Lisa Valentine Clark: Seeing God in the Midst of Grief

Wed Jul 21 10:00:11 EDT 2021
Episode 138

On June 5, 2020, Christopher Clark passed away after a four-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Just days before, he and his wife, Lisa Valentine Clark, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Now, she feels her husband's absence every day. How can Lisa move forward from here? Is it possible to put the pieces back together when a key piece is missing? On this week’s episode, Lisa discusses what she has learned from caregiving, the process of grief, and why she cannot deny the existence of God and his ability to answer our prayers.

Grief is love with nowhere to go.
Lisa Valentine Clark

See the trailer for Once I Was Engaged:

For more information about Once I Was Engaged, check out the official website here.

Elder Cook's talk about God's love for us: "Charity: Perfect and Everlasting Love," April 2002 General Conference

President Nelson's talk: "Hear Him," April 2020 General Conference

Bruce C. Hafen's book, Faith is Not Blind:


2:10- Love for Others, Love for Each Other
6:00- What Is This Person Trying to Communicate Right Now?
9:20- ALS and Loss
13:40- A Time to Grieve, A Time to Connect
20:19- Caregiving
25:50- Living In Every Ordinary Day
32:10- “The Comfort of God is a Miracle”
38:36- Feeling God’s Awareness of Us
45:36- It’s All About Love
49:42- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?


Morgan Jones 0:00
Christopher Clark knew how the story of his life here on earth would end–years before his passing. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, would be his demise. But in the meantime, he just wanted more ordinary days. For four years he and his wife Lisa worked together day after day for that goal. They definitely cried together, but they also laughed and loved. They took confidence in knowing this must be God's plan for Christopher's life. But now that he has passed, Lisa is left with day after ordinary day without Christopher, and she has found it was much easier to grieve with him than to grieve without him.

Lisa Valentine Clark is a writer, actress and the host of The Lisa Show on BYU radio. She is a founding member of the theater-as-improv comedy troupe, "The Thrillionaires." Writer, producer, and actress in the new movie Once I Was Engaged, a host for three seasons on the TV show Random Acts and stars in the BYU TV production Show Offs. She is the mother of five and author of Real Moms: Making It Up as We Go.

This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so honored to have Lisa Valentine Clark with me on the line today, Lisa, welcome.

Lisa Valentine Clark 1:27
Thank you, thank you for having me.

Morgan Jones 1:30
Well, you are a pro at any kind of talking over audio, and I am not. So you're gonna have to be patient with me. But I want to start out today, I had the opportunity I just–I guess I should say this up front–I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to hear you and your husband Christopher speak, and it made such an impression on me and on my life. And actually, as I was prepping for this interview, I went back and read those talks. And I also asked our mutual friend Emily Belle Freeman, if she had any questions for you. And she came up with some of these questions, so shout out to Emily.

But the first question is, both you and your husband, Christopher, have such a gift for loving people and loving people well, and I wondered if you think that's a quality that you both possessed, and if that's something that drew you to each other, and also wondered how the two of you initially met, because you just seem made for each other?

Lisa Valentine Clark  2:33
Aww, that's so nice of you to say, thank you, and thank you for your kind words. And a huge shout out to Emily, she has been a great friend to us. You know, Christopher and I . . . I think were absolutely drawn to each other right in the beginning. Because of our–just mutual love and excitement for people and action, you know? We met in a student production for English majors that was a theatrical, I want to say it's a play but I don't know what it was. It was called "Mysterious Creation," it was a compilation of a lot of different Bible stories.

And, you know, a real knee slapper, to be honest. And although we laughed through it, looking back, maybe it wasn't appropriate–maybe it was, I can't remember. All I know is that we–it was an amazing experience.

And from the moment that that I met Chris, my world was expanded because people were always drawn to him, right. And he always had a lot of different kinds of community of people just–and he just collected people and funny stories as he went along. And I just think that if you love people, than it is a great way to learn how to love more, because that's certainly what Christopher taught me.

I feel like, you know, we . . . it's hard to sort of summarize all of these kind of experiences and the different people that we've met and the experiences that we had over our 25 years of marriage–and before that our friendship and dating experience–to sort of encapsulate it, but I will say that Christopher did teach me how to love other people without reservation. And he wasn't concerned about any sort of qualification for anyone to be his friend and to be in on the group or to be in on the joke.

