Stephen Nelson’s Funeral Address

President Stephen Nelson spoke at Norma’s funeral service and this last week sent us a copy of his remarks. He is a great friend of the family and we are thankful for his kind words and help…

Funeral Services for
Norma Barto
December 8, 2003
Paso Robles

Brothers and Sisters, this is indeed a sad occasion. The tragic passing of Norma Barto has left her family and friends and those throughout the community, many who had never met Norma, shocked and saddened beyond what can be adequately expressed. I am sure I am joined by everyone here today in expressing to Norma’s family how heavy our hearts are for each of you for the intense pain you must be feeling at this time.

Norma worked for us for many years so I had an opportunity to visit with her often. She was always such an upbeat, happy person who was a joy to be around. Knowing that I was going to speak here today, I called several people who knew Norma and asked them to share their insights about her. Of course, everyone mentioned how hard working she was – many adding with emphasis: incredibly hard working! Everyone knew how much she loved her daughters – she talked about them all of the time. Not only were they beautiful, they were very smart. She was so proud of them. Norma encouraged her daughters to get a good education. I remember how excited she was with the progress Michelle was making in school at the University of Utah and how happy she was that Michelle had decided to pursue a career in medicine.

Others said how sweet and pleasant Norma was all the time. She was always willing to help. Norma liked helping people and had other people?s interest at heart. She would fill her car with clothes that she had collected and take them to the less fortunate in Mexico. Several people described Norma as being kind and non-judgmental, Christlike in forgiving of others and refused to hold a grudge when offended.

I remember, as do others, Norma talking about her husband Phil and often saying, he’s a “good man” Phil and Norma certainly raised two outstanding daughters together. Some told me how absolutely beautiful Norma would look when she got dressed up -they described her as being very classy and elegant. In social gatherings, she had a sparkling personality where she would take the lead in making others feel happy and relaxed. She had a great sense of humor. And there were others who expressed appreciation for her patience in letting them practice their Spanish on her.

Norma is a spiritual person who loves the Lord and prays for others. Several people mentioned the good advice she gave them. She loves the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is dedicated to living a good Christian life. I remember 7 or 8 years ago talking to her about going to the Temple for the first time. She was somewhat apprehensive, but she wanted so much to draw closer to the Savior. Going to the temple of the Lord was a marvelous experience for her.

In this life, we are in the valley of the shadow. That’s what mortality is. Adversity will come to all of us. But we are not alone in this valley. The Savior is with us as our companion and our shepherd. Norma earnestly sought the companionship of the Savior. Understanding the plan of salvation that God has for us is a powerful comfort and protection as we deal with adversity.
(Sanctuary by Chieko Okazaki)

The Psalmist wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me”. (Psalm 23:4) We cannot escape the fact that through this life we live in the shadow of death. Grief and pain come to us all. All must endure loss as we pass through the valley of the shadow in mortality. A wise person said, “When someone dies, you don’t ‘ ‘get over it’ by forgetting. You ‘get over it’ by remembering” (Leslie Marmon Silko) So, the pain is lessened by remembering the good person Norma has been and the positive influence she has been in our lives.

And we should remember that we are not alone in this valley. The Savior is with us as our companion and our shepherd. The Savior promised us that in times of trial and adversity, “I will not leave you comfortless”. Understanding the Plan of Salvation is a powerful comfort as we deal with adversity.

Even though we don’t remember it, the scriptures tell us that we lived with our Father in Heaven before we came to this earth. This is known as the pre-existence. We came to this earth to learn and grow, to be tested and tried and to gain a physical body. Our birth in this world was our spirit coming from the presence of Heavenly Father and gaining a physical body. Life on this earth is but another step in a great, eternal march. Here we have opportunity for experience, for improvement, for growth.

Norma understands God’s plan for us. She understands that as we go through this life, we will make mistakes, we will have trials and will suffer, but that Jesus Christ is our Savior through the sacrifice of the Atonement. He has given to us direction and guidance through scriptures and His prophets to help us wend our way though this life we call mortality. Even more personal and comforting as we face life’s challenges is the knowledge that we can receive direct guidance from God by seeking Him through personal prayer. Norma regularly used this channel of communication with God.

The time comes in this life where the body and the spirit separate. That separation is called death. When the body dies, the spirit does not die, but lives on. The part of us that looks out through our eyes and allows us to think and smile and act and to know and to be, that includes our personality, that is our spirit and it is eternal. It cannot die.

So, where does our eternal spirit go? Our spirit goes to a place in the Spirit World called paradise where we await the final judgment and resurrection. We weep today because of our separation from a loved one, but we do not need to weep for Norma. She is happy. She is reuniting with friends and family that have preceded her in death. She remains the same fine person with the same attributes she had in this life. She has left her body behind, but her spirit lives on. One day however, just as the Savior Jesus Christ was resurrected by the reuniting of His Spirit and Body, so will Norma be resurrected and have a perfect, glorified body.

To those who grieve the tragic loss of a loved one, a prophet of God sensitively explained, “If we looked at mortality as the whole of existence, then pain, sorrow, failure, and short life would be a calamity. But if we look upon life as an eternal thing stretching far into the premortal past and on into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may be put in proper perspective.” (President Spencer W. Kimball)

Much peace and comfort comes from the understanding that family ties and relationships can endure in the hereafter. In addition to the joy of family relationships extended forever into the eternity’s, just try and imagine the excitement and potential of having an eternity before you. That is Norma’s perspective. She understands God’s Plan of Happiness. She understands that families can be together forever.

I love this saying because it reminds me of how Norma lived her life: “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us. What we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal”.
(Alexander Pope)

Norma passed from this earth under tragic circumstances -circumstances that have left us baffled and wondering. Nevertheless, I know that she now enjoys peace and happiness. The challenge lies with those loved ones left behind. Where can you find peace and comfort? The Savior offered this divine promise: “Come unto me, all ye that are heavy laden, …and ye shall find rest for your soul”. (Matthew 11:28-29)

To those who grieve, the Savior’s promise of peace is the comforting balm which heals, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you,. Let not your heart be trouble, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) “I go to prepare a place for you….; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2-3)

Norma Barto is a good and generous and righteous person who lifted others with her spirituality and service. She will be greatly missed. We have the wonderful opportunity to honor her by incorporating the best attributes from her life into our own lives. Remember and cherish the choice memories you have had together.

May the Lord bless all of you whose hearts are so heavy and hurting today with peace and comfort is my prayer.

Stephen R. Nelson