Alive with new spiritual splendor, Teresa immersed herself in the Gospel. Active in her Denver ward, she found special joy serving in the House of Lord during the Denver Temple dedication—she attended every dedicatory session, savoring the succor she found. One morning, as a session ended, she called my Father in tears and said: “Kimball, I heard Papa—you remember his tenor voice?—singing in the choir.”
More than anything, though, Teresa longed for a child. Nathan was a wonderful, supportive husband who encouraged her Church activity and they acutely felt the absence of offspring, praying often they might conceive. For many years, Teresa’s womb lay barren—they could do nothing but ask, hope, and wait.
And then, the waiting was over: in the spring of 1985 Teresa called to say she would give birth in August.
By July, she was aglow with divine anticipation. The Salt Lake summer had grown dry and hot and my family decided to drive to Seattle for a visit to my Father’s best friend. My brother and I could hardly wait—we had never seen the ocean; and so, early one summer morning, we set out north along I-15, bound for the Northwest coast. Our passage in our old brown Toyota soon grew terribly boring, and time seemed to stretch out beyond the horizon—my brother and I wondered if the journey would ever end.
After thirteen long hours, we finally arrived but, almost as soon as we entered “uncle�? Paul’s house, I knew something was not right. The phone kept ringing and it was my Father, not Paul, who did all the talking. My Mom stepped into another room and closed the door. My father’s face grew pale and then tears slipped from his eyes and wandered down his cheeks. No one said much to me until my Dad approached my brother and I: “boys, we need to go home.�?
We got back in the car, turned it around, and headed into the endless night. Sleep soon overcame me and I do not remember much of the journey home. I only knew that, when we arrived, my Father dropped us off and then disappeared—my Aunt Teresa, they said, was sick.
They tried to explain, but what could I understand: I didn’t even know how babies were made, so what could I comprehend about premature labor? How was I supposed to know about hemorrhage and surgical complications? I had never heard of life-support and I did not know about comas. I just knew Aunt Teresa was supposed to be having a baby and my Father, a few weeks earlier, had been very happy. A couple of nights after our return, my Dad came back from the hospital and he and my mother embraced and cried and cried. I ran to them and gave them hugs: “mommy, daddy, it will be ok. You’re ok. Be happy, stop crying.” My Dad looked at me, wishing I understood and said, simply: “Aunt Teresa died.”
And with her death, Teresa seemed to slip from our grasp, like a ghost who would not be delayed. Her daughter, Katie, survived the delivery and Nathan promised my other aunt he would “raise a Mormon girl.” He remarried, though, and not long after the tragedy he and his new family moved far away. Understandably, they started a new life and our role in it was very small. We missed Teresa, and wondered about her daughter, but life revved up again and moved with forgetful speed onto other matters.
Many years passed and my brother and I came of age. In the meantime my Mom gave birth to two daughters—our family finished at six. I completed elementary, then junior high, then high school and, in the fall of 1999, set out for BYU. My first year was intellectually harrowing as I grappled for the first time with foreign philosophers and different kinds of Mormon thinking. Through it all I grew and prepared to serve a mission. I submitted my papers in the winter of 1999 and received my call—to Mexico City—in February of 2000. In April, after finishing the term at school, I bought my suits, collected my ties, entered the temple, and prepared to leave to Mexico. As a nineteen year old, I didn’t quite understand when, the Tuesday before I entered the MTC, my Father said through remembering tears, with his hands on my head, “And, Tyler, I bless you that you will not be called—as both your Father and your Grandfather were—to lose your mother while on your mission.” How could I understand, then or now, the weight those words carried?
In all of this, Teresa was almost forgotten to me. She still lived quite brightly, of course, in my Father’s fondest memories. For me, though, she was ephemeral, a spirit whose memory faded into the mist of my earliest memories—when my Dad began mentioning Katie in his letters, I couldn’t quite grasp her importance. I did not understand the significance of the fact that Teresa’s daughter became acquainted with my sister online. I did not know what it meant when those two became friends and I did not realize the depth of my Father’s joy when he learned Katie had been baptized at age eight and that her father had followed suit—that Nathan was a man of his word. And I certainly did not quite grasp the meaning of a letter I received eighteen months into my mission.
Nathan, my dad told me, had renewed contact with our family. He was wonderful, as we had always known, and he and my Father had grown to be something of friends. More than that, though, Nathan had called my Father to say Nathan and Katie were coming to Salt Lake City.
“That’s wonderful,” my Father responded, “we’ll have you over for dinner.”
“That would be nice,” Nathan replied, “but we’re coming for more than that.”
“Oh, really,” my Dad returned, “what did you have in mind?”
“Katie and I are coming to be sealed to Teresa in the Salt Lake temple—we want you to be there.”
Nathan and Katie sealed to Teresa? Could it really be? And so many years after her death? Was it real? Do such miracles happen? They do, for a few weeks later I received the following in the mail:
“The very next week we went to the Temple with Nathan and Katie for a sealing long to be remembered. I was so impressed with Nathan’s quiet resolve [and] Katie’s exuberant understanding…. At one point at the very beginning of the Temple ceremony I felt as if an unseen door had been opened to allow into the room several folks from the other side.”
Through that open door came a host of visitors and, with that, the arc of my Father’s tragic story settled into a sort of resolution. In some divine harmony, joy accompanied sorrow and reunion, longing. There, in the touch point between temporality and eternity, many generations of Johnsons, Kimballs, and others gathered to see the sealer forge those everlasting bonds: my grandmother, once frozen and lifeless in the snow; my grandfather, once left weakened and wan by the cold; my aunt, once lost, then found, then lost again; my father; my other aunt; Teresa’s daughter; and Nathan—gathered together around the altar in the sealing room of the Salt Lake Temple, angels and humans commingling as friends, the veil all but forgotten.
Once, after she had returned to church, Teresa was staying with our family in Salt Lake. Late one night, my Father found her studying her scriptures at the table in our kitchen. He pulled a chair up next to her and watched as she read and marked. He fingered her scripture case, turning it over to see a patch that read: “gravity.” My Father looked at it quizzically and then interrupted Teresa’s reading:
Teresa, what does “gravity” mean?
She looked up and replied: “God’s love is like gravity. You can hate it, curse it, and say it doesn’t exist, but it’s always there and it always works.” And, she might have added: “invisibly, but palpably, it operates forever, drawing us imperceptibly, inexplicably, and eternally together. ”