I mean, it didn't mean that he didn't necessarily struggle with certain kinds of people, shy people for example, but he'd find a way, and he showed me just that–what a benefit that was. And so our lives together just have a lot of great markings by who we met and when we did, and the fun memories that we were able to create in the moment along the way. So, you know, it sounds like this calculated thing, it was not. It was just the way–his way–of being. People were attracted to him.

Morgan Jones 5:25
Yeah, well, I remember watching the two of you that night at the Jubilee, and even after you got done speaking–I think you were seated just a few seats down from me–and I noticed the way that you seem to be able to communicate, even though at that point, Christopher had lost his ability to communicate verbally, it was like there was this bond, this magnetism between the two of you. And Emily said to me, she said, it was particularly noticeable in the way the two of you looked into each other's eyes. And I wondered, before–as we go through this conversation, I want to talk about that love that you mentioned, love for other people, love for each other, the ability to let that love be what it is in the moment, but before we ever get into this conversation, ALS, the way that it works, eventually at some point, it takes the person's ability to communicate. And so I wondered, what did you learn about communication that you didn't know before this experience?

Lisa Valentine Clark  6:32
That's a really good question because, you know, I'm a talker, and I thought I knew all there was about different kinds of communication or communication styles, but especially the experience of watching Christopher slowly and gradually lose that effortless ability that he had, where once he fully communicated with every little molecule in his being, I mean, he couldn't ever sit still, he was always playing with like a rubber band or a piece of plastic, you know, his hands and his fingers were always moving in front of his face, and he was shifting and, and he didn't sit still very often.

And so, to be such a vibrant, physical communicator, to sit in that chair so patiently and communicate only with a slight movement of his neck to communicate and his eyes–which he strained so hard at the end–just to try to communicate emotion, you know, feeling, and ideas, not only did it increase my love and admiration for him, as a person, but it changed the way that I was able to understand how we really communicate in those like, and I'm not even talking about, you know, emotional, or subtle, you know, the things that you don't say with your expressions or with the words, but I just mean, like spirit to spirit, like on a very spiritual level.

And, you know, that was hard one, and Christopher and I, as soon as we met–even when we were just friends–started a conversation, an ongoing conversation that only stopped when he passed. And, and I just think, now, when I look at people, and sometimes when I'm talking to them–although I try to stay really focused–I look at it in a different way. And I try to think, what is it that they're really trying to communicate right now? That's something that I hadn't, I had never previously thought about.

Morgan Jones 8:53
Absolutely. Well I think it's so interesting to think about the way–I love the way you said you started an ongoing conversation, and that didn't end when he lost the ability to speak and that we're all communicating with each other spirit to spirit, and some obviously are deeper connections than others. But I love that.

And I want to dig in a little bit into this experience that you have had over the past few years. You have talked about what it was like to learn of Christopher's diagnosis. You knew he was going to pass away at some point. But it was–it's an interesting diagnosis because he doesn't pass away in an instant in some sort of accident, but there's also not a treatment that could be promising in any way, so instead, you knew right off the bat that you were likely going to watch him slowly slip away, which I think is just excruciating. So I wonder how, Lisa, did you deal with that?

Lisa Valentine Clark 9:58
Well, thank you for acknowledging that it would be excruciating—it was. You know, sometimes I think well-meaning people, in order to frantically search for a silver lining, try to grab one out of the air and say things like, "Well, at least you," you know, "Dot dot dot." You know, "You got to have those conversations and say goodbye." They're trying to look at all the blessings. And I understand why they do that, in order to lessen sort of the absolute panic and misery that they would imagine that experience would be like, and in the hopes that it's less than what they think it might be, as if weighing it. Once, you know, a loved one dies suddenly, you know, as if we need to judge and decide which one is is worse, right? They're both awful, they're both horrible. I've only experienced one. But my pain doesn't certainly take that away from somebody whose loved one dies without them getting a chance to say goodbye, or whatever.

So it was excruciating. It was a special kind of intimate, horrible torture, just to see not only the person that you love the most, but you know, a good person, who only becomes better and better every day, to experience and adapt and experience another loss and another loss and another loss with a good attitude. It's just, you know, an experience I'm sure that I don't fully have all of the the words to express really what it was.

But I will say that watching him do that, obviously changed me in a lot of ways and changed him and changed our relationship. And the choice was for each one of us and together as a couple, to decide how we wanted it to change us. And when I look back on it, it's hard to answer questions like this one. Because I feel like there's there's nothing necessarily that I can say that will put a nice bow on it or a button on it. It kind of just sort of sinks down inside of your soul and changes you in a fundamental way, helps you to see the world differently–your role in it differently. The role of suffering, the role of relief, the role of, you know, incredibly expansive things like the Atonement and being, I mean, completely different, different things.

