to get him there. A member of the Relief Society arrived to help him dress and I and a companion also came to first lift him into the elevator, carry him down the stairs and push him to the nearest subway station from where we would travel across town on public transportation to the chapel.
It was a long ride and as we traveled we talked about his time in the service in a country we are both familiar with and the volunteer work he used to enjoy doing. Halfway through our journey we had to transfer to a bus. The station happens to be next to landmark baroque church on a public square. This time of year, the square was teeming with a Christmas market. Since we had plenty of time, I suggested we stroll through the square to see at least a few of the city’s sights. We did, and our spirits were high enough to take photos of the sights and each other. After we made a round we boarded the bus and arrived at church.
It was fast Sunday and Brother and Sister Klein shared their testimonies. Despite the intense pain he suffered and the setbacks in the care they had hoped to receive, their testimonies were filled with thanksgiving, above all for the opportunity to take the sacrament and for Christ’s atonement. I was moved like I have rarely been in my life; truly, this was a holy time and place, sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ, and thrown into stark relief by the Klein’s sacrifice to be there. The Kleins stayed for the rest of the meeting block where their example buoyed up others as I believe they were built up.
The next day Brother Klein’s health took a dramatic turn for the worse. His doctor recommended they return home before it was too late to travel. Somehow, they made the 22-hour flight back home. He was admitted to the hospital, where I understand he was able to see his family briefly before falling asleep and then slipping into a coma.
At our next ward council meeting we heard that he was still in a coma with only hours to live. As I shed a silent tear, the bishop noted that in a way, we had administered salvation to Brother Klein that Sunday. At any rate, it was the last rite he was able to actively participate in.
Brother Klein was never officially a member of our ward, and the three weeks he was here passed quickly. But his determination to take the sacrament has left a lasting impression and I feel something of a loss when I look up to the front of the chapel where he sat in his wheelchair earlier this month.
When I shared this experience with a group of friends, one replied: “The world is healed by such moments, even if bodies aren’t.” Although he didn’t intend to, Brother Klein gave those of us privileged to meet him the gift of faith in bleak and trying times. That is a gift that I know I will treasure this Christmas.