I have felt a multitude of tender mercies lately. I have felt deeper sadness, sorrow and mourning than ever before. But I have also felt a more profound sense of peace, gratitude and closeness to my Savior than ever before. My hope is that by sharing some of my personal experience, I can help mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Just a few weeks ago I was still one of those people that have no idea what to do, how to help or how to relate to those suffering deep loss. I still don't claim to understand or relate to every situation. But I'm a little bit closer and a lot more in the know of what it is like.
I've been through life changing and paradigm shifting events before. Some I signed up for on purpose (like weekend seminars) and some are just part of the school of life (like growing up and moving out of the house). But I don't think I've ever been through a trial of my faith quite as significant as I have the last week and a half. Lucky for me, a kind and loving Heavenly Father knew what was coming and has been preparing me for it for a long time.
On June 2, 2016, I was in Southern California. I was getting ready to attend one of those life changing seminars, starting that night. When invited, I felt that going was important, but I wasn't sure if it was because of the seminar itself or other events that would occur that weekend. I had some guesses, but turns out I was way off.
On this trip, I brought along my kids, husband and brother. Partly because I would need someone to watch kids while I was in classes, but mostly because I love my family and thought it would be a great excuse to play on the beach and other fun stuff.
I love the temple. It is a wonderful place of peace in the midst of a tumultuous world. So before starting the busy seminar, we set aside time to attend the Newport Beach Temple. My baby brother was walking the grounds with my kids while my husband and I were inside. It was beautiful day in a beautiful place.
When I got out of the temple, my little brother said he got a call from Ogden that our brother Jay was in a serious car accident, he had forwarded Jay's wife's contact info to the caller, but wasn't able to pass on my parents contact info because they were on a mission in the Phillipines (and probably still asleep). We didn't know details until my other brother called a few minutes later.
"Natalie called me and said that Jay was killed in a car accident."
A moment of silence ensued while the world stopped.
I was mentally prepared for lots of things, but not that. Broken bones, brain damage, comas...the kind of things that involve lots of fasting and prayer followed by miraculous recovery. But my brain had no place to store the info of "Your 29 year old brother who was alive and well a few hours ago is now dead."
"So that's it then." I said, still in shock.
No rushing home to spend some last moments together. No long recovery. No wheelchair for life. No relying on my medically literate friends and relatives to translate what is going on to me. Nothing complex about this. Whether my brain had a place to comprehend it or not, it was what it was and nothing I could do would change that.
Despite being in shock, I was instantly grateful for a number of things.
Even though it was the middle of the day on a weekday, I was at the temple-the most peaceful place I know of-with my husband, kids and brother. It took a night of driving to get there, but even knowing we would be heading back very soon, it was completely worth it. I knew that this would be burned in my memory forever, and I'd rather have a memory of being at a peaceful place far from home, rather than being hit with a sorrowful memory every time I walk in the living room of my house.
I'm grateful that even though there were questions and shock, I never had to ask, "Where is my brother now?" I know exactly where my brother is, and have a general idea of what he is doing, and that hasn't been a concern or worry at all.
I found myself grateful for the wide array of classes I've taken that focus on emotional healing. I've been helping others through trials as part of my business, so even though I hadn't experienced something like this personally, I had a lot of resources to draw on to help myself.
Even at the funeral home, I was grateful for my little 1 year old providing comic relief (nothing like pulling mint wrappers out of the garbage can, turning it upside down and dancing on top of it to lighten the mood). We were also grateful for the options of very pink casket options. Choosing a casket when you are still in shock of an unexpected death can feel pretty heavy, but options pink caskets with pink lining help lighten the mood a little.
