Thursday, April 1, 2021

River Joy's Viewing, Funeral and Burial

May 16th 2020 was such a beautiful day!  The sun was shining and birds were singing!  Oh how grateful we are to all who were with us that day to celebrate River and her life that inspired us all.  And to all those who couldn't be with us due to Covid or distance, we are so deeply grateful that this was able to be recorded both with video and with pictures.  We are so profoundly grateful to those who captured these precious moments for us!! 

This was the video that was playing during the viewing:

        The songs on the slideshow:
        *Love is like a Butterfly by Dolly Parton
         *Eidelweiss from Sound of Music - River's favorite Movie
              River:  May you Bloom and Grow Forever
        *I'm a Brave Little Soldier by Dolly Parton
        *Help Me to Stand - by River Henderson.  River wrote this when she was 9 battling chemo and cancer.  She needed to get out of bed 3 times a day.  Some days she could make it to the door.  Sometimes she could make it to the window.  Sometimes she could make it to a chair to sit for a minute or two.  And sometimes the very best she could do would be to stand by the bed for 1 second.    Help me to Stand.  It is a very special song knowing how much she went through, and how hard it was for her to simply stand.  Her Primary Music teacher Collette Jourdain helped her put it to music.  
        *Butterfly Fly Away:  A special song recorded by her dear friend Savanah Jenson.   

Summer’s face here sums up all our feelings.  

The plaque on River’s casket was “Together In White” with all of our signatures. When Colt and I were engaged, we made a family motto of Together in White. That every choice we made we would ask if it brought us closer to being together forever or farther away. It has been a guiding light to our thoughts and decisions. We talk a lot in our home of acting in such a way that it invites the spirit into our hearts and home. 

VIDEO: Funeral Service for River Joy
Her Funeral to me was like a missionary farewell.  
Her patriarchal blessing clearly called her on a mission to the spirit world.  

Song written and sung by Savanah Jenson. Savanah sang this at River’s funeral program. A super special song that touched my soul. 

Ridge had a hard time thinking of her being buried.  He did NOT want her in a special box.  And he did NOT want to put that box in the ground.  One way we were prepared in advance in a small way was lots and lots of pet burials.  I feel like we took good care of our pets...but had abnormally high mortality rate - a theme over and over and over through the years...that we needed to say goodbye.  

In the video of the recording of the funeral you can hear Ridge say “No!!” when they talked about her burial.  We had River’s body in our home the night before the funeral. It was such a blessing for Ridge to be with her one last time before needing to say goodbye. He kept trying to wake her up. He would raise his voice and say “River!!”  “RIVER!  Wake UP!”  He would touch her hand and tried and tried to wake her up. She looked so peaceful laying did look like she was peacefully sleeping.  All the pain that had been etched on her face for SO long was gone.  In the end, he would quietly go over to the casket...put his little hands on the side and peer in at his beloved sister. He had accepted that she was not there.  

Video of family and friends placing roses on River's casket.

We decided to stay with the casket until it was completely buried. Oh!  It was such a special/sacred time. I didn’t know the cement box they place the casket in is golden - with her name on it! It was so special and such a tender mercy.  

Slideshow of River's funeral and burial.

Ridge helped the men push the casket into the hole, and then the mortician came over and had a special talk just with Ridge.  He told him "This is where River's feet are, and this is where her head is.  When Jesus comes again, He will wake her up!"  And then Ridge was okay!  He went around telling everyone "When Jesus comes, He'll wake up my River!"   Even now, almost a year since she passed Ridge will ask me why I'm crying.  "Are you crying about my River?  DON"T CRY MOM!!  River is with Jesus!!"  I love his faith!  I love his love for his sister.  I love that he talks about River all the time.  She is his big sister and still very much a part of his life.  

Daddy and Ridge helped tamp down the dirt as it was shoveled in and brought over by the tractor.  We stayed until the grass was laid back on top.  We were SO grateful we stayed.  It was closure for all of us, but especially Ridge.  

Farewell Our River Joy!
Until We Meet Again!

Saturday, December 12, 2020

What I've Learned from River's Cancer and Passing

I was asked to speak recently and share my feelings and some of the lessons we've learned from River's cancer and passing.  The time spent pondering and feeling and writing it out has brought a lot of healing to my heart.  I am left with profound thankfulness and hope.