And I don't know if that helps. And that's certainly not answering your question fully. But I just feel like it's worth, you know, just sort of saying that and kind of leaving it a little bit on, for our conclusion, kind of on that. It is an experience that is hard to share with other people not just say, "Hey, this is what happened. And this is what I think and this is what we learned." Not that, but there's just really not the words for it. Because there just feels like there's a fundamental shift in the universe. Everything's different.

Morgan Jones 13:08
Yeah. Well, and Lisa, I should say, up front, I appreciate you being so raw and honest because I think you're right. There is no way to put a bow on it or to make it sound like, "And here's the happy ending of this story." Because right now, there is not a happy ending. And I get that. And I want–as we go through this conversation, I want you to know, I want total honesty, and I appreciate you giving that.

I want to come back to something that you just mentioned, when you said well-meaning people sometimes will try to—and I think this is something that a lot of us have experienced, right? Somebody goes through something that we ourselves have never experienced, and in an attempt to show empathy or to relate, we find ourselves saying things and maybe later we think, "Oh, I shouldn't have said that."

You have now had the experience of being on the receiving end of a lot of comments and a lot of efforts to receive service. And I loved at one point, you said that you were, "So overwhelmed by feelings of grief and sorrow that you just wanted to marinate in it." And I think that that's a feeling that a lot of people can relate to across the different circumstances. You also said, "When we do that, when we remove ourselves from others and put ourselves outside the line of influence and love and the ways that people can serve us and love us and help us and be a very connected part of our lives for preservation or for protection, it limits the ways in which the Lord can bless us."

And so I wonder when you are in that space of just wanting to feel alone in your grief and wanting to process everything that's going on, how do you allow yourself to continue to connect to others and to be served? And what did you learn through that experience of being served by others?

Lisa Valentine Clark 15:13
Well, and let me be very clear, too, I feel like when someone is going through the worst part of their life, it's better to say something than to not say something—even if it is the wrong thing, right? And I feel like, it would be helpful to talk about mourning more, to talk about grief more, to be less afraid of it, you know. All of us are grieving and mourning lots of different things on different levels. And sometimes I think that we want to protect others from our pain because we think it will swallow them.

You know, I certainly had those moments where I thought this pain of what I've lost of the world–and I know it sounds dramatic, but I really feel this way–the world lost Christopher Clark. You know, all the future, you know, productions and friendships and laughter and an influence. And so I feel like we all have reason to mourn. But each one of us, individually, will find ourselves and, you know, mourning big and little things, you know. Dreams and hopes that we didn't even know we had, an idea of the future.

You know, when you're younger, you really think anything is possible. And as you get older, you quietly see some doors close, and some doors are slammed in your face, and you know, that not all things are–you're not going to be able to have all experiences in this life. And that deserves, you know, it's time and place to be mourned and to be acknowledged.

And I don't think that it's a coincidence that, you know, Christ mourned with others. He wept with them even though He has the power to dry all of their tears into all power and all knowledge. And so there's something significant in that, there's something significant. And taking that time, though, to to be alone and to ponder what that means for you to shrink and hide away and not have to worry about your responses, your facial expressions, your manners, your anything, and to have that time alone to be quiet. That's certainly really, really important, I think.

And the other context, though, it's easy to get stuck in that. And I think we all know people who might quietly withdraw from people or just not fully show their whole selves to people. Not do that again, boy, I've learned that lesson, you know. Whether they've gotten their heart broken, they've been embarrassed or hurt, or experienced a loss for whatever reason, not fully be in the world and not fully participate in relationships and not fully give their heart away, or not fully be invested in a friendship or not be fully honest, or vulnerable or brave because it's such a risk. And I think now I have a little bit more empathy for those individuals because it is such a huge risk now. But without that risk, we never love deeply, we never live fully, we never experience what it is we are here to experience as humans, which is to love one another and to help one another, and to learn how to understand our true nature and place in the world as it relates to God.

And I feel like, you know, it's hard because we don't talk about mourning in those terms. You know, it's not like the only, you know, Christopher dying is certainly the worst pain, the worst loss that I've ever experienced. But it wasn't the only one that I experienced. And I had a lot of time over many years to lose a lot of other hopes and dreams and relationships and disappointments in small and big ways. And they all echo the same thing. We are not meant to do this alone. We can't do it alone. And it is humbling and embarrassing and awkward. But we have to–we have to help each other. There's just no other way, or I haven't seen another way to do it.

