It finally arrives around noon one random day when no one remembered to check. Later that night, the entire family and a herd of friends gather in the living room or around a speaker phone while their son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, or significant other gently tears open a thick stack of papers from Church headquarters.
Stockholm, Cleveland, Moscow, Sydney, Lima. No matter where they’re going, they’re going for the Lord, and Mom and Dad couldn’t be more thrilled. After two trips to Mr. Mac’s and an upgraded electric razor, the hustle of preparing stops, the tissues come out, and Mom hugs her baby boy for the last time.
In 2005, moms and dads sent off some 50,000 missionaries to 341 missions around the world. While they know it’s right, saying goodbye is never easy. We asked moms their thoughts on letting go and we hope their perspectives and feelings of gratitude will help with the separation you might be anticipating.
Letter Journals and Scrapbooks The Tucker Family: Orem, Utah
Blair and Debbie Tucker sent the last two of their five children out within six months of each other. “It’s hard letting go, especially when they’re your youngest,” says Debbie, “but somehow, someway you just do it and it works out, and I think that’s where faith comes in.”
Murray, the Tuckers’ youngest and only boy, left for Chicago in October 2004 and KaNeil, his older sister by seventeen months, left for Taiwan in March 2005.
In the meantime Debbie organizes letters and pictures for the two to be able to look back to when they get home. “I keep a journal of their letters in a binder so that when they get home they can read what they wrote when they were first out or at whatever particular time. I put them in acid-free sheet protectors and then I put their pictures in a scrapbook.” With two missionaries out, it’s kept Debbie more than busy, but she says it’s more than worth it. “I feel like I’m a part of their mission through the journals and their scrapbooks.”
Growing up, KaNeil had sometimes talked about serving a mission, but her desire was confirmed when she went to college. She was active in student government, and from her interactions with the people she found everyday on campus, she knew she wanted to share the gospel with others.
With only one son, the Tuckers talked about a mission with Murray as he was growing up. “We told him that when it came time to serve a mission we wanted him to go for the right reasons, not because we told him he had to,” says Debbie. “I think that had a big impact on why he chose to go.”
With the goodbyes now over, the family is anticipating a particularly exciting October—the two will return within two weeks of each other.
“What other joy is there than having your kids want to serve a mission?” says Debbie. “It brings a level of happiness and joy to know that they’re serving their Father in Heaven, and that it’s something they wanted to do.”
Handwritten Letters and Family Support The Cook Family: Farmington, Missouri
Tim and Toni Cook said goodbye to two missionaries as well, but when their son Will came home for medical reasons, they ended up having to say goodbye yet again. Twin sons Will and Brigham became the first in the family’s extended family to serve missions, not to mention the first in about a decade to serve from their ward. But despite the lack of experienced missionary moms to help her, Toni immediately noticed and appreciated the enthusiastic support from aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, as well as a particularly excited home ward.
“The extended family writes and when the ward found out, they all went to the bishop and asked what they could do,” Toni says. “The members that didn’t have sons wanted to support them and be a part of their mission; that’s what was so special—they were the ward’s sons.”
Trying to prepare, Will and Brigham found inspiration—and answers to a lot of questions—through the missionaries serving in their ward. “Elder Butler was such a strong influence and example in their lives,” says Toni. “Anytime they had a question, that they didn’t want to talk to Mom and Dad about, they called Elder Butler.” Sometimes, when the Cooks had the missionaries over for dinner, Toni says it was a feeding frenzy, both physically and spiritually. “With all these elders and future elders at my house, you could really feel the spirit.”
The Cook twins were set apart a few days before they left, and for those few days Toni noticed the profound spirit that resided with their family. “You see the changes and you have your home the way it should be,” she says laughing.
The Cooks decided to make the departures a family affair, and trekked across the Midwest to take their sons to the MTC in Provo. The family and Grandma were too many to fit in one car, so Brigham and his sister Lynnsey flew and met the rest of the Cooks in Salt Lake City. With snowstorms and other delays both on the ground and in the air, and their path along the route of the handcart companies, the Cooks felt a little closer to the pioneers.