It's been It all started with a Feeling:  6 years ago a Spiritual impression came to Prepare.  Colt and I both felt that something was coming that would change our family, a trial, and Heavenly Father in his love was giving us time to prepare for that. 

A couple of months later we found our 8 year old daughter had stage 4 liver cancer that had spread to her lungs.  For her kind of cancer, an acute tracer is 100,000.  Hers was 1.4 million.  Overnight our life changed.  We were thrust into the world of Cancer – and she was placed on the oncology floor at Primary Childrens, and our life would never be the same. 

1st Night in the hopsital

The doctors told us how serious this was and that she was most likely going to die.  We didn’t know the path ahead, but I felt SO strongly God was with us.  We felt the peace that passeth understanding as we decided to move forward with chemotherapy.   

I was lead everyday to the scriptures in Mosiah chapters 23-24:

The Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea he trieth their patience and their faith.  Nevertheless whosoever putteth his TRUST in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day.  They were in land Helam tilling the land– that tells me they were going about their normal everyday life – and they were much frightened because of the appearance of a lamanite Army.  We were much frightened because of the sudden appearance of this aggressive cancer.  But Alma exhorted them that they should not be frightened but that they should remember the Lord their God and He would deliver them.  Therefore they hushed their fears and began to cry unto the Lord that their children might be spared.  We cried mightily unto God that he would spare our daughter.  The Lord said:  Lift up your heads and be of good comfort for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me.  And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders; and this will I do that ye may stand as a witnesses for me hereafter that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God do visit my people IN their afflictions.  the Lord strengthened them that they could bear up their burdens, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.    The Lord then says:  I WILL GO WITH THEE   

I held so TIGHT to that promise:  I WILL GO WITH THEE!  I could find Him in this Wilderness.  I knew nothing about this medical world.  All of a sudden we found ourselves in the middle of chemo and surgeries, nurses and doctors.  

And I learned When in life we are either called or find ourselves in a wilderness, God provides amazing blessings for those who trust in Him.  The Israelites with Moses were given Mana in their wilderness, and water from a rock.  The Lord went before them to lead the way and by nigh a pillar of fire to give them light.  Lehi was given a Liahona to guide them in the most fertile parts of the wilderness. 

This wilderness created in me a need to find heaven.   To find Hope.  To find Goodness.  A need to seek for God and FIND him leading us on.  I would Pray in the morning:  Pleading for peace, pleading for Grace to help me to be what my daughter needed me to be that day.  And the only way I could do that was with his help.

 I would pray that I wouldn’t worry about what could happen that day.  I prayed for strength that in the moment something came up to have His help, his guidance, his comfort.  I learned in a very personal and real way to Be Still and Know that I am God. 

The days were very challenging to watch her decline and be So sick and very weak.  But I learned:  As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be 

We had Good people to come along side and teach us from their experiences and FAITH:   A special one to me was a mom whose daughter had been through So much in the last 12 years.  She knew how hard the road was, but she knew where God was.  And took me to a place in the hospital where I could physically see the light of the temple.  The spirit whispered.  Remember your covenants. Your family is ETERNAL.  Focus on Eternity. 

In 1 Nephi as they travel in the wilderness, the Lord made the raw meat sweet unto them and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings. 

There were A LOT of raw meat moments:  Chemotherapy, g-tube, port, a 14 hour surgery, and the recovery from that.  12 surgeries through the years.  Especially raw was Watching my daughter so weak and so sick.  But the journey was also sweet.  It was filled to overflowing with beauty.   When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o’erflow, For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, And sanctify to thee, thy deepest distress. (Hymn: How Firm a Foundation)  

A lot of sweetness came in River’s sweet JOY!  In her acceptance of what was her life.  Her complete trust in Heavenly Father and Her LOVE and devotion to HIM. 

River reading her scriptures

River Prayed:  If you can’t take it away, then please help me enjoy it. We became seekers of Joy and we found joy everyday.  I saw her submit cheerfully and with patience.  So many times I think we look at how we think it should be. We look at what other people have: a healthy life, the ability to get up out of bed.  She didn’t dwell on what she didn’t have. She accepted it and she did the best that she could with what she had.  River learned where much is Required, Much is Given. 