Morgan Jones  19:16
Well, and I love that you mentioned the example of Christ and doing that with others.

One of my favorite—this is going to expose me as the chick-flick fan that I am—but in the movie, "Charlie," have you seen "Charlie"? There's that part where it says, you know, when Lazarus died, Jesus didn't try to explain away their grief. He didn't tell them that it would be okay. And then it says He wept with them. He loved them. And I think that has always been a powerful thought to me. I think one of the biggest things that we can do for people in a time, like what you've just experienced, is to be with them. And sometimes that doesn't even involve saying anything, and sometimes it does. And like you said, we may say the wrong thing. But the important thing is to try.

I just wondered, Lisa, on the flip side of this, what did you learn from the experience of caring for your husband? And for serving him over that, was it four years? From the time he was diagnosed to his passing?

Lisa Valentine Clark 20:25
Yeah, for four years. We had it for four and a half years before he passed away. You know, it changed my whole outlook on caregiving. It was all encompassing, right? It was intellectually, physically, spiritually and mentally demanding to, you know, to care for him in that way, you know, on different levels. In such an intensity. It was . . . it was . . . it was a privilege.

And I will—when I think of it now, I wish I were still doing it. I wasn't done yet. And although in my mind, I kept thinking, "This is not sustainable. How can we keep doing this?" This is, this isn't, you know, I shouldn't be able to do all these things I was, it changed me. Yeah, it was. It was, it taught me about the grace of God.

I think I only understood grace theoretically, before that, you know. I grew up in a very sort of evangelistic sort of Christian community, and their criticism of my faith, you know, in a loving way, it wasn't mean spirited, was our lack of understanding of grace.

So I've always sort of carried that, in my heart. Like, I wonder if that's true. I wonder if I understand that. And, you know, I prayed to understand that, you know, since I was a teenager, and I have that experience to be able to understand what that means, you know, in a very personal way.

And I think, when you care for someone, and they rely on you for everything, you know, much like a child. And I know, Christopher felt so, you know, vulnerable about it, like, "Oh, you're taking care of me, just like you took care of our baby," you know. And, "I'm a grown man," and he felt so in the beginning, you know, embarrassed by that and resistant to it. But he and I just decided, you know, together, this is, there's no other way. This is the way, this is what we're supposed to do. And we laughed and we made jokes, and we just made it ordinary.

The thing Christopher wanted more than anything, and I think that this is the through line in caregiving, an idea that I hadn't thought about before, is that, you know, people all, everyone wants their dignity, right? Like their human dignity as an adult, you know, whether you're taking care of someone who's small or old. And once you're able to do that in a respectful way, they just want, you know, ordinary days. It was, you know, all the things that we take for granted, like being able to sit up, or stand, or walk, or brush your teeth, or, you know, any simple, simple movement, you know, he slowly lost the ability to. And then, you know, was able to, conversely, realize what a blessing and a miracle that it was that he was able to do it before.

So I was able to walk with him in that like appreciation for all the little things and his appreciation for his body and what he was able to do before increased, and it didn't torture him. But it was just further evidence of a loving God and further evidence that everything in this life is a miracle, the things that we just take for granted all the time. And so now I see that like that.

Caregiving also taught me to slow down. It taught both of us to slow down. We both just always hit the ground running, even when we met each other and just we're so busy all the time doing good things, having all these kids and getting a bunch of degrees and making a bunch of art and just going, going, going. And it caught, it taught us to just to slow down and be with our family and take care of each other and nurture each other. And it was really interesting because, you know, especially the last year, the last nine months were very, very hard.

And during the pandemic, we had to do it a lot of it by ourselves. We didn't have a lot of support, and we couldn't and, you know, he really took care of me. And it's, I know it sounds really weird for me to say that, but he was so loving and gentle and knew the things that I was worried about or would be worried about and the things that I needed to hear.

And that kind of caregiving, although it wasn't physical, that, that emotional, and sort of spiritual guidance that I got from him during that time was so, was such a different kind of caregiving. But it was so needed, especially for what I would face, you know, without him. So it's really changed my idea of so many things that it's kind of hard to just choose, you know, one, one thing.

Morgan Jones 25:37
That was so, so well said. And I think, as I prep for this interview, I listened to a couple of podcasts interviews that you had done previously. And I found it interesting hearing you talk about, you know, even once Christopher lost that mobility and his ability to communicate verbally, you talked about how, you know, he was still there helping you with your kids. And he was there when they got home and that then there's this big adjustment.