After a few days in Salt Lake City, the Cooks made their way down to Provo, still not quite prepared for the send off, or the song that came before. “You get to the MTC and in the chapel the saints sing “Called to Serve” at the top of their lungs—it’s so profound and spiritual,” says Toni. But the elders couldn’t wait to get out of their seat. Will jumped up after the song but before the closing prayer. Finally, the prayer closed the meeting, the twins hugged their family, and they were gone. “You walk out with a feeling of emptiness and a feeling of joy—they’re on their way!”
Back home, Toni and Lynnsey cried for days, but in a good way. “The letting go process is so hard because you know it’s where they need to be and you know everything is going to be okay, but it’s still so sad.” Whenever Toni mentioned Will or Brigham, Lynnsey broke into tears, which set Toni off again. “You have to stop doing that,” Toni would tell her daughter, half crying and have laughing at themselves. There was only one solution for Lynnsey: “Then stop saying their names!”
It took Toni almost a week to go into their rooms. They hadn’t packed anything away, simply left it to Mom who knew where everything should go. Even then, it took her a long time.
But packing away their rooms gave Toni a few blessings she wasn’t expecting. “I found letters to their friends about going on a mission,” she says. “Those just keep me going because I saw that they were doing not only what they should, but exactly what they wanted to be doing.”
Toni also found a journal. She was impressed to see that Will had written in it, but sad that he had forgotten to take it with him. “I wrote him telling him how important it is, to his future wife and his children, and sent the letter with the journal.”
Will came home in February 2005 then went back out in July. After the challenges of health problems and the questions of why, the second goodbye was wonderful. “He was ready to return—you could see it in his eyes. He loved it and this is what he wanted,” Toni says.
At the airport, another blessing came when a pilot walked by and stopped to talk. “Elder, did you just come home or are you going out?” he asked Will. After Will explained that he was going out for the second time, the pilot said, “Oh, I did that. It was great, the best thing that could’ve happened for me.” Will beamed. To him, that was Heavenly Father saying it was okay and to enjoy the blessings.
“I was so excited, not sad or scared,” says Toni. “I was ready for him to go back because he was ready to go back. And that pilot’s words were exactly what he needed.” She waited until Will got through the metal detector, turned around, and waved. The family left happy and excited. “Well, I cried a little,” Toni says.
Counting Blessings The Harris Family: Kingwood, Texas
Anne Harris sent her son Jordan to Paraguay last year. “It was really hard. I cried. I was so sad, yet I was happy because that’s where he should be. In order to not feel so sad I tried to focus on the fact that he is serving the Lord and he’s where he should be.”
In what proved to be great timing, Anne found joy in blessings that were right in front of her, instead of dwelling on the absence of her son. “What helped with sending my second son on a mission was the fact that my first son had just returned from a mission. We were just enjoying his company so much that it helped me not focus so much on Jordan leaving.”
Counting her blessings, Anne realized she was learning things she needed to do, and was grateful for lessons the experience taught not only her son, but also herself. “Having my sons go on missions helped me realize that I needed to appreciate the family that I had at home. It also helped me realize the sacrifice the parents of people in the military have to make. With them you just let them go and you don’t know exactly how long it will be until you see them again or if they’ll even come home. I at least know it’s two years and if anything happens to them they were serving the Lord.”
Appreciating Stateside The McMurray Family, Salt Lake City, Utah
So far, Lynn and Charlene McMurray have sent four of their ten children on missions. The first was their oldest son Benji. “I was really nervous as we anticipated his call,” says Charlene, who had served a mission in Argentina. “At first I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll know what to do. But then I began to worry because I knew what a sister would need, but not an elder."
When Benji’s call came to the same country in which Charlene had served, immediately she felt relieved. She knew what the elders wore there and felt she could help her son prepare.
