We Are What We Create: The Memoir of a Latter-Day Saint

In this week’s guest blog post, Laura Walth shares how love for her brother and her religion inspire her creativity.


 

“Out of the bad comes the good” is a phrase my brother Phil often liked to repeat during our Sunday morning phone conversations. Phil so desperately wanted me to finish my memoir, to know what life was like for the eight years before he was born. He felt mine was a story that needed to be shared.

 

He had no idea about the struggles I put myself through to get to where I am today. He wanted to know it all. He instinctively knew he didn’t have much longer to live but denied death to hear my story and know how it was going to end.

 

Phil and I were never very close growing up. He annoyed me to the point where I didn’t like being around him.

 

When he was in 2nd grade and our parents were out of town, I got so mad at him I kicked a hole through his bedroom door and knocked his pet, Myrtle the turtle, to the floor. I felt sorrier for my grandmother, who was taking care of us; she didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to explain what had just happened. It scared both my brother and me.

 

After that, we just left each other alone. I found out much later in life that he was afraid of me yet always admired me as his big sister.

 

In 1995 I received a call from my sister in South Dakota. Our brother was in the VA hospital and not expected to live. He had been diagnosed with AIDS and had pneumonia. We all went to say our goodbyes.

 

We were prepared for his death, but he didn’t die. He later told us it was the love he felt from us that gave him the desire to live.

 

We had to find a place for him because we weren’t prepared to have him live with us in his condition. We found him a group home to stay in until he decided to move into an apartment with someone he’d met at that place for the terminally ill. They weren’t ready to die. They moved to Arizona, where his partner died several years later.

 

My brother moved to Florida, where he lived with AIDS for many years. He survived cancer, a staph infection that could have killed a healthy person, and pneumonia several times throughout his life. It was a stroke that left him unable to walk or talk and took away his quality of life, yet he chose to hang on. Ten days before he passed away, my sisters and I let him know it was okay to let go. We expressed our love for him over the phone. I made a promise to finish my memoir and then wondered what good that would do if he wasn’t here to see the finished product.

 

Having faith that there is life after death gives me the belief that his spirit lives on and my story needs to be shared. I feel him smiling as these words appear before me. Making that promise to him made me believe that he’d be the muse I needed to create a life story for a book.

 

That’s how I arrived at the title for my memoir.

 

I have wanted to be a Saint since childhood, but I was not born into the Mormon faith. My husband and I moved from North Dakota to New York in 1974. In 1982 a Jewish friend of ours and his Christian girlfriend discovered something that they said “just changed” their lives. We were curious to know more, and we found what we were looking for. They didn’t join the LDS Religion, but we did. Mom joined about seven years later.

 

Phil was very concerned for us. He thought for sure we’d joined a cult and convinced Mom to join as well. Then he saw positive change in Mom. She no longer needed a drink to calm her once-troubled soul. She found peace and joy in life without the alcohol. Later, he told me it was the best thing that ever happened to her.

 

The conflict taking place in California between the Mormons and the gay community was what brought my brother and I together. It was called Proposition Eight and regarded same sex marriage. A commercial was made that depicted Mormon missionaries in a very bad light. It bothered me so much, I called my brother to ask what he thought about what was said about Mormons in this commercial. He said he was upset that the gay community was wasting good money that could have been spent on far worthier causes than bashing Mormons for their beliefs.

 

That phone call changed our relationship for good. We found a common ground that let us open up about past experiences that kept us apart for so many years. We discovered that it was fear that kept us from communicating: He was afraid of me because of what had happened when he was a child, and I was afraid he’d seek revenge for what I’d done to him.

 

We became friends. He called me on Sundays before I went to church. When I was teaching Sunday school, I would share my lesson with him, and when I was asked to give a talk at church, I would share that with him. He would give me feedback.

 

While looking for photos of my brother, I found the two below. On the left is my father, and on the right is my brother.

I never realized how much Phil looked like our father until I saw these pictures. Like me, Phil also felt he could never please dad no matter what he did, including joining the 82nd Airborne.

