Family History

Family History vs Family Story

Of all the projects at the end of Dad’s life nothing was more passionate to him than the history he was writing of my Mother.

He attacked it in typical Dad fashion. He wrote an outline, he gave each salient section an objective, he selected pictures and started jotting down notes of things he did not want to forget.

He began writing and re-writing. Dad also warned me that he was going to need help in the way of perspectives from each of his children.

In a conversation I held with him the last Sunday of his life about this and other family history projects Dad said he felt he owed Mom to do this right.

For all his efforts, for all the fantastic detail he left for me, especially about their early life together and their courtship, it pains me to think I will need to finish this project.

I have had more than two years and it has occupied my thoughts a great deal.

As is my way, I spend part of Rootstech weekend every year doing maintenance to this site and catching up on things that need to be taken care of.

In that process, I came across this video we did for Mom and Dad on the celebration of their 50th anniversary:

Of course, that event and this video were produced 14 years ago.

It was a collaborative effort. Voices heard in that video are considerably younger. All those images had to be gathered from my siblings and their families. It left no one out up to that point in time.

In seeing it again I marvel at how much has changed since we made this video.

For example, all ten of my grandchildren came after that video and that event.

Of course, since that time, we have lost both Mom and Dad.

So very much has happened. Some hard things have been experienced. The world, inside and outside of the family, has changed.

Their story, at least as we would view it in a slideshow like above, has changed. It has continued. It has expanded. It has taken on new twists and turns.

And, of course, it continues still. Their story is not complete.

It makes me wonder: how do I catch up?

History, to me, is an accounting of what happened. The story, however, is how and why it happened, and it includes far reaching consequences Mom and Dad did not live to see (well…maybe).

Which is more important? The history or the story? And if you want to tell both the history and the story of a person or a family, how do you do it exactly?

As I have mulled these questions, even as my own history and story takes on new twists and turns, I’ve decided to deviate a bit from Dad’s original plan he outlined of Mom’s history.

I’m still going to use it – all of it – but I’m going to include his history into a new effort.

I don’t believe I can tell Mom’s story without Dad’s story included. And vice versa. Mom and Dad sometimes had a passionate and even volatile relationship. Together they could sync in mad creative fits and at other times be so at odds they could hardly look at each other. I believe Mom and Dad, together, were much more than what they came to be individually.

How do you convey that? How can I share all those complexities and still get the history and the story right?

At Rootstech I went to two classes dedicated to writing family history. I left quite unsatisfied.

Like with most things I find associated with genealogy, there is something of a strict format to doing this “right”. There are rules. There are set ways to go about this.

Nearly every idea I have had in considering this seems to break those rules. What I am thinking of how to do this does not fit within what family historians are supposed to do.

We have some outstanding family history records left from generations past. I appreciate those things but I don’t want to leave the same kind of record. I think we can do better. I think we should at least try.

When I reach back in history and try to piece together the lives of family from 500 years ago I’m limited by the fact that no matter what I do I cannot capture the essence of these people.

I was not there. I didn’t know them. I can only piece together the facts and comment on what I see.

That’s not true of my parents.

I do know them. I have had not only my own life experiences but I have talked at length with both my parents about their lives. I know their feelings.

More importantly there is a dynamic (or two) between my parents that needs to be included in any history written about them.

I want to give my best in helping my children, grandchildren and generations beyond to know my parents and the family that surrounded them in as intimate detail as I can.

It’s something of a dangerous prospect.

So many histories we read tend to glorify individuals. My parents deserve to be honored but can we do that while being real? Is it possible to create a life record that reflects weaknesses, imperfections, mistakes, missteps and failures as a part of telling their glorious story.

I believe we can produce that. I believe we can leave a better record.

Being me – my mother’s son – perhaps this is to be expected.

In my work life I have long trained my people to follow their instincts with some things. “You Don’t Have to Do What You’re Told” is a lesson I preach over and over. The idea is that in many cases there several right ways to do different things. “Rules” sometimes constrict us – and at least with some of them, they beg to be excused.

And why should I conform? These are my parents. Their history and their story is not only vitally important to me but for my grandchildren, who are too young at present to understand many things, I want them to experience my folks and not just retrace the cold statistics of their birth, life and passing.

So, casting aside all the formats and the rules, I have decided the following:

First, like the video above, this needs to be collaborative effort. I will seek out others who knew my Mom and Dad for their perspectives.

Second, my father being the ultimate geek and my mother being the mad-creative family historian, this record needs to include as many of their creations as we can include. I have literally tens of thousands of images, documents, artifacts and other associated “stuff” to help create the record.

The record needs to be more than just written words. It can include a book. It most certainly can be digitized. But it can also, in some way, include a little of what they left behind. Remember, it can be a better record.

I also feel this needs to include, where possible, grandchildren of my parents. What a rare opportunity stares at us here by getting their perspective.

How long will this thing be? I have no clue.

How long will it take to come together? I have no idea.