One of such a tender mercy was when she had been throwing up around the clock every 2 hours for days.   When that finally stopped she said:You know what sounds good?  A Kiwi and a pineapple.  She hadn’t asked for food for days.  Probably weeks.  All her nutrition was going through her g-tube.  I couldn't leave her to go to the store, so I told her I would go down to the kitchen at the Ronald McDonald House and see if there was anything there that sounded good.  There were 3 kiwis sitting in a basket that hadn’t been there at dinner.  And the next morning:  There was a whole pineapple in that basket!  The people that left those Kiwis and the Pineapple will never know how much good they did because of their very special simple gift.  We saw the hand of the Lord many times through other’s service and ministering. 

Someone asked her after 2 years of fighting cancer:  What have you learned?

She says:  Heavenly Father is REAL!

He loves me.  He listens to my prayers And He helps me.   

When River prayed she thanked God for the Blessing of Cancer.  She felt God working in her through the cancer to help her become who He knew she could become.  She said Mom, It’s like I was a caterpillar and now I’m a butterfly.  One of her favorite scriptures was 2 Timothy 4:17

…the Lord Stood with me, and Strengthened me…

She fought cancer for close to 2 years.  And then there was no sign of cancer!!  She made a goal when she was 8 to act in a play.  When she was 12 she was able to be Jane in Mary Poppins.  Oh, the goodness of God to grant a little girl her wish.  For 3 years she was able to swim and ride horses, hunt, fish, camp, play tennis.  God gave her and us SO many beautiful times. 

Every day felt like a gift.  Every dinner was SO special.  We were together.  We were HOME.   We had More up than down for 3 years. 

And then…our life changed again.  River started having awful abdominal pain – It was a full YEAR of intense pain for her.  When her pain started I found myself saying, saying to God: Don’t do this! Don’t you DARE touch her!  You can take this away!  And I was ANGRY!  Every day didn’t feel like a gift anymore.  It felt like a punishment.  She had been so good.  So faithful.  Her world got smaller and smaller.  It felt like everything was taken away – even her ability to read as she couldn’t concentrate – the pain was too much.  She didn’t deserve this and it was SO unfair.  She had already been through enough. I had my plan.  And my plan didn’t include any more pain for my daughter.  And I was not interested in His plan.


We were building a house, and I had a plate full and overflowing with homeschool, activities, kids, dishes, laundry...LIFE!  I was TOO busy.   had no extra time to seek Heaven.  It took me several months to realize I had no desire to read my scriptures, I had no desire to pray, I had no desire to be close to a God that would do this to my little girl.  


It took me several more months to realize the difference in my heart. I had walked with God for years with River’s cancer:  I had read my scriptures to be close to Him and find what He was saying to me personally, I saw His hand in everything, and fully trusted him.  When I Realized what that anger had done to me and how far I had drifted it was so shocking to my heart.  I realized I was trying to do it all on my own and I was failing.  Where once in my hurting my heart was soft and trusting, teachable and hopeful.  Now it was very hard and I could see no light. 


All of medical knowledge and medications could not find a reason for the pain, take it away, or even dull it.  This was WAY over my head.  This was bigger than I could fix.  This was bigger than any doctor or specialist could fix.  Bigger than what could be handled on Earth.   And in the middle of all this pain, her cancer came back. 


I knew that the choice to Choose Faith and to choose Trust would make all the difference .  I realized I was not where I needed to be to feel of God’s peace.  I needed to turn to God again.  And again I received the feeling:  Come back to me.  There was an urgency:  get oil in your lamp.  My prayer in the beginning was for the desire to pray.  For the desire to read my scriptures to find that relationship I had had with God before. 

 What I held to is what Nephi taught us:  I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.   I clung to that Love.  He loves her.  Medicine hasn’t taken this away.  And God has chosen NOT to take it away.  So there must be a purpose in this pain. 

 I looked to others who had every reason to be bitter at the circumstances of life:  Job, Joseph Smith, Joseph in Egypt…but they all had ultimate faith and trust in their redeemer.   I was reminded of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  our God whom we serve is able to deliver us.  but if not…their faith would remain strong.  Faith in God also includes faith in his timing.

I have felt both faith and the lack of it in my own heart.  Isn’t that what we came to Earth for?  To Feel!  To taste the bitter so we may know the sweet.  Our Heavenly Parents loved us so much that they wanted us to be like them.  To do that we needed to learn  good and evil, light and dark, bitter and sweet, joy and sadness, because there is No Other Way.   And the only way to learn that was to leave God’s presence.  I believe our experiences here are tailored to our Eternal Well Being.  God gives us what we need.  He gives us experiences and trials to help us grow.  This life is an experience in profound trust. 