But I want to talk before we get to the adjustment period, I want to talk about living in that space. And it seems to me like one thing that the two of you and your kids did very well is choosing to live in the moment.

And one thing that Christopher said in his talk at the Jubilee was, he said, "From a universal perspective, there is no such thing as days of the week. There are no calendars. There's no day or night. There's only the unwavering love and care of our Heavenly Father."

And you talked about how you had this anticipatory grief, but that he was so good at keeping the focus on, "Well, I'm still here right now." And taking everything one day at a time.

I think you even gave the example of a therapist who encouraged both of you to just cry for 15 minutes a day, and to let that grief out. So I wondered, how do you think that Christopher was able to live in the moment that way? And how did that help you? Or what did you find to be effective in taking everything one day at a time?

Lisa Valentine Clark 27:17
Well, Christopher is all about fun and being in the present, right? So in our marriage, I was the one that was worried about, "Well, how are we going to, you know, pay for graduate school?" Or, "How are we going to afford that next kid?" Or, you know, "How are we going to organize our schedule for it?" And Chris was more of the, "It's gonna work out. It'll work out." You know, kind of, like, "If we work hard, and we do our best, the Lord will help us." And also, something always come up. And it just kind of will.

And he lived, and I know this is really ironic to say, but I still say and stand by it. He lived a charmed life for a lot of things. Like crazy things happen, and he always got out of it. That's how his life worked. And it is just part of his essence. And early on, when I would, like it was so funny because he would, especially early in the diagnosis, sometimes I would just look at him and my love from him would just like burst my heart and I would just start crying. And he'd say, "Why are you crying?" And I go, "Oh, my husband, who I love a lot, has this terminal disease. I don't know. It's really sad." And he goes, "Oh, that? It's not that bad yet. Get over it." You know, and just tease me like, just to kind of bring me back into reality.

As things got more serious and through his diagnosis, there was definitely a decision to be made, right? Like how you want to live, and I'm good with like a job. Give me a job to do. "What do you want me to do?" Like put me to work. That's how I cope. And Christopher wanted ordinary days. He didn't want to be treated precious. He didn't want people to come over in hushed tones and cry in his face and be like, "This is so sad. How are you doing it?" You know, he didn't want that. He wanted to go to rehearsal and work on a play. He wanted his friend to make fun of him for not being able to stand up in front of a bunch of people like, "Why are you getting up? What's wrong with you? What, just, what, you too good to, you know, give a standing ovation?" You know, like that he wanted to be treated regular.

And I realize, and something that he really, really taught me that I've thought a lot about since is that the sacredness in ordinary days. Again, the things that we take for granted all the time of just, you know waking up and going about your day and getting something to eat. And listening to the birds and just being able to open up a door when you want to and sitting down and laughing with friends. And working on a project that you really want to because all of those like little everyday moments became such a production.

And as long as I could preserve the an ordinary day for him, just a day where his kids are teasing and fighting, and he tells them to knock it off. And then they show him something funny, you know, on the phone is a better day than him sitting them down and saying, "When I'm gone, I want you to remember," you know, and these forced, manufactured, quote unquote, "important moments."

And so when that became my job as his wife, as his best friend, as his caretaker, then I had to wrap my head around it because then it was, it snapped me out of my pity party. It snapped me out of the fear of the unknown. It snapped me out of the anticipatory grief because I thought, "No, your job is to give Chris as many ordinary days as you can." So that means, yeah, "What is going to help him communicate? How can I get that expensive, you know, adaptive equipment so he can still type out funny jokes? Got it, I'm on it." "Which medication is going to allow him to sleep the best so that he can have the most awake days on it? Got it." You know what, whatever it is, "Which car am I ever gonna be able to get that will allow us to still drive around together as a family, even when his wheelchair weighs 4,000 pounds?" "Okay, I'll research it. I'm going to find the best one. Got it. On it."

And so for me, having that kind of focus helped us to feel like a normal, regular family because the gift that I was trying to give him and my children, frankly, was what we all crave when we're going through a horrible time, which is just normality, right? And just an everyday, just treating them regularly. And I count that as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life is that I was able to do that for four-and-a-half-years to give him a lot of regular ordinary days.

Morgan Jones  31:50
That's beautiful. I think that if all of us could appreciate a little bit more an ordinary day, then our lives would be a lot better. But I think we don't appreciate it until it starts to feel like it's being taken from us. And certainly that's something that we can learn from Christopher.

