When I was 13 my little brother, Timmy, drowned in an irrigation ditch and died. He was just two, barely out of diapers. It was a deep, deep tragedy for our whole family. As I write these words I feel my heart swelling with – I almost wrote pain, but I think the right word is memories, sad and wonderful memories.
It was a beautiful July morning, and I left early to milk the cows. It was summer vacation, and I had a lot of work to do that day. Timmy picked up a bucket and begged to go with me. “Pleath, let me milk the cowth,” he begged. It wasn’t safe for him to be around the cows, and I told him “no” a bunch of times before I left him in tears.
As I recall we had four cows at that time. I milked them and put the milk in the cooler which circulated brine water chilled to 25 degrees over the metal cans to cool them rapidly. Our milking parlor was just a block from the house, but I drove the old truck to and from because the milking equipment and milk were heavy. As I drove home I had an increasing fear that something was wrong with Timmy. As I approached the concrete bridge that crossed the irrigation ditch to our home I had a strong feeling to look down the ditch to my left but I was in a hurry to find Timmy. I don’t know what I would have seen, but I know I didn’t do what I was supposed to.
I went to the house and called to my mother, who was just coming out of the house looking for Timmy. He had been gone only a few minutes. We ran around the house, into the fields, and down the road. Neighbors saw our panic and joined in the search. I saw my mother head off down the ditch into the neighboring fields. She climbed through a barbwire fence and continued down the ditch. I thought she was making a mistake. By now at least 20 minutes had passed. I heard her scream for help. I ran her direction, and about 100 yards down the ditch I saw her jump into the water. The ditch was about six feet across and maybe four feet deep. The sides were steeply sloped and covered with moss. It was hard for an adult to get out of the ditch. The water moved slowly when it was damned up for irrigation, like it was that day.
When I arrived she was already performing CPR on Timmy. I don’t even know how she knew to do it. CPR was almost unknown at that time. My Dad arrived. Someone had called him. I never did know who, probably one of my siblings. It normally took about 30 minutes for him to drive home from his veterinary clinic. He ran to my mother and helped with the CPR. I was only 13, but it seemed as if they had been working on him a long time when my mother suddenly looked up. This little sad scene was surrounded by maybe a dozen neighbors, half of whom were priesthood holders.
My mother’s lips were swollen and her face was white. I can’t even describe the look on her face. It was part terror, part anger, and part grief. She said, “Someone give my baby a blessing!” She said it with deep urgency, then went back to her CPR.
Her words seemed to have the effect of slamming those brethren in the chest because they collectively took a step backwards. Ten seconds later she looked up and was astonished to see that only one man had not stepped backwards. He was a neighbor from several blocks down the street, a pig farmer who handn’t been to church in 35 years.. I think his last name was Christiansen. He stood there in filthy overalls twisting his hat in his hands.
She cried. “Rulen, I know you hold the priesthood. Give my baby a blessing!” It was not a request. It was a shouted command.
“Ann, I ain’t worthy,” he replied softly.
She looked at him with eyes that could have stripped the paint off of a tractor. “God will bless my baby. I just need you to say the words.”
Rulen took a step forward, then very slowly knelt at my brother’s head. I saw tears streaming down his face. He laid both hands on his head. As nearly as I can remember he said “God, I am a sinful man. Please don’t hold my sins against this little baby. In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come back.” He said this in a sort of sobbing whisper. He stood quickly and stepped back, then walked back into the crowd. I think he left and walked home almost immediately.
By this time it had been 30-40 minutes since we had found Timmy. Permanent brain damage occurs at 3 minutes. My Dad straightened up and with a look of grief told my mother it was time to stop. My mother screamed “No! You keep working on him. He’s not dead!”
An ambulance arrived and two white-coated young men ran up to my parents and just stood there. They didn’t have anything in their hands at all. My dad demanded that they help, and they said they were taxi drivers, and didn’t know anything about medicine. At that moment Timmy took a breath. My mother screamed, “Bob, I think he’s trying to breathe.” My Dad felt his neck. “He has a pulse!” he cried. “Quick, let’s get him to the hospital.”
I ran with them as they carried Timmy to the ambulance. The drivers didn’t know how to turn on the oxygen tank in their overgrown station wagon/ambulance. They didn’t even know what those green tanks were for. When my Dad got it going there were no face masks. The last thing I knew as it roared away was that my Dad was cupping his hands over his son’s face trying to get oxygen to his lungs.
The next few days are a terrible blur. I don’t remember anything except a hollow impossible hope. Timmy was alive, but in a coma. He was breathing normally. All of his body signs were normal. The doctors were incredulous and guardedly hopeful. This was a miracle no one could deny. Timmy should not be alive.
My Mom and Dad took shifts to stay with him 24 hours a day. We were allowed once to go see him. He looked perfectly normal. His skin was warm to the touch, and he was wearing his own pajamas. He just looked asleep. I felt hope. My sister cried, then I couldn’t help it, and I cried.
It was late at night and my mother was watching him when he opened his eyes and said “Mommy, I love you.” My Dad arrived just after he closed his eyes again, and my mother was so relieved, so full of hope that she decided to come home for the first time in a week. She bathed and went to bed, planning on returning to the hospital early. My Dad called her a few hours later. Timmy had died peacefully.
I remember sobbing until my eyes couldn’t even blink. My tear glands were exhausted. I remember a thousand sad faces as I stood near the casket and shook people’s hands. I hated it. I remember a few things about the funeral, and the burial. Mostly I remember Rulen Christiansen. I remember his words, his tear-streaked face, his look of utter helplessness as he blessed my little brother. I remember his big rough hands trembling on Timmy’s tiny head.
Mostly I remember the miracle of when the pig farmer raised my brother from the dead.
Rulen straightened up his life and went back to church. I heard years later that he taught a Sunday School class where Timmy’s older brother was in the class. I don’t think Rulen knew who he was because he told Timmy’s story and wept. He wept for the wonder and power of being the instrument of God, and he wept as he said, “I am so ashamed that the only way God could reach me was through the tragic death of a little boy.”
Timmy’s death was Rulen’s miracle, but it wasn’t the only purpose for his passing. It was my miracle, and a lot of other people’s too.
When I bear my testimony that I know there is power in the priesthood, I am speaking from painful experience. When I say I have seen someone raised from the dead by the priesthood, I’m not exaggerating. That day Timmy taught me to believe – to believe all things; to hope all things; to have great faith that anything that is right is possible
When I lay my hands on someone’s head, I think of Rulen, and know that God can use anyone to accomplish his will, even a pig farmer who hasn’t been to church for most of his lifetime. When I hope for glorious things, for Zion, and the miracles that will accompany and proceed the building of that glorious city, I think of how many pig farmers there will be who don’t step back when it’s time to raise their arms to the square and exercise the power of God.
What Timmy taught me – this is the lesson I will never forget.