Every time you feel the depth of sorrow and pain, it stretches your soul  And the more your soul gets stretched, the greater that capacity to love.  That’s why our Savior can love us SO deeply.  Because He has felt ultimate pain. 

Alma 7:11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

River EXPERIENCED this succor AS she was going through her intense journey.  Her journals are FULL of faith and Of Prayers written out and how God answered them and the feelings of peace, Love, closeness, strength and spirit.  She truly was never left alone, because she always reached up.  She was given strength beyond her own. 

I’ve been pondering why such a small girl could have such a big impact on everyone she ever came in contact with.  It was because she was sick.  It was because she was in pain.  She learned to fully trust Christ and his ability to comfort and help her through. 


I trust God loved River deeply enough to allow her to experience pain for her eternal good.  That pain in River stretched her and in that need she turned to God.  He filled her with His Love, which is the greatest of all gifts.  When His love touched her soul, it reflected in everything she did and it touched us all, to our very soul.  We can then let that light touch our soul and find the same trust.  That love helped her gain empathy and compassion.   The end Result of ALL of this is a unique closeness to God. 

We went to Houston, Texas to try to find a cure for her cancer.  It was there that River and I found ourselves in the hospital after 4 months of chemo and treatment.  She was very very sick.  President Nelson promised that April conference would be not only memorable; it would be unforgettable.  Saturday conference filled my soul with light.  Sunday morning the doctors wanted to release us to drive her the 24 hours to Primary Children’s.  They couldn’t find anything wrong.  They decided to do one last scan before releasing us home.  I was only able to catch 3 minutes of Sunday’s conference:  Elder Holland’s “A Perfect Brightness of Hope.”   It was a spiritual packet of light just for me before the doctors came in to let us know there was a very large brain tumor and a dozen smaller ones and that this was terminal.


That day our hope shifted from hope of a cure to the hope of all eternity. 

Again, my to-do-list dropped to only the essential things.  prayer was my whole life.  I am not enough for everything that’s been placed before me.  I was very overwhelmed as this time with Covid I was the only parent allowed to be with her.  How was I going to do this Without Colt?  He gave me a blessing that the answer is love.  Just love her.  And again “I will be with Thee”  I felt His presence with me.

The Lord met me where I was and lifted me there with his Grace.  When we turn to him we can expect his strength in our weakness, his enabling power to make us better IN that place.  He doesn’t meet us  AFTER all we can do.  I believe the ALL we can do is believe in Him.  Grace is his strength made complete in our weakness.  I believe it doesn’t matter where you are.  You are already enough for that grace.  He will meet you where you are, as you are, but he doesn’t intend to leave you there.  He can transform us into the best version of ourself for what the moment needs. 

They let us know how serious these brain tumors were and that she could pass quickly at any time.  It was a miracle River was able to be Life Flighted from Texas to Primary Children’s and able to come HOME for 18 days.  That airplane ride was sacred to me.  God taught me about perspective.  About the focus of our lives.  He lifted me above the world of doctors and beeping monitors into the quiet peaceful sky where I was reminded She IS hIS daughter, and he was taking her to her eternal HOME. 

Christ met the woman at her well.  He met the fishermen on the sea.  He met Paul on the road to Damascus.  He met my little girl on a dark and lonely night in her bedroom.  In the middle of the night she couldn’t sleep.  She was in a lot of pain.  It was dark.  She knew she was dying.  As we talked the most special feeling came upon us.   I didn’t visually see Him, but the strength, peace, and comfort we felt left no doubt that He was there as we sang  O Savior, stay this night with me;  Behold, ’tis eventide.  Oh, Savior, stay this night with me.  

The Lord held my heart and taught me to focus on heaven and how much she would LOVE it and thrive there.  Her greatest dream since she was tiny was to be a missionary, and her patriarchal blessing makes it very clear she has been called on a mission to the spirit world to share her faith. 

River left us with her last words being her Testimony:

She said:  I Know the Spirit World Is Real!   It’s okay to cry and it’s okay to be melancholy.  I know we’re all going to be okay.   

I saw and we’re all going to be okay in my 11 year old daughter Silver the day that River passed into heaven.  She gave me the best example of gratitude when she said “our family in heaven is SO happy that River joined them today!  Today is her Heavenly Birthday!  Can we put her birthday into heaven on our calendar every year?  Let’s make an angel food cake, and listen to her favorite songs. 