In his speech, he also said—and this is my favorite quote from his entire talk—I remember I wrote it down in my notes, he said, "The comfort of God is a miracle. The impressions and kindness of others is a miracle." And when he was talking about that, he was saying, you know, people will say, "Well, why isn't God giving you a miracle?" And what he was saying is God has given us miracles. And so I wondered, how did you see miracles in over the course of Christopher's battle with ALS?

Lisa Valentine Clark  32:42
Well, let me be very clear, we don't have enough time in this podcast for me to name every person who gave us a miracle, who answered that prayer. I will not be able to give God enough credit for every single one.

And I really do believe like, Elder Cook gave a wonderful talk where he talked about how God is, and because of the way that He is, with perfect charity, is such a gracious, humble bestower of gifts. So we'll go our whole lives looking for evidence of His gifts, and because He–it's so all encompassing, and so benevolent and so loving and humble, that He'll do a lot of it in secret without calling attention to it because of His nature. So I won't be able to name them all.

But some that I had, we have experienced that I didn't realize maybe before, is you know, there were miracles of comfort for Christopher. I don't think a lot of people realize that he was claustrophobic since he was a little boy. So having a disease like ALS was a different kind of torture for him because he was slowly becoming trapped in his own body. And he would have panics in the middle of the night. And it's sometimes, you know, I slept right next to Him until the very end, just so that he would be able to, you know, if he needed anything, contact me. But as his mobility and his voice, you know, he can't move he can't talk to indicate that you need help. There were times where I was awakened. And he was just looking, you know, at me and just needed help. And then I was able to. That's a miracle. He was able to have comfort come to him in the middle of the night where he felt like there were people there. So he didn't feel alone.

There was a time at the end, the last six to nine months, as I kind of hinted at before, were particularly difficult for a lot of specific reasons. And he didn't have a lot of, he was in a lot of pain. And he asked, he put on social media, "I'm going to be sitting outside my window." This is during the pandemic, "Right between the hours of one and four if anyone wants to come and entertain me." Which is such a Chris Clark thing to say. And I was like, "Why are you telling people that?" He's like, "Well, you know what, why not? I can't talk to anybody." And this was him taking charge of his own sort of emotional needs. And I will say that people came and performed and would just wave, would write notes and tape them to our window. That was a miracle, because I didn't know how much the kids and I needed that. I thought it was just for Chris at a time where I felt so scared and so tired, and so over-exhausted from everything and overworked and overwhelmed. And I knew that the end was close. But we received such an outpouring of individualized love, and notes. And during that time, that buoyed all of us up, all of us, the kids and me. Delighted Chris. We saw Chris laugh, and Chris laughed a lot. That's a miracle. You know, when he can barely breathe, and he's laughing so hard. Again, so many different, other, you know, miracles of people just saying the right thing at the right time, I could go on and on.

I think when you are realizing that your prayers are answered in a way that you didn't expect, but it's still an answer, it takes a lot of sort of refocusing. And, you know, how they, people always say, "Oh, you just see what you want to see." I think, "Yeah." As if that's, you know, evidence that God doesn't exist. I think saying what you want to see is evidence that God does exist and that we are being sustained, you know, moment to moment, and even the littlest, smallest details.

Now, there's a lot to be worked out about that, right? When you want one big miracle, I wanted one big miracle: Just cure Chris. Make him whole again. Make him better so that he can not have to go through this. And obviously, the answer to that was no. But I do feel like that the accumulation of all these little miracles, and some of them may seem small, but they were actually quite large.

And then there's a couple of miracles too that I will say, and not to be mysterious or to not answer your question, but just to say that are like sacred, you know. That, you know, I think it's not appropriate for me to share with other people. But those miracles came to an end. And I think that it's really interesting because we're all sort of praying for miracles every day or looking for them. I think whether we realize it or not. And I've really had to shift and to be honest, I still am shifting sort of my will of what that means to my recognition of it and sort of try to align them together, and it's hard work. But I do think that it reveals a more gracious, more intimate, caring, and involved in the details of our lives God that maybe we really fully talk about.

Morgan Jones 37:57
Lisa, that reminds me of one of my favorite things that you said in your talk. You said that a lot of people have asked, "Are you mad at God? Are you angry? Are you upset?" And you said, "That has not been our experience, but I don't judge anyone if it is. I have felt God's presence close to us. I have felt Him weep for me and for us. I have felt an outpouring of His love that is undeniable. And in that outpouring, I've tried to find meaning in Christopher's suffering and my suffering and in our childrens suffering." I was so touched.

