LDS leader Russell M. Nelson recalls the ‘most difficult’ time in his life

Church president revisits the “deep grief and loneliness” of losing his first wife two days before Valentine’s Day, urges people to “show ‘lovingkindness’ to everyone.”

(Courtesy of the Nelson family in Tribune archives) Russell M. Nelson and Dantzel shortly before announcing their engagement in the summer of 1945. She died in 2005 after the couple's nearly 60-year marriage.

Russell M. Nelson knows something about a broken heart.

As a surgeon, he mended it. As a husband, he experienced it.

In a special Valentine’s Day message Monday, the 97-year-old president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recalled the “most difficult” time in his life — a stretch filled with sorrow, pain and loss.

It began two days before the holiday, Feb. 12, 2005, when Dantzel, his 78-year-old wife of nearly 60 years, died suddenly with him at her side.

“That Valentine’s Day was absolutely painful,” Nelson recalled in an Instagram post. “...The days and months that followed were the most difficult of my life. The silence was deafening, and it was a time of deep grief and loneliness for me.”

A renowned cardiac surgeon before his call to full-time church service, Nelson noted that Valentine’s Day can be a “wonderful” occasion to honor those we love. “But for others,” he said, “it can be a reminder that things haven’t worked out as they had hoped.”

He encouraged all — regardless of relationship status — to emulate Jesus Christ and “find ways today to show ‘lovingkindness’ to everyone around us. Beyond chocolates or flowers, let’s give of our time, attention, and care to those who need it most.”

After losing his first wife, Nelson found love again 14 months later, marrying Wendy Watson on April 6, 2006, in the Salt Lake Temple.

“She now fills my life with tremendous joy,” he wrote, “and I hope I do the same for her!”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson and wife Wendy Watson Nelson leave General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.