FARMINGTON - Looking back, Sharon Boyce can see the blessing. Her husband's last visit home had been marred by her health problems - but because of that, he had been able to hold his infant daughter for a few additional days before returning to Iraq.
    Now, days after learning the headaches from which Tim Boyce was recently suffering were harbingers of a fatal aneurysm in his brain, Sharon understands how precious those few days were.
    As she sat, Monday afternoon, in her in-laws' Farmington home, rocking the little girl on her lap, she lamented life's bitter ironies.
    But she also marveled how, for her family, hardship often harbors unexpected gifts of joy.
    It had been that way when she was 17, pregnant and terrified by the notion of being unworthy of a good husband.
    And yet her situation seemed to draw Tim's interest - he dreamed of rescuing her from an embattled life just as she dreamed of finding a rescuer.
    " 'I just wanted to take you away,' " she remembers him saying. " 'To marry you and make everything OK.' "
    For all of its difficult beginnings, their future together seemed ripe with promise. Having placed her first child in an adoptive home, Sharon waited for Tim to return from a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission, then accepted his proposal. After the birth of their first child, Ammon, Tim enlisted in the U.S. Army, hoping that the college benefits he would earn would help him provide for his new family.
    Two weeks later - Sept. 11, 2001 - it was clear that his obligation to the military would mean sacrifice for his family. And yet, when Sharon was later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Tim's job meant free health care and the opportunity for temporary work for him in a Salt Lake City recruiting station as she underwent chemotherapy.
    When Tim left for his first tour in Iraq, Sharon recalled, she was still extremely weak from the cancer treatment.
    "I couldn't even lift my son to put him in his high chair," she said.
    But in those trying circumstances, she said, she learned to be independent.
    Tim's service in the Army was to expire earlier this year. Instead, the Army - stretched thin and fighting recruiting shortages - retained him, ordering him back to war for a second tour.
    The "fine print tour," as such orders are sometimes called, meant he would miss the birth of his daughter, Gracelynn. But the latest tribulation would once again come as a mixed blessing.
    Doctors would later tell Tim's family that his death was only a matter of time.
    The aneurysm in his brain would have killed him no matter where he was or what he was doing. Because he succumbed in a war zone, in the Army, his family will receive additional insurance and educational benefits.
    And in the end, family members say, the leave days Tim was able to spend with his son and infant daughter were made more precious by their brevity.
    In the three weeks in which he was home, he never left his baby girl's side and often slept with her on his abdomen, rising to feed and diaper her and then rocking her back to sleep.
    "He just sat downstairs in a recliner and held her all night," Sharon said.
    Tim had been back in Iraq for less than two months and was becoming eager for his return home when, on Wednesday, he collapsed during a morning workout session at Camp Tiger, about 75 miles west of Mosul near the Iraq-Syria border. Though he was quickly transported to the Army's hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, doctors there were confident that he would not survive long enough for his family to come to pay their final respects.
    The medical staff was able to keep him alive long enough to take his vital organs for transplant and for his brother, a soldier in Kuwait, to make an emergency visit.
    When Brad Boyce arrived at the hospital, he held a telephone up to Tim's ear so that family members could speak to him.
    One final time, Sharon Boyce was able to tell her husband that she loved him - one last blessing for a family that had been deeply challenged - and always deeply rewarded.