Just how will we get the completed projects in the hands who will keep it and share it in the years ahead? I’m not sure.

But since I’ve come to these conclusions I can tell you I’ve found an energetic groove. I can get this now off of step one – and maybe check off a few of those boxes representing the family history projects Dad left for me to complete.


Decisions and Consequences

When Gabriel and Joanne Westover of Taunton, England married in 1618 they likely had no idea how larger events would impact their family.

A son, John, was born in 1619. Then came a daughter, Johanne. Another son came in 1622, named Gabriel III, and another, named Richard, was born in 1623.

Then there is a gap in the ages of their children.

As Puritans, the Westover’s were embroiled in the overall conflict between the Crown and Parliament. Religion, theology and control of the Church of England was at the center of the conflict and it affected those who opposed the Crown.

In 1625 Charles I ascended to the throne and persecution of his enemies, which included the Puritans, intensified.

As with many other Puritan families, Gabriel and Joanne Westover reportedly took their young family to the Netherlands to escape the conflict. But it appears they soon returned to Taunton.

More children came to the family. Daughter Jane came in 1626 and Jonah was born in 1628. During the 1630s four more children would be born.

During these years the conflict escalated.

Charles I dissolved Parliament and persecution of Puritans powered what is called the Great Migration, where over a period of roughly ten years during the 1630s more than 80,000 people, mostly Puritans, sailed to the New World in order to “grow a society of Saints”.

During these years, right around the time their youngest child Joshua would be born in Taunton, Gabriel and Joanne made a fateful decision. They first sent Jane, believed to be about 14 years old, to the New World. Then they sent Jonah, age 11, in 1639.

Why these two children were sent is not known. It is written that the original intent was to migrate as a family but the Westover’s lacked the financial resources to do so. Perhaps Jane and Jonah were sent because they were old enough to be self-sufficient but young enough to have the best opportunities in the New World.

Regardless, Gabriel and Joanne would never see these children again.

Jane and Jonah stayed in America and built families. Gabriel and Joanne, like many other Puritans, decided to stay in England after civil war broke out and Charles I was defeated in 1645.

That decision, made under real world pressures, would have long-lasting consequences for the Westover family.

It is doubtful this ever crossed the minds of Gabriel and Joanne. They were concerned about just surviving.

Yet here we are, nearly 400 years later, exploring how this one decision has had a lasting impact on our family history.

There would be many others.

~ Personal and Sacred ~

When I was a teenager my Mom told me of a near death experience she had when I was very little. It was a story she would tell me at least four other times in my life.

As I work on the history of my parents I have struggled with whether or not to share this story. We are told to be careful in sharing sacred experiences and to me this was as sacred and as personal as a story can get.

But like the story of Gabriel and Joanne Westover of 400 years ago this story highlights a moment of decision that impacted our family history. It needs to be told.


Mom with the four of us not long before the ectopic pregnancy

My Mom had four of us in the span of five years. After my youngest brother, David, was born, my parents entered a period of transition that saw many significant life changes. My Nana, Mom’s mother, passed away. She was 49 and my Mom was just 25. My Dad graduated from college during these years, he started his career and we moved from the place we had first called home as a family.

During these years mom had an ectopic pregnancy resulting in a severe medical emergency.

One of the things to know about my mother is that she had some extraordinary spiritual gifts. Shortly after my parents married my mother converted, but only after having a vision related to the Book of Mormon.

She told me that story many times as well, and I’ve discussed that event with my Dad many times. It was the kind of revelatory experience I believe many of us hope for and the type you read about in books and in scripture.

Perhaps Mother was given such a gift because of her standing in her family, and the work of family history and temple that would later manifest itself in her life. Whatever the reason, Mom was prone to have connection with the other side. It was her gift.

I remember mom telling me of her severe pain and the operating room they rushed her to when this happened. They began to operate immediately and while they did Mom’s spirit separated from her body.

She looked down upon herself and witnessed no small amount of blood as they operated.

Mom described leaving the room, rising up very high and leaving the hospital altogether. She experienced what many others describe during near death experiences – a tunnel of light, a sensation of being surrounded by great love, and the presence of a Holy Being.

Mother was told she had a choice.

She could return to her body, and resume her life, being allowed to raise her children. Or, it was okay for her to stay where she was.

Mother told me it was not really a choice in her mind. She instantly asked to be returned to her body, and she was.

That was a moment of decision that impacted family history. If Mother decided not to return, how would my life be different?

While for many years I digested that question I got to see from my parent’s perspective how that decision impacted their lives as a couple.

Several years later, my folks were delighted to hear they were pregnant again. After Mom’s ectopic pregnancy she was told the odds of her having another baby were very slim.

The birth of my baby sister, Kris, came at an impactful time for me. I will never forget that day or that time of my life, it made such an impression on me.

But in discussing all this at length with both Mom and Dad individually I learned how they considered this whole event a faith affirming consequence of the choice my Mother made in coming back.

