Debra Oaks Coe
Secret of Unconditional Happiness
Updated: Jun 22, 2022
At the age of 20 our son, Marshall, was diagnosed with a chronic, painful illness. There was no cure, and the doctors were unable to give him good pain control. With so much constant pain he didn’t see how he could ever be happy again. After a lot of anguish, he made the decision that if he couldn’t be happy, he would work to make those around him happy.
He had always been kind and thoughtful, but there was a distinct difference in that most of his thoughts now focused on others. He put his all into being friendly and reaching out to people and doing the best job he could in his singles ward (church congregation.) He learned to hide his pain and most people outside of our home didn’t realize how sick he was.
We would see him come home and be exhausted after even a couple of hours with his friends. We recognized that sweat beading up on his forehead meant his pain was greater than normal. But we didn’t hear him complain about it.
His little nieces were his greatest joy. And they loved him best. When they would come to our house, the first thing they would do is yell, “Uncle Marshall, Uncle Marshall” and run off to find him. Occasionally, he would get all dressed in a suit and tie then treat them to a very girly Victorian café where they would have a "tea party".
Over time, he did find happiness through seeking other people’s happiness. He learned to laugh again and joke and not let the pain be the engine leading his emotions. Instead, it became the caboose of his emotional train. It was still there but he oversaw where that train went. This was challenged when his youngest brother came out as gay, Marshall was confused as to how best to react to having a gay brother. He was never unkind, but he stayed distanced from him. Several of us had consulted with our ecclesiastical leaders including bishops and stake presidents. We all shared their positive counsel with Marshall, but this was a struggle for him, so nothing changed. The Sunday before Mother’s Day, Marshall and I had a long discussion about God’s love for all of His children and about the importance of unity and love in our family. On Mother’s Day, the whole family came for dinner. But Marshall continued to stay distanced from his brother.
After dinner, our youngest son was the first to get ready to leave. As he opened his car door, Marshall jumped up, bolted out of the house, and ran to give his brother a hug. He told him how much he loved him. The barrier was broken. I cried; I was so happy something had touched Marshall’s heart.
Exactly one week later, Marshall unexpectedly passed away from complications of his illness. That important hug was the last moment he saw his youngest brother. I cannot begin to express the peace and feeling of unity that last few minutes of expressing love for his brother has brought our family. A few days after he passed away, we found something Marshall had written. “Now I know the secret of unconditional happiness. My pain serves as a constant reminder that all happiness based on sensory or external conditions is hollow. All of these things can be taken from you or changed. There is one thing that never changes though, that is the love of God for each one of us and His continually outstretched arms. The greatest happiness in the world is found in establishing a personal relationship with God and the people around you. If you have this nothing else matters. No matter how great your afflictions you can come, as I have, to regard them as spilled milk - not worth crying over. ”