This is a tragedy and a very sad thing for our family. But even now, I'm grateful it wasn't worse. When I used to prepare to perform or compete in front of an audience, I would sometimes worry, "What if I mess up?" Sometimes I would be really nervous and concerned at first, then a little bit in I'd make a minor mistake (maybe noticeable to others, maybe not), and realize that the roof didn't cave in, I wasn't struck down, my friends and family didn't walk out in disgust, and the world didn't end. I'd expended a lot of worry, but when it happened it wasn't really that bad. After the first mistake, I wasn't so concerned about other ones.
I realized that I've spent time worrying about what would happen if someone in my family died. Maybe Hollywood (which often lacks an eternal perspective) had something to do with my perception of death. Maybe worries about the manner of death grew into troublesome false realities of "what if?" Now I don't have to worry about how Jay will die. I don't have to worry about what will happen to the family if it happens. My world and my perception is changed, but it isn't over. This isn't Hollywood. Yes, like the movies, there were buckets of tears cried by many. But there were also little kids rolling around on the floor during prayers, or trying to eat the flowers. Real life doesn't stop, for better or worse.
There was also the hugest outpouring of love and prayers that I have ever felt. I've heard people say they felt sustained by prayers. Now I know what that means and how it feels. It is such an interesting contrast. To feel sorrow and sadness deeper than I've ever felt. To start crying uncontrollably at random moments. And at the same time to feel so much love from people near and far, even from people I didn't know. And to feel more peaceful and closer to Christ than ever before. It is an amazing dichotomy. I love the quote from Jeffrey Holland: "You can have what you want, or you can have something better." Of course I would never want my brother to die young, but even now I can see how God in His infinite wisdom has chosen something far better than what I (or numerous other people, probably including Jay) thought we wanted most.
I also found myself being very grateful for a lot of things that seemed little at the time. All the siblings came together for Jay's recent graduation. If you don't know Jay, you may wonder why I would call that "little". Let me tell you something about my brother.
In 2005, Jay graduated from Tumwater High School, at the same time he received an Associates degree from SPSCC. In 2009 he received an Bachelors degree in History. In 2009 he also married the love of his life for time and all eternity. A few years later he had a Masters degree in Library Science. Jay had been doing hard and even nigh impossible things (did I mention he had dyslexia and became a librarian?) for such a long time, it was almost commonplace. Like music performances for me. The first one is a big event, but when you get to the point that you are performing a concert almost every night of the week, its not such a special occasion, even if it took a lot of work to get there.
|Family Photo at Jay's graduation in April.|
All of us are part of an eternal family.
Jay is still a brother, husband and son.
A temporary thing like death doesn't change that.
The end of April, Jay received his second Master's degree, so all the siblings and their families came out for his graduation. Despite being hesitant to bring little kids to a formal ceremony (turned out not to be a problem, Weber State has a lot more fun than other graduations I've been to) we all came and had a lot of fun together. You can bet I won't be making dumb excuses (like it's too far, or its inconvenient with kids) to miss future family gatherings.
This has been quite a paradigm shifting experience for me, and I've actually been able to see a lot of good in it, as well as finding incentive to make some changes.
One thing I've noticed is the tendency to say things should or shouldn't be a certain way. Like I shouldn't have to clean my kids room for them or I shouldn't have to press 1 for english on a phone. This week we got some deeper, more poignant looks at what would or wouldn't happen in a perfect world. First off, there wouldn't be death or pain in a perfect world, so that makes most things irrelevant.
I shouldn't have to help pick out a casket and flowers for my brother before he is even 30.
My father shouldn't have to bury his own son (for the record, my dad wasn't a pall bearer for that reason).
My sister-in-law shouldn't be a widow at 29 years old.
My parents shouldn't have to fly home from the Philippines half way through their mission to help with their son's funeral.
My brother shouldn't be unexpectedly killed on his way home from work.
I shouldn't be young enough to need a baby sitter for my kids while I play violin at my brothers funeral. (I've always been kind of ok with siblings dying before me if needed, but it was supposed to be long after we were all grandparents and great grandparents.)
The list could continue on for a long time. But such statements lack faith and perception. I have agency. I don't have to do anything.