Mom was not given a knowledge of my little sister during her experience. While she and my father wanted another child – and particularly, another daughter – that was not something promised or foretold.


Dad, pictured here with the custodial crew at Mt. Diablo High School, where he was employed during these years.

Dad’s feeling about it was interesting. My parents married very young, and Dad in particular suffered with feeling qualified in being a husband, father and provider. He recalled to me a few times how as an 18-year old groom he was grilled by both of my grandfathers about how he expected to support my Mom in marriage.

Both pairs of grandparents had made significant sacrifices and contributions to set my parents up in a home for us and helped as my Dad worked several jobs to work his way through school.

After he graduated and we moved from that area, my parents experienced a kind of independence as a couple they previously had not known or felt. Having my little sister and adding her to the family was something of a certification of their union, they felt. They had finally grown up and were sitting at the adult table. That is how they felt and they were grateful.

Now that we are older the years are not the separation they once were for me and my little sister. But she was the baby, and is common with many youngest children, her growing up experience was different than mine and that of my siblings.

Dad with Kris and Debbie

That doesn’t matter now.

I know having spent time with my parents towards the end of their lives what Kris’ coming into the world meant to them. It was different and special for reasons the rest of us who didn’t walk their path can understand.

I think the natural inclination we have when we hear or read about the experiences, decisions and consequences of our ancestors is to say, “What would I have done?” or “How would I have felt?”

Those are impossible questions to answer.

But they remain instructive to us because it helps us to see their real struggles and desires.

Through knowing these things we come to appreciate their humanity, as well as their sacrifices.

Stuff of Family History

Food and Stuff of our Forefathers

When my Dad passed I inherited his vehicle. By the time that came I was well familiar with it because I had driven him all over in it.

But one day recently, now more than 2 years since Dad left, I found a button on the dash that popped out a cup holder, something I previously didn’t even know was there. It held a little tray with just enough space to hold a small amount of change.

I looked at it and marveled a bit. “Dad put that there. That is Dad’s money” I thought.

And I haven’t touched it.

It’s just quarters and dimes and pennies. Probably less than a dollar’s worth of everyday cash. Nothing special about it.

But I can’t touch it. It’s Dad’s money – there’s just something comforting about seeing it there and having it in what I still consider to be Dad’s car.

What makes “stuff” from our loved ones so…special?

~ Grandma’s Recipe Box ~

My wife somehow inherited two similar looking file card boxes – recipe boxes is how my generation would look at them. My grandmothers had them too.

Inside, on 3×5 inch index cards, are handwritten recipes, some so tattered from year after year use they have notes written in both pencil and pen.

To pull cards from these boxes now is like stepping back in time for my wife. She can see, hear, feel, taste and smell the memories from these treasured recipes.

I’ve studied these little boxes and have decided they are the most valuable bits of family history information. It’s the stuff that goes beyond headstones and family group sheets.

They are snapshots into the personalities and passions of two cherished women in my wife’s family.

We’ll scan those cards and preserve them, just as we would any birth or marriage certificate.

From these recipes we can make Grandma’s fudge at Christmas. Or her funeral potatoes for, well, funerals.

There are many ways for Grandma’s to live on.

~ Pumpkin Pie ~

Perhaps one of my favorite connections to family past comes from food.

You don’t need physical artifacts if you just know how they ate. After all, if we eat the same, we have a connection, right? Let me give you an example:

Several years ago I was chagrined to learn that National Pumpkin Pie Day falls on December 25th. I found that to be a curious fact and I began to research why.

I knew that pumpkin pie was a New England thing. I understood that many of the earliest settlers in New England, such as our Westover grandfathers, were Puritans.

A lot of our modern-day traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas were born of our Puritan ancestors.

The Puritan pilgrims of Massachusetts and Connecticut were supposedly famous for shunning Christmas. Historians have long said they didn’t celebrate Christmas at all.
They did this in protest of the Church of England, who had corrupted the celebration of the birth of Christ with pagan practices made famous during their day.

But in researching their love and use of pumpkin as part of the holiday season I found that our Puritans DID celebrate Christmas.

And I began to understand why pumpkin was such a huge element of that season of celebration.

Thanksgiving as we celebrate it today had its genesis in New England.

A “Day of Thanksgiving” could be called at any time where good fortune or the blessings of Providence were accounted for in community events.

It might have been a battle won in war or a good season of raising crops – at any time it was the tradition of British rule to occasionally call for a day of thanksgiving.
For our Puritan ancestors this usually came during harvest season.

For more than 200 years before Thanksgiving became a “national holiday” it was a custom to go “over the river and through the wood” to gather as families to celebrate Thanksgiving and to begin a holiday season of celebration that included the sacred Christmas.

Thanksgiving was usually just the start of a “holiday season” for Puritans, a time where they would gather as family for the first time all year.

Journals and newspaper accounts, such as they were, document this reality.

And they documented it then much as we do now: with invitations, with recipes, and with traditions repeated year after year – and with statistics.

