Susan Anneveldt knows that, even though she is the only member of her family to join the Church in this life, her passion for family history work has led her deceased extended family members to the gospel through temple work. As a single woman caring for aging parents and living far away from her local branch in the Netherlands, Susan combats the plague of loneliness with her understanding of the gospel’s worldwide community and the assurance of eternal families.
How did you come to join the Church?
I was born in South Africa to parents who had both been born and raised in Europe. My father is Dutch. My mother was born and raised in England to an English father and a South African mother. My father was raised a Catholic and my mother was raised a Protestant. She became a Catholic when she wanted to marry my father. In those days it was required. I was raised Catholic and I spent most of my school years with Irish Catholic nuns. From a very early age I had some very different ideas from the doctrine I was being taught while being raised.
When our family left South Africa and arrived in Europe, my high school graduation was not recognized, mostly for political reasons. I went to England and spent a year doing a crash course in British university entrance level schooling, because it was easy for me to study in English, so that my schooling would be recognized in the Netherlands. Because I was not comfortable with the religion that I had been brought up with, I didn’t go to church. I just could not believe some of the things that I had been taught, and I knew there had to be something else. For a while I was actually an agnostic. I didn’t know what to believe.
But then when I was in England finishing up my studies, for some reason I kept getting these feelings, “I need to find a church.” One evening I was lying in my bed at my friend’s house where I was staying and trying to pray, wanting to know what I needed to do with my life. I got a reassuring feeling, very unusual for me. I was praying without even knowing if I believed in a God anymore, but after that feeling I knew there must be a God.
When I was back in the Netherlands, my mother met missionaries and gave them our address. When they came to our home, my mother came to my room and said, “There are people here you might like to meet.” It took quite a while before I did join the Church. I can still distinctly recall standing, putting a book onto the bookshelf in my room, and having this hammer blow between the eyes, like a voice saying, “You are going to be baptized. “
And it was like another voice said, “Oh no you’re not.” It was like a battle. I don’t mean literal voices, but just impressions.
And in the end I said, “I do want to be baptized,” and that negative feeling entirely left me. So in a small way I can comprehend how Joseph Smith felt prior to the First Vision taking place, that inner conflict. Initially, even though I was old enough to make my own decisions–I was 22 years old– my father basically freaked out. I thought he was going to kick me out. I think he thought it was a cult. He didn’t really know much about the Church. And also his very, very devoutly Catholic mother was much opposed to any other religion, so he was afraid. We didn’t discuss what I planned to do with her but interestingly enough, after she died and I did the temple work for her, I know she did embrace the gospel. I know that for sure. Three weeks after I was baptized, I moved with my family to another part of the country. I attended a military unit of the Church that was English speaking. Various members kept saying to me, “I think you should go on a mission.” It bothered me a bit. It made me feel like I was under pressure. Ultimately, I had to see the branch president about a calling. When I went into his office, he said, to me, “So, Susan, are you here to turn in your mission papers?”
I was speechless at first, just babbling nonsense. Finally I said, “No, no. I can be a very good member missionary. I don’t know why I should go on a full-time mission.” He said, “Well, think about it. Pray about it.”
So I went home and I did think about and I did pray about it. And the answer I got was, “Susan, do you love the Lord?”
My answer was, “Well, of course I do.”
And again, “Susan, do you love the Lord?”
“Well, then if you love the Lord, you will do what He wants you to do.”
So I thought, “OK, I’m supposed to go on a mission.” It scared the heck out of me.
I turned in my mission papers in late 1987. I was called to California Anaheim Mission and spent eighteen months in California. It was very rough at times, but I stuck with it. Yes, there were negative experiences. But ultimately all the positive things outweighed it. It’s one of the most important things I’ve done in my life.
How did you come to be involved in family history work?
Some years after my mission, as a non-traditional adult student, I earned my degree at BYU. I went to BYU with the intention of having family history as my major, but in the end I majored in historical linguistics and minored in family history. I have a deep testimony of redeeming the dead. I come from a large family. I don’t mean in my own immediate family. I’m one of three surviving children in the family. My mother had six babies before I was born but then she lost them. They were all born alive, but they were very premature, so they didn’t survive the hour. I have triplet brothers and three sisters in the spirit world who were born before me, but the point is, that I was one of three children, but the extended family in South Africa and the Netherlands and in England is big. I always was familiar with stories about the family and generations before and it just fascinated me.
Growing up, I heard a lot about World War II—“during the war this..,” and “during the war that…” It had been a traumatic experience for both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family. In England, where my mother was born and raised, her father was a naval man. He fought in World War I, and in World War II he was called up again even before the declaration was made of Britain going to fight with the Germans, because they knew it was inevitable that war was going to break out. My mother didn’t see him for three years, until 1943 when he had to come home because his youngest son, my mother’s youngest brother, was killed indirectly because of the war at the age of six.
My father’s family had a café restaurant across the road from the German barracks there in Arnhem in the Netherlands. Arnhem was much destroyed by the war and the Allies were constantly trying to bomb the barracks. Plus, my father had one sibling, an older brother who was a promising young artist in his early twenties, and he was taken away as a slave laborer. He never came home again. So I was very familiar with this idea of family members being missing. The gospel aspect of family history, unlike the hobby aspect, has been tremendously important to me. Through the gospel, I can do something for my family and give back to my ancestors. My family has been fascinated by all the stuff I dig up. They don’t know why I do it; they don’t comprehend it, but they’ve been pretty free about giving information.
I wanted to do family history work professionally. I did get my chance after I graduated to work in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, but unfortunately, my visa as a foreign student was only for a year of practical work after I’d graduated. So although I had a fixed job, my ability to stay in America was not fixed. So I had to go back to Europe, and I’ve been living in the Netherlands since then.
But as my father had been diagnosed already with Alzheimer’s disease, I knew when I was going home that I’d end up, as a single woman, being the family member who had to help out at home. That was why I ended up being a caregiver—well, my mother was officially the main caregiver for my father, but I ended up doing a fair amount and became an official caregiver as well, and that has continued until last year, 2010, when my father had to go into a nursing home. It was just not possible to help him enough at home anymore. I am currently still at home. I’m hoping to have my own place again one day, but in the meantime my mother needs extra help now. Not so much in the psychological sense but more in the house being looked after and such. She’s also becoming a bit forgetful, which is age-related, I suppose. Sometimes when people get older they can be very difficult. That is just a condition of aging and you can have some down days. I’ve had some very down days, but I’ve managed to survive. So for now that is my mission in life, I guess, to keep things as smooth as possible in my own way for my immediate family.
You have lived in five different countries and moved internationally both as a child and as an adult. How does your international experience inform your testimony of the gospel?
I am very aware of the scripture, “He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). We’re all part of the same gospel. I feel uncomfortable if I see people shut others out. The gospel embraces everybody. The LDS Church is international–it has many cultures, many languages, many ethnicities. When I see people of such vastly different origins embracing the gospel, I see how it is a gospel for the world.
I have noticed that some people—not everyone, but some–feel that, if they have a pioneer pedigree—not necessarily American crossing-the-plains pioneers, but if they come from a long line of LDS members–that somehow they have an elevated status. We all ultimately have had the gospel since Adam and Eve even if it has not been manifest in our lives. Anyone who was baptized yesterday is just as valid as someone who has come from a long line.
This is a value I brought into the Church with me from my family. Growing up in South Africa, our family was not pro-apartheid. My parents became South African citizens so they could become politically involved in making a difference. When we lived there, we had a nanny, Hannah, who kept house for us. She was Cape Coloured. “Coloured” was not meant as a derogatory term, even under apartheid, but indicated somebody of mixed race, Creole you could say. Anyway, Hannah’s daughter Verona would come with her if Hannah was working Saturdays or school holidays.
When I was about twelve and Verona was nine, we went to one of these children’s play parks, which had swings and roundabouts and see-saws. We were playing there, not bothering anyone. But all of a sudden we saw this young girl walking toward us over this big stretch of grass towards the playing area. At the house where she had come from, there was a man washing his car. She came up to us and said in Afrikaans, “Hierdie park is net vir blankes,”meaning “This park is just for white people,” or in other words, “Get lost, you with the dark skin,“ meaning my friend. I remember getting so angry that I did something I would not normally do. I was not a violent person but I reached over in my indignation at the rudeness and I slapped this girl on the face. My friend Verona looked at me and she followed my lead because I was, you know, the big sister. She slapped the girl, wallop! The girl started crying and her dad saw what was going on. I bet he sent her over to us anyway. Big anger!
Verona and I took off. We were running across this place that had never been turned into grass so it was covered with scrubby indigenous things with lots of thorns. We had wings on our feet because, even with just our little flip-flops on, our feet didn’t get stabbed by thorns. We made it home and this man didn’t catch us. My grandmother was very supportive of us, though she was Afrikaner herself. Sometimes you just have to defend someone, and I guess that’s how I feel, too, inside the Church. Anybody who is genuinely seeking the gospel needs to be accepted, and you don’t discriminate against them.
So I share important gospel values with my family, but also since joining the Church I have gained many more values. For example, I’m not saying my family are liars and cheats, but if I’m in the supermarket with a family member and they decide to sample a grape to see if it’s sweet and I say, “You shouldn’t really be doing that without paying for it,” they feel like I’m being nitpicky. Those things they have trouble understanding. Sometimes I see a gap between my family and me because none of them have embraced the gospel. At least not on this side of the veil. On the other side, I know that the immediate family members who are all dead now have embraced the gospel. I’ve had that spiritual reassurance.
What has been your recent experience as caregiver to your parents?
It was a very hard year this past year. Stress, strain, health issues. Last year with my father having to go into the home, things just came to a head. What I’d been able to stuff inside to keep me going, it wasn’t enough. These things have made it difficult for me to be involved much in Church. I haven’t left the Church or anything like that, but it was hard sitting in the church physically because I have a lot of problems with my joints, and it’s a long way to get to church for me–a four-hour round trip to my nearest church unit. I’ve had very supportive home teachers who happen to be the branch president and his counselor. I’m hoping that when things settle down with the family and when my health improves I’ll be able to be totally involved in the Church. As I say, my body may not be in church every week, but the head is there.
In a situation like mine, caring for aging parents, you have to get priorities sorted, you have to find what your strengths and weaknesses are, see what you’re able to do, and what you’re unable to do. You can draw on spiritual help, but you do need practical help as well. Sometimes people who are married and involved in families don’t know quite how to be supportive of single women, of anyone living outside the standard format of family structure. You can feel supported just by people understanding, even if they can’t physically do something for you. And those of us in this position find common ground with each other.
In my international branch, there is another older single sister who is a full-time caregiver. Once every few months I will jump on public transportation and go down to a train station fairly near to where she lives. She will pick me up. She will have had to pay a carer a fair amount of money so that she can have an hour or two off and she and I will go for a walk through the Royal Park in Wassenaar and we can talk. I’ve also been helping her with family history the last few years. She hasn’t got time to do that. So I’m able to provide names for her so that when she goes to the temple, when she has time to do that, she has her own family names to do the work for, which is a blessing to her.
What spiritual challenges do you face in your situation?
I know it is important to try to build yourself up as strongly as possible spiritually. It’s not always possible because some of these distractions can be very, very hard, but that spiritual strength can keep you going when other things can’t anymore. Studying the scriptures has been harder in this last year for me because of those distractions. Sometimes I may only be able to concentrate for a half a chapter or a few verses. Sometimes it’s just opening at random. But it calms me down when I’ve had a difficult day. I gain a reassurance that I’m not on my own even when sometimes I think I am.
Stress can sometimes make it hard to make that divine connection through prayer, so you have to work extra hard on it. The best way I can describe it is, if you had a very, very good friend who was very helpful who told you, “Anytime you are in need, please call me,” and then someone cut the telephone wires between you and him but said, “Go ahead and call anyway.” It becomes hard to feel that someone’s listening to you or even to get the feeling, “It has been heard.”
What’s ahead for the next ten years?
That is very hard because I’ve been learning to take each day as it comes, certainly this past year. There are some things that are not revealed to me. There are some things that are beyond my control. I know that it is inevitable that within the next decade, I will lose one or both of my parents because of their age. I would be on my own, for all intents and purposes. I would hope that I would not be physically on my own by the end of ten years. I would hope that some special man would decide that he wants to have me in his life as the one. Obviously biological motherhood is not going to happen. But I’ve not ever been an overly maternal sort of person, which has been a good thing because I have female friends who are single and who have heard the biological clock stop ticking and have been extremely distraught because they so crave motherhood. I know that motherhood is not just something in this life and that there are other ways of being a mother that are not biological: I have been an aunt and in that way have experienced a boy and girl growing up from babyhood to be teens. Now I have a niece about to be eighteen in a few days. She is on the brink of adulthood!
But I would hope that I would not be on my own in ten years. If anything is my enemy in this life, it’s loneliness. I wrestle with that a lot.
I’m very grateful for the gospel and the many friends I’ve made through it over the years. I have always been good at making friends, at having a wide circle of acquaintances. A family friend once commented to me, “You know, Susan, you can get someone’s life story out of them in five minutes.” I learn the most fascinating things from people I meet. But when we have the gospel in common, we have something eternal.
At A Glance
Susan H.M. Anneveldt
Location: The Netherlands
Marital status: Never married
Occupation: Linguist/Genealogist (currently part-time worker for social services)
Convert?: 2nd July 1983
Schools Attended: Convent ®ular high schools, South Africa; BYU (Provo), USA
Languages Spoken at Home: English, Afrikaans, Dutch
Favorite Hymn: “If You Could Hie To Kolob”
Interview by Annette Pimentel. Photos used with permission.