You said something earlier in this conversation that you said in another interview that I listened to where you said that it was totally overwhelming, this experience. But you said, "I look back now at that time, and it was beautiful. And it was wonderful. And I wish that I were still living it right now. And I would do it again." And when I was listening to that, I was driving in my car and I was just like, "Holy cow, this woman, that emotion just like rips at my heart." So I wondered, especially I think in in the last year, how have you felt God's awareness of you and of your children and what you're going through right now and what have you learned about grief in the year since Christopher's passing? That's a huge question, I know. I apologize.

Lisa Valentine Clark  39:23
No, it's okay. It's a question. I mean, I'm the one that said we should talk about grief more. So here I am.

I think most notably, the biggest thing I've learned about grief is that there's no rushing it. There's no timetable. You know, it was easier to grieve with Christopher than without him. It's an entirely different situation. My life, in many ways, seems a lot easier right now. But I wish I were taking care of him.

You know, grief is—and I get why people don't want to talk about it. It's overwhelming. It's hard to understand. It's uncomfortable. It's a lot easier to be mad. It's a lot easier to be angry than it is to sit in grief, in sadness, and in that.

You know, I love that people are talking about grief in a different way, thanks to "Wandavision," which is a great show. And when I was watching it, I was like, "Oh, no." For those who aren't familiar, it's on Disney. It's a Marvel thing. And I was like, "I'm not even gonna watch that." And I watched it. And I was like, "Oh, no. Oh, no. The villain's grief was happening." You know, it was so well done. But, you know, grief really is, you know, it's just love with nowhere to go. It's unexpressed. And that's certainly been my experience.

I feel like, you know, after Christopher died, I just thought, "What do people do? Do we just go to work now? And then we come home, like, what, we have dinner?" Like life didn't make sense. You know, like, I just thought, "What are we all doing here?" And I feel like grief does that. I think we have a, you know, on the table of our lives, everything sorted out into nice little categories that make sense. That we've taken our life experiences and our joys and our sorrows and our ideas and our experiences and we've organized them into some sort of something that makes sense to us, right? Some sort of pattern, and then grief just just knocks the table over and says "I don't care. Now what?" And so, I feel like now it's to set the table up, and to pick up all those experiences one by one, and put them back on the table and make something new again, you know, out of it. So it is all encompassing.

And I know that people use that phrase, you know, "God doesn't give us more than we can handle." I don't think that that's true. I think God does give us more than we can handle. He's certainly given me more than I can handle. And He has asked me to do impossible things, but I have not been alone in it. You know, it's almost as if He's really been, you know, teaching me, "Okay, now, sort of, like be a grown up, what do you want? What do you need? Now what? Okay, so this is the situation, what do you want?" You know, "What do you need me to do? What help do you need to kind of take ownership for that?" To say, you know, to build the kind of life that I want to build or make sense of the grief that I want to make sense of. And so it's a, this wholly personal, you know, journey. But again, I feel like when I was with Chris daily, that, that it was an opportunity for us to do it together.

And, you know, having that conversation about, "Well, do you still feel him?" and all that is an entirely different conversation. But the fact is, is that it is death. It is. And grief is a huge part of that. And I, and I am really grateful that through it all that God has been kind. He's good. And I don't understand a lot of this life. But I do know that God is good and that He loves me. And that he asked all of us to do impossible things, but He asks us to do them with love. And he doesn't leave us alone. And so I feel like I've sort of come to the simplicity on the other side of complexity in that way, as you know. And that makes sense for me right now in this moment.

Morgan Jones 43:56
Thank you so much, Lisa for sharing that. And I want to pay you a compliment, and this probably is kind of unexpected, but I feel like you are such a funny person and for you—

Lisa Valentine Clark 44:10
That's exhibited in this—

Morgan Jones  44:12
Well, and that's what I'm about to say!

Lisa Valentine Clark 44:15
Oh, I know everyone's stomachs are hurting, their cheeks are hurting because they've laughed all the way through. Thanks. I'm fun at parties. Please invite me to one.

Morgan Jones  44:24
No, but that's what I was gonna say, is that you are a very funny person. And I recognize that being funny is where you're most comfortable. And so doing an interview like this cannot be super fun, and it's not. But it is important. And I appreciate you being willing to talk about grief, like you said, because it is, it is important and people don't want to talk about it. And so thank you for stepping into that space of discomfort to do this.