Pies were a common element of these seasonal family gatherings: apple, pecan (or walnut) and especially pumpkin.


Because pumpkin was the most plentiful and, frankly, the cheapest.

Did they like it? No, they LOVED it.

In 1630, a writer wrote:

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies:
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins, we would be undoon.”

In the 1720s, the love of pumpkin was going strong:

Ah! On Thanksgiving Day, when from East and from West,
From the North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the grey-haired New Englander sees round his board,
The old broken link of affection restored.
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin Pie?

By the early 19th century pumpkin pie was so prolific that the media of the day estimated that it took 10 pies per family to satisfy their holiday cravings.

From the mid-17th century, in Windsor, Connecticut – home of Jonas and Hannah Westover – comes this common recipe for pumpkin pie:

“Pare and cut the fruit into small pieces, stew till it is soft, strain it through a coarse sieve or cullender, add milk till it is of the consistence of a thick custard; to each quart of this add three eggs, sweeten to your taste, and spice it with nutmeg and ginger. A little wheaten flour can be shaken in to thicken it. It is then to be prepared on a bottom paste, and backed like a custard pie.”

My dear wife, who is a pumpkin purist, declares this pretty close to the “right way to do pumpkin pie”.

And that’s good enough for me. I can no longer celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas without thinking of the Westovers of Connecticut and Massachusetts of 400 years ago. Or without pumpkin pie.

~ How to Preserve the Stuff ~

The old movies, pictures and journals and videos from folks now gone are important. You know I love them and you know I’ll be wrangling with the quarter of a million images I’ve gathered from all sides of our families over the years.

But I’ve really been wrestling with “the stuff”.

I’ve told you about our treasure room – and the now extra storage unit of “stuff” I have taken from my Dad’s former home.

What stays and what goes?

I know I’m not alone in grappling with that.

My mother was well known for her love of the grand babies and her talent for crocheting baby blankets. Mom just worked on them non-stop and stockpiled a ton for future grandchildren and great grandchildren yet unborn. I inherited the extras.

Every time a new baby comes along – and we’ve added 10 of our own in the past nine years – they get a new blanket from Nana.

That’s an exciting bit of stuff to still have from my mother.

But other things hold value as well. For example, my Mom over the course of her adult life collected chickens.

No, not live chickens. Ceramic, clay, wood, artistically rendered chickens. One sits above my fridge in the kitchen and it gets noticed a lot. It’s a little piece of my Mom in our home.

I don’t know what happened to all of Mom’s chickens and I don’t care at this point. I have one and that’s enough.

Same goes for my Dad’s bust of Mozart. How that thing escaped damage in all the moves is beyond me. But it dates back to before I was born.

I see it now – next to Mom’s chicken – and it reminds me of Dad.

This is all family history.

I struggle right now to understand what will become of the stuff I’ve gathered that I consider family history.

I am trying to explain it all to my children in hopes that someday it will become their cherished stuff, too.


Lessons from My Dad

Today is my father’s 81st birthday. Well, it would have been. Dad passed in November 2021.

I have not yet published the history he was working on because it is not complete. I am finding that it is difficult to finish what he began.

So many times I heard Dad say, “We need to make a record!”

But the record of his life story is one I feel I just need time – and likely a lot of help – completing.

But I will take the occasion of this 2nd missed birthday since his passing to put down on record some thoughts that are important to me.

Grief is a process — one I have thoroughly experienced since Dad passed. It is normal. It is, in my view at least, just another level of love that is hard to put words to. I experienced this with my Mother, too.

For months after her expected passing I was weepy at times and caught by surprise at other times when her memory came up. For whatever reason I have found it difficult to visit her grave.

For a guy who loves cemeteries and celebrating family I just haven’t found much to be fond of in visiting where Mom is laid to rest.

I must confess that I haven’t been back there since Dad’s funeral either.

But part of the grieving process is letting go of certain things and I hope to do that as I “make a record” of my time with my Dad at the end of his life.

I’ve detailed some of the circumstances of ending up there at Dad’s house in this post. I won’t cover that ground again.

I’ll just say it was never a plan any of us had where I would be a caretaker for Dad.

I don’t know, really, what his plan was, frankly. I don’t think any of us give much thought to being old and dying. Dad certainly never felt that was where he was at on his journey.

But in the fall of 2020 we had a brief conversation about moving forward.

I basically said, “Dad, either I live with you or you come to live with me. But you just cannot be alone any longer.”

To my great surprise, Dad agreed.

I can recall discussing the time Dad had with my grandfather in his final year. He told me about having to talk to Grandpa about giving up his car keys.

Grandpa just wasn’t hearing it. He fought against the idea that he might be a danger, that he could not see well enough to drive and that the car had sustained significant damage due to hopping curbs and cutting corners.

Dad told me he didn’t want to be that way when one of his children had to have “the talk”.

