My dear mother, Ruby Sikahema, passed away peacefully in her sleep last month after a long battle with diabetes. Her funeral was held in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 13. The following are my remarks made at her funeral. I share them as a Mother's Day tribute.
From my earliest memory, the gospel and the church was always important and a high priority to my mother.
Mom had a family friend named Talafaiva sew a little tupenu — lava-lava or skirt — for me, which I wore every Sunday with a little ta'ovala — a fine woven mat worn at the waist — white shirt and tie to Primary. It was and is still today the uniform of the Tongan missionary. The impact of that small, albeit insignificant lesson in Tonga nearly 50 years ago was passed onto my sons, who wore only white, collared shirts with ties since they were toddlers to church. I wanted my sons to grow up being comfortable and used to the look and feel of a Mormon missionary. Even now as returned missionaries, on their own in college and one married, they only wear white shirts to church, never blue or pink or stripes. My married son, LJ, has two little boys. They only wear white shirts. My mother's influence in Tonga almost 50 years ago reached through two generations of her posterity and spanned the globe from Tonga to America to London, England; Hong Kong, China; and Hawaii, where my sons served faithfully.
I remember other little lessons as a child. My mother would gently tap my hand if I reached for the sacrament with my left hand. She would nod for me to use my right hand. I was an adult when I learned the sacrament is still effective no matter which hand we used. When I pointed out to her that others take the sacrament with their left hand, she would say to me what I often heard throughout my teenage years, "I don't care what everybody else or your friends are doing." So, why did she do that?
She repeatedly told me that my right hand is my covenant hand, and the hand we use to sustain church officers and the ward librarian. Mom viewed taking the sacrament with it as preparation and another reminder of the significance my right hand would play in my life, like raising it to the square to baptize and taking my bride's hand with it across the Temple altar someday. Mom insisted I kept BOTH hands and my heart clean, physically and spiritually, as I blessed the emblems of the Lord's Supper.
I repeat for emphasis so you don't misunderstand me, the sacrament is good with either hand. I think my Mom knew I'd figure that out. I did. But by the time I did, I was used to it and I've never taken the sacrament without thinking of those lessons.
Mom, I've kept my hands clean and have made the sacred covenants you prepared me for. Last Sunday, general conference, as I raised my right hand to sustain Thomas S. Monson as our prophet, seer and revelator — I thought of you gently tapping my left hand and pointing to my right hand, which I held high for you to see.
When I was 5 or 6, two significant events seared into my memory just how important the priesthood is. First, Queen Salote died and Tonga mourned the Queen's passing for a year, which was followed by the preparation for the coronation of her son, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, her successor. The second event happened a year after the coronation Elder Thomas S. Monson, then a junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, came to Nuku'alofa to create the first stake in Tonga.
My public elementary school — Lau Tohi — practiced for months lining the main road in Nuku'alofa with thousands of other schoolchildren from public and private schools, waving little Tongan flags for the day the royal motorcade would pass. Even as a child, I understood how historic it was and how important the king was.
When Elder Monson came in the fall of 1968 to create the first Tongan stake, my mother pointed to him from where we sat and said, "Koe siana ko e, oku kau ia he kau Apositolo 'ae Otua. E 'iai e aho teke ma'u e puletapu tatau pe oku ne ma'u, ka he 'ikai teke Tu'i. Ka oku mahu'inga ange ae puletapu koia he mafai oku ma'u he Tu'i."
"He is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. One day, if you're worthy, you will hold the very same priesthood he holds, but you can never be king. But the priesthood of God is more important and more powerful than the king of Tonga."
I never, ever forgot that powerful lesson.
I had many reasons for bringing my parents to live with Keala and me back east in Mom's final months. We had just become empty nesters; we have access to resources and the best doctors and facilities where we live. Mom would have not only extraordinary medical attention but she would be treated like a queen. Mom had two, young, African-American nurse's assistants named Brenna and Malika, who were her two primary caregivers along with a group of speech and physical therapists, nurses and doctors. Brenna and Malika LOVED Mom. After Mom's stroke, they cared for Mom around the clock — changed her, fed her, washed her — everything. They were off the day Mom passed but came to help my sister, Lynette, and Keala prepare and dress Mom for the mortuary.
My other reasons for bringing Mom east were more selfish. I left my home at 17 for BYU and I've never lived again with my parents. I wanted them to experience the fruits of my labor and the Lord's blessings in my life. I wanted them to see my work. Every day, they watched mesmerized as their little boy delivered the news on TV in Philadelphia. As the other residents learned they were my parents, Dad set up chairs in their room and invited them to come watch their famous son. I know Mom was both proud and a little embarrassed.
There was a more important reason why I brought them back east. Because of Mom's health, they hadn't been to church or the temple in over a year. They were never able to attend back east either.
But having them in my home also required their records in my ward. As a counselor in a stake presidency, I sought the privilege of signing and issuing my mother her last temple recommend.
Almost two weeks ago, I sat at her bedside with my bishop, Bret Rigby, who is also our home teacher. I translated into Tongan each of the bishop's questions. Then alone, Mom and I sat quietly in a room in Moorestown, N.J. — so far away from Vava'u — and I reviewed each of the temple recommend questions with her. She nodded for yes and shook her head for no, because her stroke left her unable to speak.
I asked and received permission from Bishop Rigby months ago to bless the sacrament for Mom every Sunday at the nursing home. The beauty, simplicity and sanctifying nature of the sacrament has new meaning for me now. Besides being unable to speak, Mom's stroke also left her incapable of swallowing. With my forefinger and thumb, I would crumble a small piece of bread — placing just a small grain in her mouth. I would dip my finger in the tiny sacrament cup and moisten her mouth as she closed her eyes and licked her lips with tears rolling down her cheeks. Two weeks ago, Bishop Rigby accompanied me to issue Mom's recommend and bless the sacrament. When I finished preparing the sacrament, Bishop Rigby surprised me by handing me his iPad with the Tongan version of Doctrine and Covenants, Section 20. He whispered to me, "President, if this is the final time, why don't you bless it for her in Tongan?"
I could hardly contain my emotion as I knelt before a singular little sacrament cup and a tiny crumb of bread. I was ordained a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood 35 years ago, but I've never blessed the sacrament in my native tongue until that day.
"E Otua koe Tamai Ta'engata, oku mau kole ki ho'o afio 'i he huafa o ho Alo ko Sisu Kalaisi, ke tapuaki'i mo faka tapui ae ma ni kihe ngaahi laumalie o kinau tolu kotoa pe e ilo ai; ke nau ilo 'ihe faka manatu kihe sino 'oho Alo, o faka mo'oni'i ai ki ho'o Afio, e Otua, koe Tamai Ta'engata, 'oku nau loto fiemalie ke to'o kiate kinau tolu ae huafa ho'o Alo, pea manatu ma'u ai pe kiate ia, mo tauhi ene ngaahi fekau ai kuo ne tuku kiate kinau tolu, koe uhi ke iate kinau tolu ma'u ai pe ahono Laumalie. Emeni."8 comments on this story
I'm grateful for a mother who taught me to honor the priesthood. I was privileged to join my father in anointing her head with holy, consecrated oil hours before she passed and, acting as voice, I expressed deep gratitude to God for her exemplary life, blessed her journey and committed her soul to the Spirit World to be reunited with her parents and loved ones.
I testify of my mother's virtue, her goodness and humility. She loved the Lord and taught us to love Him. I know He lives and loves us. My personal tribute to Mom is to live the gospel and the truths she taught me on her knee.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.