I don’t think there have been more than 10 minutes in the last few days without someone calling my name–“Mom, could you?” “Someone is at the door.” “Phone’s for you!” It’s been a week of errands and chores; catching up on put-off tasks and preparing for the summer ahead.


Now, night has fallen and I am stealing time from sleep to iron the seams of my skirts for Pioneer Trek next week. I am using scraps and pieces from my mother’s fabric stash just as she did 37 years ago to make my first pioneer dress and apron (I wrote about in in Segullah Literary Journal). As Utahns, and Mormons, dressing in long skirts and bonnets is part of our cultural heritage. And walking in a parade or in an an extended four-day trek as we are doing next week is part of paying homage to the sacrifices they made to settle this valley and establish the church.

But for one not born into the church this has always been a bit of a bittersweet tradition. Nearly everyone in Utah can trace their ancestry to the original crossing-the-plains pioneers and if not, they usually marry into an old Mormon family. In my ward growing up we were the only convert family and we are now one of only two families in our area without the names of Bennion, Tanner, Young and Clayton on our family tree (my parents converted when I was a little girl; my mother-in-law Maria joined the church as a 25 year old nurse and Fritz, my father-in-law, was the son of a newly-minted Berlin Mormon).

Rarely is there a Sunday where church members don’t refer to their pioneer heritage– and rightly so, the Mormon Pioneers are incredible examples of faith– but as a child I always felt a little bit less than.

Traditionally, youth and adults take the name of an original pioneer when they embark on Trek. The idea is that you can learn about that pioneer and feel them with you as you walk; most people choose the name of an ancestor. You can imagine my emotions when they announced that this time we could choose the name of any forebear. There was no question, I am walking in the name of


my mother.

Will I feel her presence? I hope so. I have been collecting relics to take with me– her sun hat, her water bottle, a walking stick, fabric from her unmade quilts fashioned into simple skirts.

I am a sloppy seamstress, my seams and corners have never been precise like my mother’s and I have used my limited skills only for Halloween costumes and simple repairs. But now, I am taking great pride in ironing and stitching and watching the dust fly in the light.

Perhaps I should be grateful for the busyness of this week, because as the anniversary of my mother’s death approaches Monday, every moment that I pause to think nearly engulfs me with grief. I am hurting more, much more, than even the day she died. I have referred to a secret sorrow and it is weighing heavily on my soul. Soon, it will be known, and things will be much worse before they get better. I worry, because I’ve been hurt so deeply, if I will ever recover. People constantly tell me how strong I am, but I am not. Or they tell me how strong I will be after I’ve gone through this and I don’t think I can. The pain is blinding, excruciating and although I am still able to enjoy my husband, my children, my work and responsibilities, I am afraid I will slowly erode into a bitter old woman.

I may not be a pioneer, but I have icy plains and rocky passes to cross.


But one phrase rings in my ears– my mother’s words from one year ago– “We have so much happiness ahead of us in the eternities. You have no idea how much happiness we have ahead of us.”

For this I pray.

June 8, 2010
June 12, 2010



  1. Erica

    June 10, 2010

    i drink up every word you write.
    thank you.

  2. Jill

    June 10, 2010

    Oh Michelle. I think I know your secret sorrow. I think I understand just a little bit. My life is pretty calm next week… Maybe lunch? If not then, then the week of 6/28?

    The second year in many ways is harder than the first. I wish it weren’t so.


  3. jendoop

    June 11, 2010

    You touched on one of my pet peeves. I hate it when members share liberally who they are related to. What matters to me is what YOU have done, what your relatives did doesn’t matter squat if you don’t build on it.

    Case in point – my Dad. He’s from pioneer stock and all, and I’m active so my bishop assumes he’s awesome and is about to ask him to bear his testimony in sacrament meeting (first time he’s been to church in years). Oh thank the heavens they ran out of time!
    It really pissed me off that my bishop assumed certain things about my Dad because of who I am. I worked very hard to get my own testimony, without his help thank you very much.

    (End rant. Sorry, this is something I’ve had pent up and can’t vent on my blog because my Dad reads it.)

    Back to you – your conversion legacy is so inspiring! Nothing at all to be ashamed of or wistful about. You are so close to those who converted, made huge changes. You are closer to see what it meant to them.