But I know Dad never really thought about the time when it would happen to him. For a planner, this was just not something he had planned for. And neither did I.

But I kind of marvel about how it all came together.

It happened during the pandemic. It happened at a time when my wife was experiencing a similar situation with her parents. It happened at a time when I had adult children living in our home who could take care of house so I could be away. It happened right after I started a new job and they were open to the idea of working remotely due to Covid.

We decided to stay together in Dad’s apartment because Dad’s doctors were so close by and every doctor appointment would mean a 100-mile drive if he came to my already full house in Cache Valley.

It was a kind of obvious decision. So I moved in and just like that our lives became embedded in each other.

We had already been through the Covid thing with Dad. Though vaccinated his journey with Covid was complicated by his cancer.

In late September 2020 he was trying to get in to see his doctor and they required a Covid test. He took it and on the day I arrived he was informed he tested positive.

He had zero symptoms and felt fine. However, because he was a cancer patient, they wanted to see his lungs and sent us to the hospital for X-rays. I took him there and hours later we were dumb struck to hear a doctor there explain that Dad had double pneumonia.

While Dad had no symptoms at that time the doctor predicted that within days he would be suffering and, boy, was he right.

The doctor had ordered an oxygen tank and told me to put Dad on it at night. I did that but by the time that weekend rolled around he was on it 24/7 and Dad was as sick as could be.

This is really where my caregiving journey began.

I’m not the caregiver type. My sisters largely took care of my Mother and I assisted at times only when Dad would call to have me come help move her when she could not help move herself. Considering all the intimate care my Mom required I never considered myself an active participant in that mostly because that just wasn’t work I could do.

But here I was with Dad and the first real crisis I faced was getting through Covid. As many others experienced, Covid was many and different things to different people. In Dad’s case, it was difficult for me to understand all the dynamics presented with his cancer and how Covid acted with it.

He ended up in the hospital with Covid for a few days and I can recall those many hours being deep in research trying to understand the cancer my Dad had.

He passed out twice during his run with Covid. Was that Covid or cancer? What caused it? How could I ensure he wasn’t standing when these episodes would hit when he passed out? Would Dad go through covid and cancer only to lose his life to banging his head due to a fall?

The first time it happened he was in the bathroom. He had washed his hands and was making his way back to bed with his walker and he kind of leaned to one side.

He said, “Jeff, you better get over here-“ and down he went. I got there only to save his head and shoulders from hitting the floor. That experience began a routine of me talking to him every time he would black out. Sometimes he was out cold and could not respond. He’d be breathing and I’d feel he was safe, but I’d have to wait a minute for him to come to.

Other times he would not be able to see or move but was still with it enough to respond. He would always say the same thing, “I’m here – hold on.”

Now, one thing Dad and I discussed at other times about his history is that he didn’t want his cancer to define him. I am pleased, after all these months since he passed, my memories and feelings for Dad really have little to do with the disease that ultimately took him. But I feel there are valuable lessons to be had from the last 18 months of his life and the cancer was pretty much the center of everything. It limited him and it freed him, all at the same time.

Whether God intended him to change as a result of cancer is something we’ll never know. But I do know that Dad experienced worlds of change during that time and I think it is important to note them in his history.

When he had Covid I felt a need to give Dad a blessing. But, not wanting to expose anyone else to Covid, I called my Bishop for advice. He told me he felt I could give Dad the blessing alone.

Within minutes of that conversation there was a knock at the door and there stood the Harrisons, my Dad’s ministering couple – all masked up and holding yet another goodie plate. Dad had called them telling them not to come over due to covid. So, of course, they came.

Brother Harrison is retired military, a full bird colonel. He’s about as solid as they come and I told him immediately about wanting to give Dad a blessing without passing along Covid.

Brother Harrison said he understood but, as luck would have it, they had recovered from Covid and he would gladly assist.

So right then and there we gave Dad a blessing.

My experience in giving blessings with pretty extensive, but most of the time I gave those blessings with Dad and for other people – many times for my Mom. I was nervous but felt compelled to bless Dad that he would recover from Covid and he would have time to do the things he wanted to do.

I can recall afterwards thinking, “What did I just say?” but Brother Harrison put his hand on my shoulder and said, “That was the right thing, Jeff. You got it exactly right.”

And Dad did recover from Covid.

I had no expectations going into living with my father because I never expected to do it.

Several things took me by surprise, the greatest of those being that my relationship with my Dad went to a whole new level. Part of that I think is because we had reached a plateau of sorts in our roles. We were, at this stage of time, similar in that we were both sons, husbands, fathers and grandfathers. We likely had more in common that we ever had before.

That led us to talk frankly, candidly and more importantly, constantly.

Dad’s cancer and how we dealt with it all was kind of a common denominator for all our conversations. He knew he was dying. I knew it. We didn’t shy away from it.

We also didn’t dwell on it. Things were always very positive and forward-looking with Dad. Always.

