The Miracle of Lucia

My dear friend Lucia Tortis Cooper was twenty‐five when she married Richard Cooper in the spring of 1982. They both joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1983 and two years later their daughter, Lisa, was born. In January of 1987, by speaking directly to Richard's doctor, Lucia discovered her husband had AIDS. Back then that was an immutable death sentence.

Richard had been unfaithful in their marriage and had known about his AIDS for many months, but had said nothing to her. She immediately had the AIDS tests done on both her and her daughter. Her daughter tested negative, but Richard had given Lucia AIDS. He passed away just a few weeks after Lucia found out he had the disease. Lucia followed him in death two years later, leaving her four-year-old daughter an orphan.

The following is an edited version of the talk I gave at Lucia’s funeral, November, 1989.

Lucia was convinced, right up to the time she lapsed into unconsciousness, that in some miraculous way her life would be spared. That was not to be. But there was a miracle. It was the miracle of Lucia herself.

"I felt too pure in heart to have this affliction hold me down," she once said. Because of her absolute purity, the gift of faith was hers in abundance. 

She shunned the standard treatment for AIDS. Her doctors were frustrated. They could not understand. When her T‐cell count dropped to 55, with a normal reading being in the 200's, they were insistent on her taking AZT. [AZT was the only HIV treatment then, and the most optimistic prognostication for using it was to extend life some months.] Lucia's response, with her smile and infectious laugh, was: "Doctor, I don't want the medicine. I know it sounds crazy, but I don't want your medicine."

As her doctor looked at her healthy glow with no outward signs of an immune system gone haywire, he replied: "You're obviously putting your faith somewhere else. I guess it's not in medicine."

Lu's answer was direct and unwavering: "You're right. I'm using my total faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to get me through this."

She worked as a volunteer in the Los Angeles temple each week. The temple was a sanctuary. As she explained, "Through my work in the temple I serve God and demonstrate my gratitude for the love He has shown me. It is my spiritual medicine. I have spent hours in this holy place in fervent prayer, talking to my Heavenly Father about this overwhelming challenge. I continually commit to Him that I will do His will."

Her faith preserved her body for an impossibly long time. Her faith gave her the physical and emotional strength to walk out of the hospital when, according to the doctors, she should be dead. Her faith brought her to her last conscious moments fully relying upon the will of Him whom she loved. "My Father is watching me and knows of my trial," she said. "I know I am a chosen daughter of my Heavenly Father."

The miracle of Lucia was manifest in the way she faced her adversity. "There is purpose in this life," she said, "no matter what affliction we may meet. If we turn our obstacles around, they can work to our advantage. We can grow from them. Our spirit can even elevate to the highest degree if we will allow it."

Hers was an ordeal of almost incomprehensible proportion. Hers was a trial of betrayal and of dashed dreams of what might have been. Of motherly anxieties for a daughter who would be raised by someone else. Of day-to-day, hour-to-hour coping with a decaying body and inevitable death. Of bearing the hurt, ostracism, and futility of a 20th century leper. Yet Lucia declared, "I'm not ready for this challenge to end yet. I'm in love with the change that is taking place in me. I'm beginning to realize my potential. Thank you Father for this fabulous experience. I love you."

The miracle of Lucia has affected all of us who were close to her. We have been brought to serious introspection. Our own trials have lost their appeal for self‐pity. And we have been raised from inward fall as we have sought to lessen her burden. On the wall of the hospice where she spent her last moments is written: "With every death we may not see any rewards. But there is one. People grow closer through love, warmth, and caring. This cannot be bought. Only given." Lucia has given us that priceless gift.

There is another miracle of Lucia. One that transcends all others. One that literally defines God and those who would be one with Him. Lu loved everyone. She did not have a negative thing to say about anybody. A Godly gift of compassion that she claimed to have received from her own loving mother. The limitless breadth and depth of her love was demonstrated in her feelings about the man who was solely responsible for this great trial and tragedy in her life—her husband Richard.

"What is it really like to give of charity, the pure love of Christ?" That was the question she asked as she reflected back on the last time she saw her husband before he died. He was comatose and had shrunk to the skin and bones that is the inevitable result of AIDS. Unlike Lucia, his last days had been sheer agony. No peace, only pain. No solace, only distress and anxiety.

Speaking of charity, she continued. "I felt it stronger than ever that night. We took our positions on each side of his bed and had prepared ourselves to give it all we had, for we were sure it was his last night. We sang to him peaceful hymns to comfort his soul. We read him scriptures. But more than anything that night, I needed to talk to him. As I held his hand I said, 'Dick, if you love me, squeeze my hand.' For the first time in nine days I felt a manifestation of life. He feebly squeezed my hand. 'Oh, God in heaven, he can hear me. He squeezed my hand,' I shouted. Now it was my responsibility to tell him some important last words."

What would have been the last words that you or I would have said if we were talking to one who had been unfaithful to us? One who had ruined our life by giving us AIDS? One who would make our daughter an orphan? Here is what Lu said: "Dick, now that I know you can hear me, I want you to know that I'm not mad for what happened. I'll never be mad.

“You know I still love you and wished you didn't have to go through this. Seek the Church, Dick. Please remember to seek the missionaries to teach you, because you don't understand. Please let go now. You'll be better on the other side."

Her lack of bitterness, and her complete forgiving of and undeviating compassion for this man who merited her wrath and scorn, was as great a miracle as I have witnessed.

A few months ago, Lucia's close friend Kitty Billings asked her, "If you had it to do over again, would you be willing to go through the trials you have had, to learn the things you have learned?"

Without a pause, Lucia replied, "I don't like being ill. I'm a young woman. I love dancing and dating and all the things that every woman enjoys. More than anything, I want to have a happy marriage and raise my daughter. I didn't ask for this disease, and I don't want it. But yes, I would go through it all again. I like me as I now am!"

Thank God for the miracle of Lucia.



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