    As for the family secret- I understand those things too. With God’s love you can find your way through and understand where you should stand.

  4. Tracy

    June 11, 2010

    You have been on my mind, knowing that it will be one year soon. I love that you are sewing and using your mother’s beautiful fabric.

    You deserve so much happiness and peace.

    Just know I am thinking about you.always.

  5. Denise

    June 11, 2010

    When the prophet Joseph died, leaving Emma a widow, she chose to stay behind in Nauvoo. She was pregnant, had already lost five babies, and she’d had enough. Not long after, she married Louis Bidemann. They were married for many years. One day, a woman from the town came to Emma with a young child. She explained that Louis had fathered the child. Emma was devastated at having been deceived and publicly humiliated by her second husband. Nonetheless, she agreed (even though she was now an old woman) to care for and raise the child as her own, since the boy’s biological mother was destitute. Further, she hired the woman (Bidemann had died) to come work in the home so that she could still see her child.

    I often think of that story. When faced with situations that make me want to turn and run from my own life I think how can I be like Emma and do as the Savior even when I want to act differently? To borrow from Dumbledore, it’s not our talents which define us, it’s our choices (and subsequent actions.)

    You know that I know. You also know that I care about you, love, and support you. There are six of the most important people in the world watching how you react to this sorrow, this secret. Leave them a legacy of love; like the one left for you. It will take everything you’ve got. But just like it was miraculously in Emma, it’s in you too. I’m rooting for you.

  6. Selwyn

    June 11, 2010

    Aw, you are going to be the best dressed pioneer out there!

    Best named as well.

    God doesn’t close one door without opening another one – even if it is hell in the hallway.

    Let yourself be surprised at what you can do. You don’t have to be strong, accepting and regal of all trials and tribulations that come along. Survival is enough.


  7. Chelle

    June 11, 2010

    I love you, Michelle.

  8. Cath

    June 11, 2010

    Oh Michelle! I am in tears. The photo of your leather wristband with your Mother’s name. It undid me completely. My mother is enjoying three more months off chemo right now, we are staying with her, and you are reminding me to enjoy every moment, every vision of her in the garden, every giggle with my babies. I linked to your Segullah piece, Nauvoo. I remembered instantly reading it while in Virginia and being so drawn to it. I served my mission in Nauvoo. It can and should be a place owned by all, never matter when the conversion. You write beautifully and I love your heart. Hold on, dear friend. I hope in all the walking and dust, you find your mother. And the gentle lifting of your soul.

  9. Kerri

    June 11, 2010

    Michelle, my heart aches for you.

    Love and more love your way.

  10. Sue

    June 11, 2010

    I love what you’re doing on that trek, and I hope it will be the kind of experience you are needing right now.

    I don’t know anything about this issue that’s going on in your life, but I promise to remember you and your family in my prayers.


  11. Travelin'Oma

    June 11, 2010

    We are all pioneers. Whenever we start down a trail that is new, bumpy, unexpected, challenging, with no end in sight, we are blazing a trail.

    I admire my pioneer ancestors (the ones who sailed from Sweden in 1890, the ones who sailed from England in 1630 as well as the ones who crossed the plains from Kentucky) because they had the faith to go forward when life looked bleak. Your personal trek will be just as faith-promoting and inspiring to those coming after you.

  12. Christie

    June 11, 2010

    Hang in there, chica. It might not seem like it right now, but He is mindful of you and will give you the courage to face whatever you have to face. It seems cliche and trite, but I promise it is true.

    Love you!

  13. Tasha

    June 12, 2010

    Your mother truly was a pioneer and continues to be an example to me. I wish I had more time to get to know her better. There is no one better you could have chosen to walk for.

    I have no doubt that she will be there for you on your difficult journey, both the physical and the emotional treks. I believe that her spirit will be there to push you up the mountains until you reach the top and see the glorious view that God has planned for you.

    And like Erica, I too drink up each word you write. Thank you for continuing to share your soul with us. Some days, your words help me climb my own mountains.

  14. Linn

    June 13, 2010

    Sweet friend, absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing something so many of us needed to hear.

    You will definitely be in my prayers tomorrow.

    I’m so sorry.

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