Six months after my mother died, my sister and I listened to a surgeon after nearly 9 hours of exploratory surgery try to explain my Dad’s cancer. That is when I realized Dad was dying. The doctor gave him five years. That was in 2015. Here I was with Dad in late 2020. His time was short.

Though we didn’t really bring it up the cancer and his mortality became a kind foundation for a lot of our conversations.

In the previously mentioned post, which talks a little about Dad’s broader discovery with family history, we often wandered into discussion of the post-life experience and who Dad would meet there. We had discussed it in the past in regards to my mother, who must have had reunions we can only imagine.

These were hopeful things for Dad, not only to be in presence of his parents and other loved ones again, but to meet some of the heroes of our heritage that passed before he was born.

One such individual is Albert Smith, his paternal grandmother’s grandfather. Albert’s life story is presented in this post.

Dad and I had worked for a few years on a still-uncompleted video project of Albert’s life. For Dad, it had become a tender tale. Dad very much wanted to meet Albert.

These deep-feeling conversations with Dad are some of the most precious to me. Dad was not one to get weepy but he would when discussing individuals he admired.

One he admired more than any other is my Mom.

I was there with Dad in the weeks and days after Mom’s passing. Although we all knew Mom would be leaving I was shocked to see how much it threw Dad. He literally did not know what to do with himself when she left.

During my time with Dad we talked about Mom more than any other person.

We talked about their courtship, their first years together and the many miracles of my Mother’s life that came in overcoming the challenges of her youth and the things she had to accept in marrying Dad.

Perhaps if only because he had nobody else to confess to Dad unloaded his private grief and regrets about his relationship with Mom from different parts of their lives.

These sacred moments were of a nature I cannot completely share. He did not have to share those things with me.

But we also shared my feelings about Mom, and experiences I had with her he knew nothing about. It was liberating in a way to be able to share things about Mom that Dad knew nothing of.

One of the things I have not publicly shared of my time with Dad was Mom’s constant presence in that house. It was a palpable thing, to me, and I told Dad often when I felt her influence.

In October 2021, our daughter was expecting a baby and she wanted her Mom home for the birth. Sandy was again out in California and, as was our routine, I had my sisters care for Dad while I ran out there to bring Sandy home over a weekend.

It was a Friday night, after work, and I was rushing to get on the road so I could get back as soon as I could. My sisters were coming over, and bringing food, so I knew Dad was in good hands. But I was out of time and things were undone, such as the dishes.

Dad told me not to worry about them. He said he would do them, which was a ridiculous idea.

I toyed with texting my sister to ask her to do them and as I was entertaining those thoughts I heard my mom in my head say, “Get in there and do them, young man”. I simply could not leave the house without them done, so I did them.

Dad heard the water running and said, “What are you doing?” I told him that Mom told me I couldn’t leave without doing them and he laughed. “I’m serious, Dad”, I said.

“I know,” he said. “I feel her here too.”

Dad never had profound spiritual experiences. Ever. We talked about that a lot. My Mom had a lot of them and I think it bothered Dad a little that he never did.

In fact, Dad confessed to me during one of our conversations that he knew at about the age of 10 that Joseph Smith was a prophet. He didn’t read about it, he didn’t have a vision or any kind of experience. He just knew.

From the very beginning, Dad said, he felt what he was taught by his parents, primary teachers and countless others he associated with at Church was right and true.

That is a spiritual gift, as valid as any gift my mother had with her many manifestations as a convert to the Church.

Mother’s living and dying experience showed us how close the other side is as we prepare to leave this life. I think each of us as her children saw moments of these during her final days. Dad had no such experiences, though he really wanted them.

I know this because he would have told me if he had them. I often asked him and he always said no – no dreams, no visits, no visions.

Were there things I learned from my father I did not know during these days? Yes, there were many.

I will share them as I tried to record them – as each of these histories that Dad was working on somehow gets finished.

I cannot write them as he would have.

We talked about this too. Dad always claimed I was the better writer but Dad is a better organizer of thoughts. Some of what I have from him are just outlines, but they are brilliantly organized.

These days I don’t think of Dad very much as a man with cancer. In fact, I can hardly think of Dad as being passed on. He’s very much alive to me.

In recent weeks, as I have tried to find motivation to step up my family history efforts again, I have come to two unexpected decisions about the direction I am going to take. I won’t share those decisions yet but I will share that I know when my Dad is with me on something.

During our time together we came to think similarly, especially when a decision needed to be made. I learned that part of caregiving with Dad was to not make decisions for him. I learned to just accept what he wanted, especially as it related to his health.

On the night he died the last person he spoke to was Joann, who had called to check up on him. They had a really good conversation and later Joann told me how surprised she was in the strength of Dad’s voice. But not long after they hung up Dad got really sick – as sick as I had ever seen him.

He was just two days away from his final treatment and these were always days of anxiety because his “episodes” were more frequent and dangerous. I gave him injections, which helped him through these episodes, every six hours.