 

One time Phil told me I’d brought tears of joy to him because he finally understood that my religion is about service and compassion. He felt my love for him, and he understood that it was more about love than being judgmental of others.

 

So, Jack and he visited an LDS church service in Florida to learn more. Phil then shared how much he’d enjoyed learning more about the religion through the Sister Missionaries he invited to his home. He wasn’t ready to make a commitment to membership, but at least he was willing to find out more. Whenever anyone in the gay community would start Mormon-bashing, he defended the faith. He was proud to tell them that his sister was a Mormon.

 

At first, I thought it a bit presumptuous to think of myself as a Saint. My life experience has helped me see how I used to be an overachiever, attempting to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. Writing my memoir has helped me to change my mind. I can replace negative thoughts with positive ones about the image I want to create. It’s not easy living the life of a Saint, but it’s a fun challenge.

 

To fulfill this calling means being a person who is good, kind, and patient. I can be recognized as a Saint because of the way I live the rest of my life. If we are what we create, then I will truly strive to be a Latter-Day Saint. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect; it’s just something to aspire to before the end of my life on Earth. It’s a work in progress.

 

We Are What We Create: A Memoir of a Latter-Day Saint won’t just be about the Mormon religion; it will be a story about the life experience that led me to where I am today. My goal is to have it published by Pen Women Press in time for the 49th NLAPW Biennial in Des Moines, Iowa, which I volunteered to host in April 2018 because I believe I can handle the challenge.

 

Phil always encouraged me to run for a political office. He liked how I listened to both sides of a story and didn’t judge others for their beliefs. My brother would have been thrilled to hear about my involvement with the National League of American Pen Women.

 


Laura Walth is President of Des Moines Branch NLAPW. She also serves as Outreach Chair for our National society and as Chair for the coming NLAPW Biennial in 2018. Photos appearing herein are from her private collection.

 

WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!

Comments

  1. Thank you Laura for sharing a sweet piece of your memoir. I am looking forward to reading more. Your brother was a kind man, and I am sure you miss him very much. I am preparing to write a memoir too–but I know one has to be ‘ready’ to write it. Thank you for accepting the great big challenge of hosting and helping plan the biennial conference. I have never been to one yet, but I do plan on 2018! All the best!

    • Laura Walth says:

      Thank you Linda for planning to come to the biennial! I’ve been a member since 2005 and last year was my first biennial. It was so exciting to meet so many members that I wanted to attend another one. At that time I had no idea I would be planning to have it in Des Moines. Just being exposed to so many creative women has been a real motivator for me. Thank you for your inspiring words about my memoir. That also helps encourage me to get this book finished that I have been working on for over ten years. It feels like it is finally coming together. Keep working on your memoir even when you’re not ready because when you are ready you will have the material you need to put it together.

  2. Great story Laura. Thanks for sharing~

  3. Charlene Holloway says:

    This story is a wonderful, Family-oriented story of true love for each other.

  4. Laura Walth says:

    The only thing that keeps me from feeling vulnerable or scared is to really think about the theme “We are what we create”. That’s what reminds me to change my mind and create the positive thoughts. Like the child who told his mom, “fail stands for first attempt at learning” or something I heard in a talk at church yesterday, “everything you’ve ever wanted lies on the other side of fear”. I’ve decided to stop being afraid to face my fear of failure and learn from my life experience. How I’ve come to that point in my life is the story that needs to be shared. Thanks for your words of encouragement.

  5. Shelly Thieman says:

    I really enjoyed Laura’s story about her relationship with her brother, Phil, and her aspiration to be a saint. Our stories are what bring us together and help urge us to grow and expand. It can be difficult (and scary!) to share experiences that were not our ideal, but were crucially formative for us. I commend Laura for her honesty and willingness to share her story!

  6. Sara Etgen-Baker says:

    Thank you, Laura, for sharing your touching story and memoir. I appreciate the personal nature of your post and your vulnerability. And I like the title of your memoir and wish you the best in getting it published.