Overcoming the pain of death

My heart is with the families of Teresa Ellis, Brad Frantz, Kirsten Hinckley, Vanessa Quinn and Jeffrey Walker — the five people who were brutally taken away from their families during the shooting at Trolley Square on Monday. How suddenly this has happened. Dealing with death is difficult for everyone — but dealing with unexpected death proves to be much more challenging.

Upon hearing of the tragedy on Monday, I immediately thought of my uncle, Brett. Two years ago, in January 2005, my parents, aunts, uncles and my grandpa decided to take a trip to Guatemala to see ancient Book of Mormon ruins. While traveling between sites, their tour bus was hijacked by a gang of men with automatic weapons. As they tried to board the bus, the tour guide tried to stop them. The men then fired shots through the door, hit the bus driver in the foot and started to beat the tour guide with the backs of their weapons. Instinctively, Brett rose to help the tour guide. As he arose and started to the front of the bus, shots rang out from outside the bus and struck Brett in the chest. My cousins would never see their father again.

For the rest of her life, my aunt will probably always wonder why her husband left this life in such a sudden, horrific manner. Instead of growing old and watching his grandchildren grow and live, he will be waiting for them in heaven. It is still hard to think about life without my uncle.

In the days following, we heard from many people who expressed their sympathy. One such person was a man living in Brazil who had met Brett 30 years before when he was serving as an LDS missionary. Missionaries in Brazil enjoy much success nowadays, but back then, finding investigators in Brazil was extremely difficult. This Brazilian man said he’d heard on the news that an American named Brett Richards was killed in Guatemala and wanted to know if this was the same man who served a mission in Brazil. My aunt told him it was. He then told her that 30 years ago, a young Elder Richards had baptized him and his family into the church. Thirty years later, this man was a stake president and all of his children were serving missions.

My family and I were all comforted after hearing this experience. Even though I knew that my uncle was never coming back, I also knew there was one more angel walking on the streets of heaven.

Nobody can really ever prepare for the death of loved ones and the subsequent aftermath. All we can do is celebrate life and live every moment so we can be remembered as my uncle is. The families of those five special people who lost their lives on Monday will never know how many people were touched because of their loved ones.

In our crazed, busy world, we often don’t take the time to look after our fellow beings. Real happiness is leaving our mark in the service of humankind.

Mahatma Gandhi said it best: “Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to freedom for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.”