As I was giving him his 9pm shot he was holding his hands on his chest. I asked him, “Dad, what are you feeling?”

He said, “I don’t know. This feels different.”

“Are you having a heart attack, Dad?” I asked, knowing this would likely happen at some point because the rush of hormones caused by his cancer would damage and weaken the heart suddenly.

“No, it’s not that” he said.

Within a few minutes the shot did it’s thing, and he seemed recovered. He fell asleep as I watched him from the chair in the corner of the room, listening to his breathing. In about an hour, Dad woke up and wanted to use the restroom.

So, as was our routine, I positioned his walker by the bed, he stood up, and made his way into the restroom. He was in there only a few minutes and I heard him pound on the wall.

This was also a routine we had long established. That pounding on the wall happened when he was starting to black out and couldn’t use his voice to call me. I ran in there and caught him at the last second, just before he went down. He came to, and we were able to get him back to bed.

“Dad,” I told him. “No matter what, you need to let me be with you the next time you get up, okay?” He nodded, then said he was okay and fell back asleep.

Around midnight I heard him get up. I went running back to the bedroom and again caught him just as he was going down. When he came around again, I said, “Dad, we agreed you wouldn’t try to get up without me.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I forgot.”

Just after he said this he started to flush again and I had to lift him back into bed. Even though it had been only three hours I was told by the doctor that in a moment of distress I should give Dad another shot. He was clearly in distress to me so I gave him another shot. Dad came to as I was finishing.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Again, Dad was clutching his chest, and he was breathing heavily.

“Dad, do I need to take you in? I think you’re having a heart attack. Should I take you in or call 911?”

“I’m not going back there, son. Not ever. I’m fine. I’ll sleep.”

Those were his last words to me. The shot stopped his distress and he stabilized and fell asleep. I stayed in there until 1:10am and felt pretty confident he was safe.

So I laid down, setting my alarm for 3:00am to give him his next shot.

At that time I found him – gone.

He had gotten out of bed, went to the bathroom, and had his walker up against the side of the bed. I think he died as we all imagined he would – on his feet. He had fallen to his knees and was draped over the front of his walker, his long arms stretched out on the bed in front of him.

I immediately called 911 but I knew he was gone. I knew. I did everything they told me to do and within minutes the apartment was filled with first responders.

When the first of them arrived he offered to take over CPR for me and it was only then that I realized Toby was still in his cage, literally a foot from Dad’s head. He had witnessed everything and never made a sound. I picked him up, crate and all, and took him out to the other room. It was out there that I heard the lead first responder ask if Dad had an advance directive, which I had forgotten all about. I answered yes, they read it and they stopped working on Dad.

I was in shock. I should not have been, but I was. I never had a feeling that Dad would leaving so soon. But as I spoke with the medical examiner, explaining what I could of Dad’s condition and medications, I came to accept things in a very clinical sense.

Of course it was the cancer. Of course it was a heart attack or a massive stroke or something. Everything I had learned about how this cancer took lives had passed right in front of me.

As the first responders packed up their gear, the police officer assisting had called the mortuary and they would come soon to pick up the body. They all left and Toby and I were alone, with Dad’s body back on the bed. Toby jumped off my lap and headed back towards the bedroom – then stopped when he got to the door, hung his head and slowly walked back and jumped in my lap again.

The mortuary came, and in a scene reminiscent of my Mom’s passing, they left a rose on the bed as they took the body away.

It was only after they left that I completely lost it. I let out a cry from deep within as Toby tried his best to comfort me. That sacred moment of mourning was necessary and I knew Dad was there for it. I don’t know how I knew it. I just did. I know my Mom was there for it, too.

All that I thought, all that I felt, all that I had been through not only that night but for those many months with Dad were important and special and tragic and life-changing for me.

For days, weeks and months afterwards I gave in to so many thoughts holding myself responsible for Dad’s experience that night.

I couldn’t escape it.

I should have seen the signs, I should have taken him in, I should have done whatever different so that the outcome could have been better.

Slowly I came to realize it couldn’t be better. Dying is part of living. We all go through it, however differently.

That Thanksgiving, that Christmas and that long winter were not easy months for me. I prayed for relief from the guilt.

Then Dad gave me a reminder from the other side.

Sandy’s Dad was in the final months of his life. He was fighting dementia.

Sandy had become very tender with my Dad in his final months. She would come home but stay with me at Dad’s place – so she was never really “home” during the past couple of years. She wanted to support me, yes, but she also wanted to help Dad in any way she could. For Dad, that meant food, even though most foods Dad had issues digesting due to his illness. But Sandy would bake and if it was cookies or pies or meals of any kind Dad loved the love put into the food.

Dad gushed over her, almost to the point of embarrassment at times. But he really, really loved her for being my companion. He knew the purity of her heart. Those months with Sandy coming in and out were precious to us all as it gave us opportunities to share with each other that life previously had not. In Dad Sandy had another she could confide in about her own father. These two men could not have been more different. But Dad knew what Sandy’s father meant to her and honored it in a way that Sandy needed.

