Julie Toone, of Bluffdale, Utah, wrote a blog post on overcoming trials more than a year ago and recently posted it in a closed Facebook group for widows who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in response to a group member's situation.
Within weeks after being posted to the group, the post had more than 560,000 views and counting through people sharing it on the social networking site.
In her post, which begins “My name is Julie ...” and is on her blog at breakingthesilence-cam.blogspot.com, she tells the story of how she tragically lost her husband, Jake, in a work-related accident in January 2004, when she was only 26 years old. She originally wrote the now-popular post as a contribution to mynameisjacy.com before posting it on her own blog.
“It felt just overwhelming,” Toone said in an interview. “And heartbreaking, and it felt confusing, if that makes sense. I say in the post, when Jake died, I really thought, this is it. This is my ‘big thing.’ And I remember thinking that I wouldn’t — I didn’t want that to be my big thing. I just hated that that was going to be my trial.
"I was really young — I was 26, and I just really felt like it kind of meant I wouldn’t have any other trials, and I worked really hard to become better. And use positive thoughts and work on it, and the years after he died were just horrible. I mean, they were literally physically painful," she said. "It just broke my heart — my kids would cry every single night and beg for their daddy to come back. So it was just extremely overwhelming.”
The couple had three boys together, and she found out the day after his death that she was pregnant with another boy. She considered that baby a miracle and a blessing, she said in her post.
In her blog post, she discusses the struggles and blessings of remarrying a man, Curtis Toone, in 2006, who also had four boys. They had a son together, Cameron, and then a daughter.
In 2010, she found out one of her sons, Jordan, had autism, and six months later Cameron was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, which is also known as DiGeorge syndrome. This was in addition to a diagnosis he had received a year before — a brain abnormality called periventricular nodular heterotopia, or PNH. He was diagnosed after she noticed a series of physical and developmental delays including Cameron not talking or making noises and not making progress with speech therapy and other treatments.
“When Jordy was diagnosed with autism, I felt really betrayed by Heavenly Father, like we had an agreement somehow that I wouldn’t have any other trials,” Toone said. “And so his diagnosis was extremely upsetting, and Jordy had a lot of early signs but, I thought his future was really bright. And I thought that he was going to be one of my smartest kids, because he has a real strong ability to memorize. So I felt like I was in the clear with him — and it wasn’t until first grade, and he started to struggle learning. So when he was diagnosed, I was really upset, and I felt really betrayed and really forgotten.”
Toone said that once Cameron was diagnosed with 22q11.2, her perspective changed because she realized it could have been much more serious, because most of the boys who get PNH are miscarried before they are born, and kids with 22q11.2 have high mortality rates, with a hard time making it through their first six months of life. Cameron was 3½ years old when he was diagnosed.
Toone recalls wishing for a trial of illness instead of death at the time of her husband’s passing.
“Because with Jake being killed instantly, you know, they walked into my door and told me he was dead, and there was just nothing, I couldn’t do anything — I couldn’t fix it, I couldn’t pray about it, I couldn’t have a fast, I couldn’t have hope, I couldn’t do anything to have my prayers answered,” Toone said. “And it was just extremely final. I remember thinking, 'I want to have a trial you can have hope for.' I don’t want these trials that are immediate and there’s no hope and there’s nothing you can do or (they’re) just so heart wrenching.”
So instead of Cameron’s diagnosis coming as a major trial with no room for hope, Toone realized it was a miracle and a blessing — because it could have been so much worse, she said.
Although, Toone said, Cameron isn’t out of the woods and he could face other health issues in the future, she is thankful for each day she gets with him.
“I just adore him,” she said. “He just fills my soul more than anything else, and I’m just so grateful that he didn’t die and that he wasn’t in the hospital all the time.”
A saying that has stuck with Toone since her husband Jake died is “You can’t choose the trials in your life, but you can choose how you deal with them, you can choose to become better or bitter.”
Toone said that it has always been her faith that has helped her become better, despite so many reasons to be bitter.
She said that before all of these trials, she believed in Jesus Christ. But now, her trials have changed her belief to the point where she can say, “I know Jesus Christ lives, I know that he died for my sins, and I know that he felt my pains and atoned for them.”
Relying on Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is what has helped her survive, and she knew that there was no other way to make it past putting her testimony through the test without her faith, she said.
“I wouldn’t have been able to pull out of that and become better instead of becoming bitter,” Toone said. “There would have been no way, so it changes from believing to knowing.”
Toone said the best advice she could give to others who may be experiencing similar trials is to know that they can be happy, even though it’s hard.
“Don’t give yourself guilt if you’re not doing the best today, because you can do better tomorrow,” Toone said. “And just look at every blessing that you can find, because there’s always blessings, and that’s been the biggest most amazing thing that I’ve seen. With every trial I’ve had, I have had huge miracles and huge blessings that compensate, or that are near at the same time that brighten your spirit and lift your day and lift your heart, and make you realize that Heavenly Father is present in our lives and is aware of our struggles. Heavenly Father is aware of us and trying to help us and doing everything that he can to help us get through this life because he knows it’s hard.”
Toone has a motto she has made up for herself that she also enjoys sharing with others.
“When your spouse dies (or insert your lifelong trial), the ‘easy’ card is taken off the table and NEVER returned,” Toone said in a post on her blog's Facebook page. “Staying single will be hard, getting remarried will be hard. You have to stop looking for life to be ‘easy.’ That does NOT mean you can't be happy. You have to pick the hard that will make you happiest! If you can stop looking for easy, your happiness will come much sooner.”
Toone first shared her story when she was asked to speak at a stake conference a few months after her husband Jake’s death, which required a lot of soul-searching and prayer, she said. Since then, she has felt that it is important she share her story, hoping that it will help other people.
Her original blog post is at breakingthesilence-cam.blogspot.com/2012/11/my-name-is-julie.html.
Sonja Carlson is a graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho in communications with an emphasis in journalism and intern for the LDS Church News. Email: [email protected] Twitter: sonycarlson