Saturday, May 23, 2015

Alisa--such a life to describe in so few words

I'm sure most people who look at this blog know that my little sister, Alisa, passed away this week.   She was suffering so much that in there was a bit of relief mixed in with a deep sadness to say goodbye.   I struggle with the question of why she had to get cancer at all.  And why couldn't she have been cured of it? Watching her slip away, I felt like I was facing my worst fear for my own child and in one of my very favorite people.   The past days and weeks have been difficult, but I think the hardest part is ahead of me.  Holidays and family events and most of all the every day when I feel like calling her and chatting about whatever.  She has been a big part of my life and I will miss her dearly.

I was asked to give part of her life sketch at her funeral.  Many of you were there, but I'm posting it here for those of you who couldn't make it.  She was a remarkable person and these few words don't even begin to do her great life justice.   Luckily, there were other great talks given yesterday and together, I think we captured her essence.  

Life sketch:  Alisa's motherhood years

As I was preparing to speak today, I asked many members of our family to describe Alisa in three words. Some of them were: profound, bold, beautiful, independent, hard working, creative, loving and fun. Luke added "kind", Sam said "awesome" and James: "Best. Mom. Ever." But I found that there were some traits that really stood out. Her determination, her ability to see and create beauty and her compassion.

Alisa was determined. When she was young, she decided to become a nurse and she made it happen. After high school, she worked as a CNA to support herself through nursing school at Ricks College. She got her RN and started working as a full time nurse. She married Josh Linton. She started school at BYU. Six months after her first son, James, was born, she graduated from BYU with a bachelors in public health. She accomplished all this in just four years after graduating from high school. Every year since becoming a registered nurse, she has renewed her nursing license and when she died, her license was current.

Alisa had an ability to create beauty around her. Not long after James was born, she got her first digital camera. She began taking pictures for friends and family. When Sam was born, she quit her nursing job and started to grow her photography business. She and Josh built a house in Lehi. She loved to design, decorate and garden. She loved to cook and throw parties. The new house was the perfect blank slate for her talents.

Alisa has always made friends easily, and that was true of her new ward and neighborhood. She loved serving in her ward--teaching Primary or Relief Society and especially her time with the Young Women. Luke was born and she fell in love a fourth time. When Luke was just barely two years old, she got the devastating news that she had metastatic melanoma.

Luckily for all her fans, Alisa started to blog. On her first blog, she described herself this way:

"BARELY thirty. Wife and mother of three. Trying to let cancer change but not define me."

The cancer did work a change in her. The unimportant and negative began to fall away and she filled that place with meaning and joy. The determined, artistic, compassionate Alisa became more bold and more attuned to beauty. She used her experience with hardship to bless others around her.

The determination that characterized Alisa was so evident with her cancer fight. She researched every treatment and pestered doctors and insurance companies if needed until she could get the treatment she'd chosen. She was determined that she would try everything she could. Her hard work combined with some help from God made that dream come true. She didn't want to leave this world with even one stone unturned. She sent a clear message to Josh and her boys that she was willing to do everything in her power to stick around for them.

Alisa's eye for beauty was also enhanced after she was diagnosed with cancer. The world just seemed brighter to her once she realized what a gift life is. She stopped taking pictures professionally to spend more time with her kids, but she shared her new found perspective poetically through her writing. And she continued to create beauty wherever she was. She loved to travel and wanted to see and share with her family all the beautiful places in the world.

Her experience with cancer opened her eyes to the suffering of others and she loved to help and cheer others. This became very personal to me when my son was diagnosed with cancer. She coached me through a very difficult time and organized all kinds of help I could ever think of needing. She decorated my house while we were on a vacation that she insisted we take. She has helped me through all our cancer years, but that first week was a critical time and the amazing thing is that she had just found that her cancer had returned. She didn't tell the family until the day Steven started chemotherapy.

Alisa's cancer helped her see how much she loved being a mother. She decided that if her time were limited with her kids, she would do everything she could to influence them for good while she could. And if her time were extended? Then even better. She often told me that her kids were her biggest investment. She wanted them to be happy and successful. She wanted them to exercise and play instruments and read and be kind. She hoped they would try everything: swimming, skiing, sports and karate. She wanted them to eat good breakfasts and to have good friends. She warned against the evils of too much screen time and often felt to remind her kids (and all other kids around) to "come outside." She loved to attend their recitals and ball games and to take them on adventures around town or in the mountains.