I also was thinking as you're talking about that night listening to you and Christopher speak. And it's so interesting because you gave his talk that night because he was unable to speak at that point. And when I think about it, I feel like I heard him speak. And I think that is a compliment to both good writing, and also just the two of you and the way that you operated as a unit. And in that unity, that was so beautiful. It felt like we were getting to hear him.

I want to ask you, before we wrap up, as you neared the end of Christopher's time here on Earth, was there a takeaway or a lesson that you think became profound for him about his experience in having battled this terrible disease?

Lisa Valentine Clark  45:57
I think that–and thank you for saying that.

I will say for those who are listening and thinking, "Oh, my gosh, she got real personal. She's laying it all out. Like that might be a little too much." I will say that you don't need to feel bad for me. But I might not have done this a few years ago. But the reason why I am doing it now is because when I was in a desperate place trying to navigate my own grief in a horrible panic and felt so alone and isolated, there were a few individuals who were willing and vulnerable and brave enough to have these kinds of conversations with me. And it helped me in ways that I can't even express and after those experiences of those people, and there's about three or four of them that really laid it all out for me, I made a decision that I would be one of those because it helped me so much, even though it feels so uncomfortable. And I'll have a vulnerability headache later. So thank you.

But in addition to that, the great thing about Christopher Clark that I wish everyone in the whole wide world knew is that he lived just openly, right. And he was who he was, and he didn't try to change in different kinds of settings. I mean, he certainly had manners and things like that. But he was okay with that.

You know, the hospice team, at the end of our lives, you know, they come in, and they check in on you, and you know, they have priests come in, and counselors and spiritual advisors and stuff, because they say, "Listen, we know that sometimes people needlessly suffer because they're hanging on, because they got to get something off their chest," or, "They haven't worked something out." And so they were like, "Is there anything you'd like to talk about? A relationship that you'd like to mention, you know, a sin, you want to confess, or whatever." And Christopher wasn't perfect. I'm not trying to say that. But he was like, "No, I'm good." Because he had the conversations that he needed to, he had lived his life in that way.

And we should all be like that, you know, of saying, "Well, I wasn't perfect, but I did the best I could in these circumstances. And I hope everyone gives me the benefit of the doubt. And I made lots of mistakes, but I changed and I'm at peace." He wasn't afraid to die. He was afraid of suffering. And I think that there's a huge difference in that. And he didn't suffer at the end. And that was because of a promise that I had made to him and because of a great hospice team.

And I think that the theme that I felt, I certainly felt, and I hope that those close to him felt too, was that it was all about love–all his love. You know, he used to have that on his, on his wall in his office to remind him to be nice to people who bugged him and who annoyed him. It just reminded him why he was there: all is love. And when he thought about us, the entire family and leaving us, when he thought about going on the other side, when he thought about his legacy when he thought about anything, it all had to do with love. It's all about that, you know.

A lot of people don't know that, you know, before Chris even was diagnosed, he was really interested in the afterlife and near-death experiences and things like that and ghosts and hauntings and things and it was just like his hobby. And he would always say to me, you know, he said, "They all say the same thing. You know, whether you've had a near-death experience or whether you've been close. It's all about love." You know, that everybody says whether they're, you know, a member of the Church or not, it doesn't matter. It's all about love. And I think that's the way Chris–I think that was confirmed at the end of his life. And now that's something that I say and that I think, "What's this life about? It's all about love."

Morgan Jones 49:38
I love it. Well, Lisa, thank you so much again. My last question for you is what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Lisa Valentine Clark  49:49
Well, I think to be all in to the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be constantly seeking Him. You know, President Nelson recently gave a talk in April 2020 called, "Hear Him" about different ways that we can do that. Personally, I think when you're all in, that means that that is your focus. When you wake up in the morning, there's a lot of, you've got a million choices to make, right? In what you think about what you say, and you do, and how you act and how you organize your day. I mean, it's a million different things. And so there's a million beautiful ways that you can express your love, the way that you can live your life. And to be all in means that that focus is to seek Him.

Morgan Jones 50:36
Thank you so much. I appreciate your time, more than you know.

A huge thank you to Lisa Valentine Clark for joining us on this episode. Be sure to go see Once I Was Engaged in theaters July 21. And also don't forget that the "All In" book hits bookshelves July 26.

Thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix at 6 Studios for his help with this episode and thank you for listening. We'll look forward to being with you again next week.

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