Her birthday was A month after she passed, and  it hit me like a slap in the face:  I started focusing on I don’t get to see her coming through the door everyday.  I don’t get to talk to her daily.  I don’t hear her tell me several times a day “I love you, Momma!”  Every meal I count the dishes to set.  How many of us are there again?  And it was HARD again to continue on when one of us was missing for every meal and everything we did. 

 That continues to be my cup:  She’s not here, but I need to remember what God taught me on that airplane.  It’s about what we focus on and It’s ALL about Eternity.  The only way this makes sense is to Look up!

 Here’s what I hold to now: 

*Its about what you focus on. 

*Don’t fill your life too busy to do the spiritual work to seek Him.

*Christ knows how to succor me IN THIS

*My favorite scripture:  2 Nephi 2:24 all things have been done in the WISDOM of him who knoweth all things

*Jeffrey R Holland’s words: We must constantly remind ourselves that He is God and we are not.

I loved President Nelson’s message:  There is a Healing Power in Gratitude:   counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems

I am SO grateful that God extended her life 6 years!   And the best gift of all is we have her for eternity if we live according to that blessing.  Everyday in everyway we are building an eternal family.

Death is described in 2nd Nephi as an awful monster.  When viewed from a mortal perspective:  Death is an awful monster.  It took my daughter away from us. 

 2nd Nephi 9:10 BUT O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.

The apostle paul Said   “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”  The awful monster of death is swallowed up in Christ.  He is victorious.  We will live again.  So now that only leaves the awful monster SIN.  Now that is the battle we should be most concerned about.  And it is a battle for your soul.  There is no tragedy in death, but only in sin.  But Christ has paid for that too – as we repent and turn our lives to Him.  Oh what a beautiful gift is Repentance.  He will meet you where you are at as you are as we reach out to Him. 

When Enos felt forgiveness of his sins he asked "How is it done?"  The answer:  Because of thy faith in Christ.  It doesn't really matter what "it" is; the answer is always the same - faith in Christ.  "It" can be building a ship, conquering a habit, parting a sea, walking on water, resisting a temptation, healing a relationship, or helping a daughter with cancer...How is it done?  Through Faith in Christ.  

Christ says:  These things I have spoken unto you that in me ye might have peace.  In the world ye shall have tribulation:  but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.  - John 16:33

I TRUST him with my River.  Because she is His River.   I have utmost confidence his plan for her is infinitely greater than my plan.  I trust Him with my heart. 

It is broken.  But that’s where Christ’s Grace comes in.  That’s his greatest JOY.  To heal what is BROKEN.  To mend what we can not fix. 

 The sacrament has taken on new meaning for me.  I helped dress my daughter’s body for burial.  I see that sacrament table with the bread and water laid out on it and the white cloth covering it…and I remember it represents His body.  His sacrifice.  His death.  It is right before me.  Death is always present with me because it has changed my entire world.   Joseph Smith said we should study death night and day because then we know how to live.  So I think of Christ.   (Matthew 26:39)he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. He took of HIS cup that He might Save, Redeem and Rescue us.  With Covid we don’t put the cup back in the tray.  I hold the cup that He didn’t pass from.  It holds the bread that is broken for me and for all of us.  This broken is  enough to heal each one of us in our brokenness.  Earth Has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. 

Your personal struggles, your individual sorrows, pains, tribulations and infirmities of every kind are all known to our Father in Heaven and to His Son. 

My daughter dying has changed my life.  I would have never chosen this.  But Oh, How grateful I am for My Jesus.  My burden is light through Christ.   I have found rest in my soul through the covenants we have made as an Eternal Family.  His Promises are sure.  The Path of saying goodbye was Filled and overflowing with Goodness, Mercy, and Grace sufficient for our need.  I know in whom I have trusted.  I stand as a witness that My God hath led me through MINE afflictions.  He hath filled me with his LOVE.   I’ve come through this believing in a God that is bigger than when I went in.  The scriptures have become my story:  I see myself in the pages – my doubt, my faith, my fear, my hope, my hardness, my softness, his promises, his mercy.  In the words of River:  I know we’re all going to be okay.  God shall wipe away all the tears from our eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain. (Revelation 21:4)