RAYMOND, Alberta — Few hugs compare to the one a mother receives from her returned missionary after a long absence.
And when William Atwood returned home to Raymond, Alberta, Canada, from serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Philippines, he didn’t disappoint.
With a running start, the eager Mormon missionary and former high school football player embraced his mother with such vigor that they fell to the ground.
The family laughed, the security guards looked concerned and the video of the event can be seen on YouTube.
But what can't be seen is the relief of a single mother who completed five straight years of having children on Mormon missions.
Susie Atwood, a mother of seven, became a widow in 2005, four years after her oldest son returned from his mission to Haiti.
From 2008 to 2013, she sent one daughter and three sons on missions, three of them overlapping for 10 months.
While Atwood uses words like "fantastic" and "awesome" to describe her experience as a missionary mom, she also faced the challenges that came with being a single mom.
“Sometimes I felt that I needed (the) support of my husband just to worry with me when I worried over them and somebody to tell me they were OK and everything was going to be OK,” Atwood said in an interview with the Deseret News.
There were hard times, but as Atwood attended LDS Church meetings, read scriptures and said prayers, she found the faith to keep pressing forward.
She also saw many blessings.
“I went back to school and got my schooling paid for," Atwood said. "I found a good job and I’ve always been able to afford to live."
Atwood said another blessing is that people always seem to be willing to help her out.
An anonymous family in her Mormon ward even offered to pay for part of one of her son’s missions.
“(The bishop) couldn’t tell me who it was, so I told him ‘I guess I’ll have to be nice to everyone in the ward then,'” Atwood said.
Atwood said the hug her youngest son gave her when he returned home last November represents how much family matters.
She felt that her family was strengthened while her missionaries were gone, and she also has a big testimony of missionary work.
“I think missionary work is important so our brothers and sisters across the world can be united with their families and with us, eventually, because we’re all one big family,” Atwood said.
Megan Marsden Christensen writes for the Faith and Family sections. She recently graduated from BYU-Idaho with a bachelor's degree in communication.