Hope Beyond Pain

Peoples Temple seems like such a long time ago, yet everything is fresh in my memory. I can see faces, I remember conversations and laughter. Children singing and playing. An elderly person telling life stories. Choir practice, birthday parties, Halloween parties, Disneyland, trips to cities across the US. Things as everyday as helping someone with homework… These are some of my favorite memories.

I also remember a lot of my friendships and mentors, the people who helped shape who I am today. I learned compassion, strength, open mindedness, how to help others in need, and what friendship really means.

Of course being in Peoples Temple was not always rosy, and I have the ability to remember a lot of icky things, but I choose not to. It’s the people I like to remember, not the organization itself!

All in all, I can only say that God has blessed me beyond what I deserve. I also believe “to whom much is given, much is required.” Because God has blessed me with great family and friends, I am able to give back. Pay it forward.

One of my biggest blessings was meeting my future husband five or six years ago and getting married on June 4, 2005. That was one of the happiest days of my life, if not the happiest! Although none of us are perfect, I don’t think it was possible to have had a better husband.

On May 20, 2009 at 6:10 pm a police chaplain came to my door and informed me that, on his way home, my husband, Bill, had been killed in a head-on collision with another vehicle.

I started hyperventilating. My heart felt like it completely stopped. I kept telling the chaplain that he was wrong, it was not my husband, he had mistaken Bill for someone else and that Bill would be home shortly. This chaplain was so kind and patient, he seemed to know when to say something and when to just let me try to process what I was hearing.

I fell to my knees and began to cry. The crying got harder and harder. I just kept saying, “It’s impossible. Not Bill. Not him. I just spoke with him this morning.” I walked around the house in a daze, not wanting to believe what the man sitting in my front room had just told me. My Bill dead, gone, not coming home… What do I do now, how could I do anything… I can’t even breathe, I can’t comprehend anything.

As I walked down the hallway, I prayed, “Oh, Lord, be with his family, they love him so much, they are going to be devastated, Lord please help them.” I tried to find my daughter’s number on my cell through my tears. No answer. I tried two, three, four more times. No answer. I tried my son’s number. No answer. I called Bill’s sister, Laurie. No answer. I called another of Bill’s brothers. No answer. Now I’m screaming for someone to answer their phone, anyone! Finally I reached my sister-in-law Melinda, and was able to talk to her and my brother-in-law Bob. I just needed to let one person in the family know so that they could pass on this horrible news. They deserved to know as soon as possible.

Finally, my daughter and son phoned me back and were home within the hour. At first we just looked at each other stunned, then we all broke down in tears and hugged each other tight. I’ll never forget the heaviness of grief that went through our entire family that night. Everyone pacing through the house, crying, and then not knowing what to feel, trying to make some sense out of something that seemed impossible. What would become of our family now? How could we go on without Bill?

I’d lost both my mother and my brother in Jonestown, but this was more difficult for me. I don’t know why, maybe because of the combination of all the loss, or because I’m older, or because I’d finally found my best friend who was now gone. Maybe all of the above. I had found a life with a man with a heart for God who knew how to live it day by day. What a blessing.

God has been with me and blessing me through this entire process. In the first hour when I found out about Bill, my neighbor who is rarely in her front yard, was in her front yard, and had seen the chaplain’s car. She heard me crying and knew someone had died. She quietly let herself in, and before I knew it, she was on the floor with her arms wrapped around me, quietly comforting me. God had sent me an angel of comfort!

Since we had lived in Colorado Springs for only a little over a year, we had not be able to establish a good network of friends like we had in Minnesota. Joani, one of my close friends from back there, was by my side within hours. Two of Bill’s brothers and my sister-in-law drove from Minnesota and were at my house the next afternoon. The following day, I had six more wonderful friends from my Minnesota church group at my side. I am in awe how all these grieving family members were able to focus and facilitate what had to be done. God was clearly present and in control! I don’t know what I would have done without these good people in my life.

Bill’s family is the most compassionate family I have ever known. He was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters, and they have made it very clear to me that I am stuck with them for life. They continue to love me, and I am forever grateful.

An amazing aspect about Bill’s death was how he died. When you think of a car accident – especially a head-on collision – you do not think of viewing the body. This has been something I have never believed in anyway. I want to remember the person as I last saw them. Knowing that Bill had died instantly, that he did not suffer, helped me tremendously!

I had to go to the morgue to sign paperwork. My family and friends who came with me decided to view the body. I changed my mind about seeing him when I realized he was just in the next room, and I was the only one not seeing him. Of course, at the time I was still distraught, so when I went in, I kept at a distance staring at him. I saw that his face was so peaceful that I thought he was going to get up and come home. It was hard to believe he was in a car accident. But I could also see he was really gone, that clearly there was no life spirit left in his body, but peaceful just the same.

It has been a long, difficult, painful journey, and one I will be on for quite some time. It is late September and things are just beginning to have some normalcy. I returned to Minnesota in July, and just moved into my own apartment. I am trying to adjust to being without my best friend, spiritual mentor and love of my life. Everything we would normally do – long talks, walks, day trips, TV shows, movies, music, places, people – everything reminds me of Bill and that painful void that is now there. There are good days and bad days, but even on the bad days there is always hope.

God has put good people in my life. He has been there with me every painful moment of every day. I have faith in God and know that my husband is in Heaven experiencing things I can’t even imagine in my most creative dreams. This gives me a peace that can’t be explained, just felt. We will be together again some day, experiencing joy, peace, happiness, and most of all, no more pain. This is what gives me hope, and the willingness to give hope to others.

We live in an unperfect world where there is much pain and sorrow. I believe that God hears our prayers and wants us to rely on Him. I have seen many miracles, I am one of them.

The fruits of God’s spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22) This is what gives me hope, hope for a better world, both here and in heaven.

I have hope and faith in God. I have seen enough good, and have done enough research to believe and know He exists and is an awesome God. I don’t know how anyone makes it through a day without faith and hope through Christ Jesus, in God.

My prayer is that God gives me the strength and wisdom to use this experience to help others, to bless others as God has blessed me.

(Kim Dutra Arvold is a former member of Peoples Temple. Her complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. She can be reached at kim_dutra@yahoo.com.)