Some of my favorite posts on her blog are from Mother's Day. I would like to read a part of her post in 2012.

"Have I told you I love being a mother? Why? Because as confused as I seem about life and purposes, . . . when you are diagnosed with a life threatening illness. . ., you realize what you want out of life. In life. Because of life. You know what you want by the time you die. You figure it out quickly in the face of death.

There are so many things I don't really want any more. I don't really want to care about appearances, or money, or where I'm going to be in 10 years, or how much I weigh, or what kind of car I drive, . . . . I would take all of these things, don't get me wrong. But who really cares when all is said and done? Pretty sure I'm not going to spend too much time worrying about that stuff.

I just want to give. I want to live for Josh. And James. And Sam. And Luke.

It's a Christ-like love. Giving, asking nothing in return. That is what I want. I want to give. I want to love. That is why I want to live.

I bet if you look deep enough you will find that same desire.

Right now I talk about being a mother, . . .but everyone has their own purpose, and people to serve.

Sometimes you might ask as a mother, Why? Why am I doing this? . . . Because you need to. Because you can. And I'm guessing, because you want to. Because once you were once sparked with the old magic. Maybe that first time you were put into your own mother's arms the incredible love that makes the world keep going sparked you with the same unselfish desires and instincts.

Isn't it wonderful? To have, . . someone who (deep deep down) loves you always. Someone who would do anything for you. Although maybe she can't. A love so pure and simple, deep and strong, that it never changes. To have someone who will be with you no matter what. If you are born imperfect, you are loved perfectly. If you become imperfect along the way, if you do not live up to your mother's dreams, you are still what she dreams about and concerns herself with. She doesn't give up on you. Cheers you on even if you are last in the race. Especially if you are last.

Even if...even if we can't be in the 'same spot.' I know my love will stay with my boys.

I know because I have felt love's scope these last couple months. And it's longer than time, and deeper than space.

It's magic I'm only beginning to understand. But not one bit afraid to use."

Alisa used her magic called love, and it will stay with her boys forever. My prayer today is that we will share her desire to give and to love as Christ did. 

You can read the full text of the Mother's day post here.  Also, her obituary here or here on her blog.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I wish the entire funeral had a written transcript I could print off and read again. Her words and life are timeless. Everything she writes I want to add an "Amen" to. I wish I could just copy and post her entire blog onto our own blog. She left everyone so many many treasures. Love to all of you.

  2. So happy you posted your part of the life sketch. Now I can have a place to always go back and read these beautiful words. You and Alisa are both such talents with your writing--LOVE you!

  3. Thank you for posting this Sonja! I wanted so badly to be there. I find myself scouring the social media outlets for pictures, words anything from the funeral. It seems like air was a beautifully reverent day. I will continue to pray for you over the coming months. I wanted to finally meet you in person. Someday maybe.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. Like the previous commenter shared, I had really wanted to be there for her funeral even though I live far away. But my mother-in-law had just passed away the week before from Alzheimer's and I had been in Utah for that. She too is buried in Lehi so I will be able to visit Alisa's grave when I visit my mother-in-law's grave. I "met" Alisa through her blog and although I never had the privilege of meeting her in person, her life story has touched mine and so many others.

  5. Someday it you have time and if projects help with grieving, perhaps you could share more from the funeral program. I imagine your father spoke, and I always love his insights. Perhaps it would help others who are dealing with grief to read his words. Again, thank you for sharing. Xoxox

  6. Sonja, I've been thinking about your family so much - you in particular. I have sisters, I know what a sister means. I'm so sorry you lost your sister.

    Alisa's writings have had a powerful impact on my life. They have buoyed me up when I've felt inadequate to be a mother. She reminded me how blessed I was to have my daughters and have helped me be more focused and present as a mother. I am a better parent because of her life.

    My thoughts and prayers are with your family. And tears. I'm sorry.