I didn't have to help pick out a casket. But I love my brother and family enough that I would rather pick out a casket with them than abandon them in a time of need.
My father didn't have to bury his son or fly to the states half way through their mission. They could have stayed out there, but they love us enough that they wanted to be close to family at this time.
My sister-in-law is now a widow. Whether it should or shouldn't be that way doesn't really matter. We have to trust that God has a bigger plan in store and that Jay is going to be able to do more for her from the other side of the veil than this one. They are still married. They are still husband and wife. But now there are a few big changes in their relationship. She has some pretty awesome guardian angels on her side, and I think it ticks Satan off.
I didn't have to play violin at his funeral, but I love my brother and thought he deserved a nice tribute from me. And I trusted my violin skills (despite viola fingers) a heck of a lot more than my ability to speak at the funeral.
I'm not saying its bad to question or wonder why something happens. But I've learned that there is a difference between feeling sorrow, sadness or grief and feeling despair, hopelessness, depression or doubt.
As thoughts inevitably come, I have a choice to make.
Will I let myself get swallowed up in despair and the unfairness of the situation?
Will I allow myself to feel sadness and grief, but also to look forward with faith and gratitude?
Do I choose to listen to the voices telling me to give up or be numb?
Do I choose to listen to the voices encouraging me to push forward?
Do I choose to believe this is the end and all I've been taught is a lie?
Do I choose to believe the still small voice that whispers comfort and peace to my soul?
Do I choose to start patterns that will lead me to being ordinary, depressed and overwhelmed?
Do I choose to fight the natural patterns and cherish the life and opportunities God has given me and will continue to give me?
Do I believe I will never see my brother again, or that it will be unbearably long of a wait?
Do I know that my brother's spirit lives on and now I have an angel helping me out that I know personally?
The choice is there. Every thought I have will help me come closer to healing, or further away. I don't believe my brother is in the spirit world with his new friends saying, "Watch this, 58 people had to go on depression medication because of my death. You only got 17 when you died. I'm so awesome." Rather, I think he is actively working to help and comfort us here on earth and trying to help us live up to our potential. He always could see the good and potential in others, but I think he probably has even more discernment now. And judging from the huge rainstorm that started right before the graveside service and finished right after, I'd say he has some powerful influence in other ways too.
I want to share a parable that will hopefully illustrate how death, especially in this instance, can be seen as both happy and sad.
Imagine that your best friend lives next door to you in a small, run down apartment. They love the location and the neighborhood, even though their home isn't the best.
One day you are talking with them and they confide something with you.
"You won't believe what happened to me this week. I was doing some genealogy work and tied into this ancestor I hadn't heard of. I was excited to find the connection and stories. This ancestor owned their own personal island!"
"That's really cool. I hear that if you go back far enough, everyone can find royalty." You answer.
"That's not even the crazy part," your friend continues, "About a week later, I was contacted by some society I'd never heard of and they said they had been holding onto this fortune, searching for an heir. There were no heirs until I made the connection, now there is me."
"No way! Are you sure this is for real?"
"I didn't believe it at first either. But I looked into it. It is actually a well known and respected association, I'd just never heard of them before. So I guess now I'm a billionaire."
"That is fantastic! I'm so excited for you!" You respond.
"Yeah, I'm pretty excited. I can finally start up that charity I've always dreamed of and help so many people. I also inherited that island and the huge mansion on it. It would be the perfect place to run my charity."
"That is amazing. So what are you planning on doing?" You query.
"I don't know actually. I love this neighborhood so much, and the island is out of the country. I was told I can't get the inheritance until I move out there. I hear the people out there are nice, and I won't have to learn a new language or anything. I've seen some pictures, it looks like paradise. But I'm so attached to living here, I don't really want to give it up. I know you have lives and families here, I can pay for you to come visit sometimes and help you pay for some of your projects out here, but I know I can't just have everyone I know and love get up and move out of the country. I would miss you all so much, I don't really know if I want to go." Says your friend.
"I would really miss you too. You are my best friend, life wouldn't be the same without you."
So what do you do? Is it best to counsel the friend to stay here, keep washing clothes at the laundromat and dishes by hand, just so you can keep them nearby? Are you worried your relationship will suddenly shatter if they move away? Or do you encourage them to live their dream and recognize that it will be better in the long run for both of you? Would seeing your friend move away to paradise be a sad or happy occasion?
In some ways, Jay is far away. I won't be able to send him a text next time I have a research question. He can't show me and my kids how to use the latest gadget or toy he bought. We won't be playing more violin/viola duets. His body will be in the ground instead of in family pictures. That makes me sad. I love my brother, and I miss him. And sometimes the resurrection feels like a long time to wait to give him a hug again.
picture of Giacomo Jacques. |
Because as we were planning the funeral,
Jay kept bugging me to include Giacomo,
and I try not to get on the bad side of people on the other side,
especially for their own funeral.
See more at infoscientist.org
As the oldest daughter and oldest son, Jay and I were often competitive with each other. Now the playing field has changed. We each have an unfair advantage in some areas. I can create a youtube video of myself and publish it with very little effort or skepticism. If Jay creates a youtube video now, it would take more effort on his part and be met with skepticism by those that don't believe in ghosts. If I want to be with family, I have to get in a car, train, plane or some other method and travel for a while to get to where I want to be. Jay can be there as quick as thought.
In some ways things are worse, in some ways they are better. Not knowing why facebook was full of condolences to me, someone asked if I was ok. I didn't really know how to respond. So I said something like "Temporarily I am not ok, but eternally everything is absolutely perfect."
Right now things can be a bit difficult, and I don't expect that to suddenly change or disappear. I don't expect this to be an easy transition. I could remove pain and sorrow by removing love. But that isn't a worthwhile trade for me, so I choose love even if it is accompanied by sorrow. Right now things may not make sense. But 500 years from now it will make perfect sense. One day, when it is my turn to be escorted to the other side, I'll see my Savior and think, "Is that all that was required of me?" and know that every pain and sorrow here is worth it. My Savior suffered all things for me. Even though things may seem bad now, in the eternal perspective, it is a worthwhile sacrifice. So worthwhile that it can hardly be called a sacrifice.
I want to share a quote that has helped me through coming to grips with such an unexpected death of such a good person:
"We don’t need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. You don’t. There’s only been one perfect person, and that’s the Lord Jesus, but in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God and in order to pass the test of mortality, what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path – thus charting a course leading to eternal life – and then, being on that path, pass out of this life in full fellowship. I’m not saying that you don’t have to keep the commandments. I’m saying you don’t have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved. The way it operates is this, you get on the path that’s named the “straight and narrow.” You do it by entering the gate of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. If you’re on that path and pressing forward, and you die, you’ll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come, and the reason is that this life is the time that is given to men to prepare for eternity. Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working zealously in this life – though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do – you’re still going to be saved. You don’t have to do what Jacob said, “Go beyond the mark.” You don’t have to live a life that’s truer than true. You don’t have to have an excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing. What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church – keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you’re on that path when death comes – because this is the time and the day appointed, this the probationary estate – you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure. Now, that isn’t the definition of that term, but the end result will be the same." — Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “The Probationary Test of Mortality,” January 10, 1982
Jay's body is in the ground. But Jay isn't gone. Some things are changed. Some in quite big ways. But eternally nothing has changed. 200 years from now, all of us that were at the funeral this week will be dead too, and we'll laugh about how we thought it was such a big deal. Right now we're sad, and that is OK. Even God and Christ weep. I can have what I want, or I can have something better. I don't have to understand how or why God sees this as better. I just need to have faith that He knows even when I don't.
|I love my little brother. I'm incredibly grateful to know that our family will be together forever.|