Saturday was the anniversary of my youngest brother's passing. Mark was an incredible man and we miss him terribly. He suffered throughout his life, but was never one to complain. Instead he was full of life. He loved video games and self-taught himself game design. He was an artist and could draw characters for his games both by hand and on the computer. He was curious and knowledgeable and was always asking for big, thick books to teach him more about his passions. He was hilarious and could laugh at anything. And he often shared that humor with us. He was stubborn. It was nearly impossible to get him to say "I love you," so of course I would pepper him with it as much as possible every time I visited. He was my husband's best friend. They had so much in common and loved to spend time together. He adored his nieces and nephews and always took such gentle care of them, including them in everything he was working on. He was an incredible brother, and losing him was beyond devastating to our family. I think of my mother and dad and their personal heartaches. And yet I am glad that our two boys are now together keeping each other company. I never tell Joey I love him and miss him without mentioning Mark as well.
On Saturday I also had the opportunity to attend the funeral of one of my daughter's friends who passed away unexpectedly from an unknown medical condition. We were heartbroken to learn of the news just a week ago, but we both wanted to attend his funeral. Funerals are hard for my family. We remember all those we have lost, and we worry over those going through the same thing. But we were so happy to attend and hear the beautiful life sketch his grandmother gave of him. And while we cried and missed him, we also laughed. His grandma perfectly captured the mischievous soul of him in her talk. It brought to mind the interactions I had with him, and I know Katelyn was thinking of those moments as well. We celebrated his beautiful life and mourned his passing. And we learned of one tender mercy we were not aware of before. Just a week before his passing, he completed all of his work to graduate early from high school. What a blessing to his family! I am so glad we could go and remember this amazing boy who has returned home to his Heavenly Father.
On Sunday Katelyn, Brett, and I spoke in our church's congregation. Many of the speakers in the LDS church come from the congregation themselves. We were given the topic of spiritual self-reliance. I knew as soon as I was given the topic that I needed and wanted to speak on how building up your spiritual reserves can help you through terrible trials. Although I specifically wrote my talk so that I wouldn't cry, I of course did. I cannot speak of Joey without hurting. It just isn't possible. But our little congregation has so many trials right now: families who have lost children, women with cancer, individuals with trials beyond measure. We all face loss in one form and another, and I just wanted them to know that there is another side to that pain.
This is a small excerpt from my talk:
When our beautiful son passed away in April of 2007, our spiritual lamps were nearly on empty. There is no time more difficult than when the Lord says "no" to a prayer you want answered more than anything. It is normal to question your testimony, and to have doubts especially after months of depleting your spiritual reserves.
I mentioned before that there are times in our lives when our faith will be tested. It wasn't until my little son was gone, that I learned where my faith actually stood. In those early days, it was trying to move from one minute to the next. I found myself repeating over and over that Joey was in the Lord's hands, or that the Lord loved Joey and us. Faith is an action. All my life, I thought if I just said that I believed it was enough. But faith is so much more than that. It is kneeling in prayer when your last prayer wasn't answered in the way that you want. It is going to church when every lesson seems to focus on families and your family member is no longer there. It's smiling and comforting other people when you are clinging yourself to the hope that heaven really does exist and that you will see your son someday. It's pushing your doubts aside and believing life can and will go on and that you will be happy again. It's allowing yourself to grieve and hurt and ache, but trying and sometimes failing not to be angry.
At this time, when my spiritual lamp was not as full as I needed it to be, I found reserves in the lessons I had been taught as a child. Knowing that I could continue to pray, to fast, to attend the temple, to attend my church meetings, to visit others in need provided much-needed drops of light to my spiritual lamp. It was in the daily spiritual tasks, that sometimes feel so simple that I found the reserves I needed to continue in faith.
It was a weekend full of reflection, but I feel happy. I know that despite the loss we've experienced that I know those boys are resting and in the Lord's hands. While there were days I struggled to feel this way, I find I have more of them. I find I am happy even while missing Joey and Mark. I'm very grateful for the gift of the gospel and how it has given me hope on those dark days. I feel blessed despite losing my beautiful son. It's sometimes hard to identify those blessings in the midst of all that pain, but I KNOW that the Lord is aware of and loves me. I have much to be grateful for. What a beautiful weekend this turned out to be.