New Harmony: Written with a heavy heart, but a light touch

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

S. Michael Wilcox in his office at the Salt Lake University LDS Institute of Religion before he retired at the end of 2009.

Wade Jewkes, Deseret News archive

S. Michael Wilcox is one of the most thoughtful writers in the church today. And his latest book will not hurt his reputation.

"Sunset: On the Passing of Those We Love" is Wilcox's foray into a very small — but powerful — literary genre: memoirs of personal grief.

The best-known example is likely "A Grief Observed," by C.S. Lewis.

The best example may be Henri Nouwen's "A Letter of Consolation," written upon the death of his mother.

But what sets "Sunset" apart is its distinctly LDS voice and view.

Few LDS authors write such intimate confessions. And as with so many solid citizens of the church, tragedy appears to strengthen, not weaken, Wilcox's faith.

I met him once — on the day he was receiving an award for his book about the temple. He mentioned, in passing, that someone had stolen his snow blower that morning.

Now, we learn, something infinitely more precious has been taken from him.

In 2010, the author lost his wife, Laurie, to cancer.

When the wife of Elder Dallin H. Oaks died, he says (in his recent book) that he worked through his grief by writing her life history.

Wilcox works through his pain by writing a love letter.

It is a book written with the heaviest of hearts, but the lightest touch.

In fact, his wife seems so palpably alive just beyond the looking glass here, it's tempting to call the book "sweet," though that would diminish the anguish and longing that bubble beneath the lines.

"Writing has become release," Wilcox writes at one point. And, indeed, the text reads like a person working through a tragedy. He turns it this way and that — examining his life with Laurie and without her from a dozen different angles. He explores the past, speculates on the future.

"These have been days of pain," he writes, "the greatest I have ever known, but also of profound love."

Like petals, the author sprinkles bits and pieces of classic poems throughout.

Like a wise preacher, he quotes scripture and gives the verses a fresh feel as he filters them through his sorrow.

In short, at its most poignant, his book seems touched by grace.

As I set it aside, I remembered the day I returned home to find my son Ian crying — I don't remember why. I just remember, as the tears flowed, he continued to color a picture with his bright crayons.

For me, it was an amazing moment where art, sorrow, love and beauty seemed to intersect before my eyes.

This week, I found that intersection again, as I read "Sunset."

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears every other week in Mormon Times. Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS