Friday, August 16, 2013

Gift of God

We met up with some friends at the museum again this morning and enjoyed wandering through the indoor exhibits, playing on the spaceship, flying paper airplanes, shooting stop motion films, and so forth, until the children started clamoring about going outside. So outside we went, of course, because there is even more to do outside the museum than in.

The children shot off to the playground while I moseyed over to an unclaimed bench and got ready to nurse Benjamin. I pulled out my phone for some reason—I'm not sure why because anyone who knows me knows that my phone is more often than not left neglected in my purse and that's only if I remember to take it with me in the first place. Whatever the reason, I pulled my phone out and saw that I had a new text message from Andrew.

"WHOA!" he wrote. "Sister Gillespie died in Grover. No idea how yet."

Ten words brought my entire world to a screeching halt. Around me children were climbing, jumping, screaming, banging on drums, and ringing bells while parents were scrambling after toddlers and hollering at escaped preschoolers. The world seemed to be spinning a thousand miles an hour (disclaimer: I'm not actually aware of how fast the world spins) but I was frozen in time. All I could do was stare at my phone screen while my mind filled with questions and my eyes filled with tears.

Piece by piece—truncated text by truncated text—the story came to me, while I typed my responses back with shaky hands, begging for more information.

Everyone—Grover, you see, is an annual pilgrimage for the Heisses and Gillespies alike—had gone to Goblin Valley except for Brother and Sister Gillespie. They'd gone hiking somewhere else. Somewhere remote. Sister Gillespie began to exhibit symptoms of heat exhaustion. Brother Gillespie headed out as fast as he could but it was a three hour drive to the nearest town—Boulder, UT (population 180)—to get help. A search and rescue team was organized; they recovered her body around 2:30 this morning.

Frankly, I'm still not sure I've got the story right.

I texted my mom. She called me back and told me that she had just been chatting with Andrew about it. That she had found out for him what happened because all he knew was that it happened. My mom got in contact with Shayla's mom and got the story from her. Andrew got some other details from Sarah, who had spoken to Suzy. Snippets of "the story" began trickling in from various other sources but we were in a communication black hole. We couldn't get in contact with anyone in Grover (there's no reception out there). Eventually we got a call from Karen, who stopped to on her way home in order to tearfully tell us the news.

I suppose that what happened is trivial compared to the fact that it happened.

My heart is breaking.

Breaking for Brother Gillespie, who no doubt is in turmoil over the situation.

Breaking for the Gillespie children, all of whom I love so dearly. For Michelle, who I got to know when we were living with Andrew's parents and her small family moved in with her parents—my girls love "Emily's grandma," which is what they call Sister Gillespie. For Willie, who always speaks so fondly of his mother. For Steve, Andrew's best friend. For Diana, who married Andrew's cousin and made the feeling of a familial bond an actual familial bond. For Suzy, who is so like her mother. For James, who is on a mission in Argentina Chile (he opened his mission call in Grover, a place of happy announcements and fun memories). And for Philip, who would come play with my kids just for fun when we lived up the street, and who was in Grover waiting worriedly for his parents to come back from hiking, and who still has some growing up years ahead of him.

Breaking for Karen, who lost her sister only in April and who now has lost one of her best friends.

Breaking for the Heiss children, for whom Sister Gillespie was a second mother.

Breaking for me because Sister Gillespie was my second mother-in-law (and before you start cracking any mother-in-law jokes, please understand that I adore my mother-in-law and therefore do not fully understand mother-in-law jokes).

My heart is just breaking all over the place.

The Gillespie grandchildren are basically like cousins—some more than others. Diana's son Michael, is actually second cousins to my children. Michelle's daughter Emily was the girls' very best friend in Utah. Michelle literally saved my life by taking my kids almost every day when Benjamin was in the hospital. Often it was a smiling Sister Gillespie who would answer the door when I'd go to pick them up, completely unfazed by having two extra kids running around her house.

The Heisses and Gillespies seem to exist in a tandem unit in my mind. They've been neighbours for nearly two decades. There's no such thing as "Christmas at the in-laws" without either visiting or being visited by the Gillespies.

Sister Gillespie would sometimes walk with me to or from church. She seemed to be one of the few people who understood that I enjoyed walking to church.

Brother Gillespie was one of the first people to visit me after I came home from having Benjamin. He just wanted to know how I was. And he brought me cinnamon rolls.

I have so many wonderful memories of that family. They're such a part of our lives that they come up all the time. I thought about them at the beginning of the month, when I collected three stuffed bunnies from the girls' room and then pelted them at Andrew, yelling, "Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit!" Apparently that's an actual thing, but we learned it from the Gillespies.

I thought of the Gillespies again just this past week when I was sifting through my collection of gift bags, trying to find one of an appropriate size to hold a gift for Rachel's kindergarten teacher. The one I found had some writing on the gift tag. "Welcome baby Rachel! Love, The Gillespies!" it reads in Sister Gillespie's hand. I couldn't help but think about how kind and thoughtful she is as I ripped the gift tag off and filled it with school supplies for Ms. R.'s next-year kindergarten class.

Sister Gillespie was kind. You couldn't help meet her without feeling love radiating from her. She was welcoming and thoughtful. I always felt comfortable in her home, even if I was intruding on a family gathering. And as much as she loved dessert, she was just as quick to share it.

Sister Gillespie was intelligent. She went back to school when Philip, a surprise tag-a-long baby, started school, and earned her JD. She was a practicing lawyer who often did pro-bono work for friends and those in need.

Sister Gillespie was fun and adventurous. I first got to know her eight years ago on my first trip to Grover. She hiked beside me out to Calf Creek and supplied her typical upbeat conversation all the while. Then she surprised me by jumping off the cliffs into the cool pools below with all the kids who'd hiked out with us!

Sister Gillespie had a strong testimony of the gospel. She loved serving in the church and community.

Sister Gillespie's name is Dorothy (though I don't think I've ever once called her that); it means Gift of God, and that's truly what she was to everyone who knew her.

Here's an article about it; just don't read the comments (people who troll news websites tend to make ridiculous comments). Update: Here's another article. And here's her obituary.


  1. Sweet post and tribute Nancy. Thanks for sharing, we too were shocked and so saddened by this news.

  2. Hugs. I am so sorry for your loss, Nancy. Mrs. Gillespie sounds like such a wonderful woman.

  3. I loved Dorothy, too. I was so happy to have the chance to spend some time getting to know her better when we both were adjunct at UVU and sat together at a conference. I was hoping for more such experiences. I know how much the whole Heiss family loved her; I loved her for the love she showed to all of you. Still surreal.

  4. Nerd alert: We just watched Star Trek: Skin of Evil, the episode Lt. Yarr dies in. She gives her own eulogy of sorts via a recorded message and states that "death is that state in which one only exists in the memory of others; which is why it is not an end. No goodbyes, just good memories." That was sweet to hear today.

  5. I am so sorry for the loss of someone so close to you and Andrew's Familys. Thoughts and prayers are with you and their family.

  6. You're a gifted writer Nancy. Thanks for sharing your sweet tribute to Dorothy and family.

  7. chile.

    but i guess thats irrelevant now.

    When i first read this in August, that was the only word I was going to comment at the time : Chile. Not Argentina :) But then I thought that might come across ungrateful. and really i liked this blogpost. thus the reason I chose to come back and read it again today.

    1. Hahaha! Good catch! For the LIFE of me I can't keep those two countries straight (sorry to both Chile and Argentina). :)