“I missed him a ton when he left, and I think I did get a little better at that as we went through more children,” says Charlene.
Their first daughter Louisa got her mission call about the same time she met her soon-to-be husband. “She decided she had a better offer,” Charlene says with a smile. “At first I was disappointed because I wanted my girls to do the same as I did, but Louisa and her husband are happy and have two children, so everything turned out well.”
After two more boys left and returned, the McMurray’s second daughter Angie sent in her papers. But Angie’s mission would be different from her brothers’, bringing her mother a few more things to be thankful for. “I think it’s a natural reaction to be more protective of our girls,” says Charlene, “and I was relieved that she wasn’t going out of the States.” Angie was called to Long Beach, California, but because of the poverty in some parts of her mission, Charlene says she still had a “third world experience, without leaving the country.”
Charlene is grateful Angie went stateside because it meant she could do more things for her daughter. “With the boys all serving out of the country, the mail and packages got pretty expensive. I sent more treats in the mail to Angie and it made me feel like I was doing something fun and helpful.”
While the boys wrote shorter letters than Angie did, each sent one once a week. And of course Charlene always liked Christmas and Mother’s Day phone calls. “Within a few minutes I could hear their voice, and it was the cheerful voice I knew. If they just had their usual happy voice it was a reassurance—I knew they were okay.”
During the missions, Charlene’s attention was also devoted to the last five McMurrays. “They were so proud and loving of those missionaries,” she says. The youngest, Danny, seemed especially attached to Joey, who served in Korea. Sometimes, if Danny had a hard day he would tell his mother how much he missed Joey. “It was so cute; they were unique with that bond of love.” Whenever any of the children were missing the older kids, Charlene took the opportunity to encourage them to write the missionary a letter.
A Look Behind the Scenes The Pratt Family: Holladay, Utah
Like most moms, Julie Pratt started anticipating her son’s mission long before he actually left. With the excitement came worries: Just how was she going to get through her only son’s goodbye to childhood? Constant prayers and preparation marked the years of junior high and high school. Then, in a certain tender mercy of the Lord and an answer to those prayers, Julie got a special look at the other side of missionary goodbyes.
Several years before her son Benjamin left for his mission, Julie flew to Arizona for her best friend’s daughter’s marriage. On a Wednesday morning, her family dropped her off at Salt Lake International Airport, smack in the middle of at least a hundred missionaries and their families.
“I checked in and went to my gate, and this was back in the day when the whole family could go all the way to the terminals,” says Julie. “I sat there and watched the goodbyes. I was so emotional because I knew before long that it would be me saying goodbye to Benjamin.”
When it was time for Julie to board the plane, she found her seat and ten elders sat down behind her. “They were absolutely darling and they were so excited to be going. I was struck by the fact that their families were back in the terminal sobbing and they weren’t shedding a tear. They were just so excited!” One elder sat by a woman behind Julie, turned to her and said, “Are you LDS?” When the lady answered yes, the elder said, “Shoot!” Julie watched them take pictures of the plane, of each other, and out the windows, thinking the entire flight about how happy they were.
That night Julie boarded her return flight. Two sister missionaries sat down right next to her, this time on their way home. “They talked to me the whole way which made me not think about the fact that I was flying,” she says. “But they were bawling because they were going home and leaving the mission field.”
Julie counted an additional blessing realizing that she, who hated to fly, had been fortunate enough to be on a plane with a bunch of missionaries. “I knew if all of these missionaries were on this plane, there had to be all these prayers for the plane,” she says laughing.
“It was such a sweet experience,” she says. Of course it was emotional and difficult in the terminal when Benjamin did leave, but Julie remembered the missionaries on the plane. “Then the day he came home I thought about those girls and how bittersweet it was for them.”
“That experience gave me a perspective that I knew I never would have had before,” says Julie. “I couldn’t even imagine such a tender mercy, like Elder Bednar said, and such an answer to prayer.”