Sandy would sometimes hear the conversations Dad and I would have and she’d just listen knowing we were having never-to-be-had-again moments. It was a sacred time with a lot of love.

Part of that love came from Sandy’s Mom, who would send a card now and then and, when I would go to California, she’d look me in the eye and say, “Jeff, how is your Dad doing?” I tell her the latest and she’d always say, “You tell him we’re praying for him and that we love him.”

Dad would do the same. Constantly. In fact, Dad would say he could little complain about his trials since Sandy’s Dad was having it so much worse. It meant a great deal to me to hear those prayers and feel that support going back and forth.

Several months after Dad passed Sandy again headed out to California. Her Dad had progressed to the point where each trip she didn’t know what she would see once she got there or if her Dad would even be there when she returned. Every trip was a heartache, coming and going.

At one point, some tough news arrived and Sandy was distraught. It was during this moment I came to understand that maybe some of what I went through with my father would be of service to my wife as she experienced things with her Dad. In that moment of contemplation, I felt Dad’s presence. I have felt it at other times too, always around one family situation or another. The connection I felt with Mom while with Dad was familiar and now I feel it with Dad, too.

Sandy’s father passed in September 2022, about ten months after Dad died. And, yes, I can not shake the grief my dear wife still deals with but I can understand and listen as she works through it.

I cannot help but think of these two family patriarchs – her Dad and my Dad – now on the other side. They share grandchildren. They share Sandy and me. Of course they remain concerned and engaged.

Do they influence us, as they say our ancestors do? Are they embedded in our lives, as they say our ancestors are?

My answer is yes. My Dad is still my Dad.

I know these two decisions most recently made in relation to my family history work are something Dad is aware of and approves of. I have felt the presence of both Sandy’s dad and my dad as we have gone through some new trials these past six months as well.

The point I guess I’m trying to make in more than 4000 words here is that my Dad’s history isn’t yet complete. He’s still making that history. And we are as well adding to his history by the things we do as his family.

Dad’s birthday is just a marker on a thing of this world. Where he is now I’m not even sure that date carries any meaning.

But I like marking his birthday. It’s a happier marker than recalling the day of his death.

Well, what happened that day and the months leading up to it have now been sufficiently recorded. Additional memories may still come up, of course. But the tale has been told and we can focus going forward on how he lived.

For that I am very grateful.

Gary Gillen

Gary Edward Gillen Obituary

Lovingly written by Gary’s beloved companion, Barbara Gillen

He was born to his parents, Edward Francis Gillen and Berneda Elene Cox, in Powell, Wyoming. He spent his childhood years with his older sister, Bobbi (Barbara) and his younger brother (Larry) Dean Gillen.

They were quite a team.

Gary Gillen

They had lost their father early on when Gary was 13, so he knew to be the protector for his mother and siblings.

He attended school through college in Powell and graduated Powell High School in 1960. After some college he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1963 in Denver, Colorado. He was transferred to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, where he first met his sweetheart, Barbara Malone, on a blind date. They instantly fell in love and shortly thereafter he proposed to her and they were married.

Gary Gillen

Gary then went to Aircraft Loadmaster School at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. After graduating from loadmaster school he returned to Suisun, California where they lived.

Sometime later Gary and Barbara were blessed with twin daughters, Cynthia and Sandra. A few years later their son, Greg, arrived and four years later a third daughter, Terri, was born.

Gary Gillen

In 1964, with his honorable discharge from the Air Force, Gary and his family moved to Modesto, where he immediately began working as a construction laborer. He worked for several different companies, digging and paving roads nearly 32 years, many of those years as a foreman.

During the growing up years of his children, the protector in him decided to introduce his family to his church, as he invited the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to come into our home and teach us the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He then was able to baptize his family in 1977 and one year later Gary and Barbara were sealed as a couple and family for time and all eternity in the Oakland Temple.

When finally retiring from the construction union he began driving a charter bus for Storer Transportation, where he worked for 18 years. Then it was time for him to retire due to the beginning problems with dementia.

While he was still capable of driving, Gary and Barbara began to do some traveling to visit all the children and their families more often – 16 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and another on the way.

In 2016 he became unable to drive at all. So most of the time was spent at home visiting with family and friends and having game nights with lots of laughter and singing songs accompanied by Pops on his harmonica.

Gary Gillen

He was a wonderfully devoted provider and an amazingly loving husband and father to us all.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister, his aunts and uncles, and many cousins. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, daughter Cindy (Bud), daughter Sandy (Jeff), son Greg (Stacy) and Terri (Adam), and by his brother, Dean Gillen.

We are grateful to Community Hospice in Hughson, California for their many kindnesses. In lieu of flowers it was Gary’s desire that donations be made to the missionary fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Funeral services for Pops will be on Wednesday, September 21st, at 10am Pacific time in Modesto, California. Those wishing to join in online via Zoom please use the following link: