Fern Stewart Welch spent almost 15 years watching her husband, Kenneth, die — one ailment after another taking him downward into dementia, pneumonia and congestive heart failure. It took its toll on her at a time when she was pressing ever harder to communicate with God, she says, “for a real connection with the sublime and eternal something.”
The Scottsdale woman, now 72, developed a daily discipline that, she says, evolved into authentic communion with God, who guided her as she was losing her vital lifeline with Kenneth Welch, a Valley civic leader and a former publisher of Phoenix magazine. Each morning, she prayed in her upstairs meditation room, then wrote words in her journal that she believes were divinely inspired. She said it freed her from fear, opened her to loving and made her husband’s death at 82 in 2004 something she could accept.
“I continued to pray that the connection could happen in me, and that though this loving communion, we could find a better way” Welch writes in her book “The Heart Knows the Way: How to Follow Your Heart to a Conscious Connection With the Divine Spirit Within.”
“It is possible for an ordinary person to have communication with God,” she says. “It is our birthright, and each soul knows the timing, the path and the pace of the journey.”
The book features Welch’s pleas and her questions of God, followed by what she believes were his answers and instructions. An example: “Please help me that so I can help Ken,” she implores. The response: “You are mourning for your relationship with Ken, the full life you had. You are mourning for what was not to be with you and Ken. . . . You no longer have to think you are alone.”
A lifelong spiritual seeker, Fern was working in banking community relations when she met Kenneth Welch and his wife, Anita, in the Valley civic and social circuit. “Those were the kind of people I wanted to be around,” she says.
Fern started her own public relations agency and took a temporary stint as editor of Arizona Living magazine. After Anita’s death, Fern often encountered Kenneth Welch at a Chinese restaurant, and by early 1980, they were dating.
Fern said she went to a Presbyterian church for 46 years but never joined. She tried Catholicism, went to synagogues with her Jewish friends, explored the Greek Orthodox faith and spent a dozen years in a Search for God study group that met weekly. “That was the first time I was able to really let people know what a terrible person I was because I couldn’t find God,” she says, “and I couldn’t be content with any denomination.”
In 1981, she and Ken married. Her public relations firm flourished. “We packed family, friends, entertaining, traveling and careers into a seamless stream of joy,” she writes. But in the late 1980s, Ken was hospitalized with diabetes, and later he was diagnosed with Lyme disease. After Ken underwent open-heart surgery, Fern closed her business and devoted herself to her husband’s care.
Fern said she was never prepared emotionally for “the pain and frustration of watching my beloved husband face the fight of his life.” For months, she said she meditated and prayed, causing her feelings to “rise up like floodwaters. . . . I cried for everyone I knew. . . . I asked for mercy. I waited and waited and waited.” But one day, Fern said she fell to her knees “in abject surrender,” with tears and “chest-wracking sobs,” got it all out, then picked up her journal. As she began writing, she noted, they “weren’t superficial words” but “the desire of my heart that came from a place deep within me.”
And so began her “soul desire” in a communion with God. “I want to have a personal relationship with you,” she wrote. And almost immediately, her mind received these thoughts: “Fern, Fern, Fern, the fact is you have it. You’ve always had it. Yet allowing yourself to experience it is another thing altogether. Try affirming that you have it and live knowing that you have it. Proclaim and live it.”
The communications started in 2002 and sustained her through the next two years of Ken’s life.
“I was absolutely desperate for the help, and yet I still had mixed emotions about how could this happen to such an ordinary human being as me,” she says. “It must be a shift in consciousness in that everything was so natural, so right, so good, that there was nothing else.”
She believes such communion with the divine is “a key to the next evolutionary step for man — making the connection with God, that part of us that enables us to live in undivided wholeness.
“I now live more fully and love more fully and am more aware and more alive,” she says. “I think that one of the sadnesses that people have when they are close to dying is that they have not fully lived, and they haven’t had that connection with God — the essence of life.”