He Isn’t There
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“He Isn’t There,” Ensign, July 1982, 41

“He Isn’t There”

“I’ll try, but I don’t think I can do it,” I told the bishop over the telephone that morning. Usually, an invitation to sing is a happy opportunity, but he had asked me to sing at a funeral that afternoon, the funeral of a two-year-old boy who had suffocated in some dirt while at play.

The bereaved parents had asked the bishop to help with the funeral because the father had attended an LDS Sunday School for a while. That had been the extent of his contact with any church; but when trouble came, he reached back all those years to that source. The bishop had asked me to sing “O My Father” (Hymns, no. 139), a song that always moved me to tears. As the mother of three small children, I was sentimental where children and helpless things were concerned. How could I sing that song—any song—on such an occasion?

But I had told the bishop I would try. I practiced at the organist’s house, then we drove to the meetinghouse and met with the bishop for prayer in his office. I put off entering the chapel, but finally had to open the door. There, against a mass of gladiolas and palms, I saw a tiny, blue plush coffin. The scene blurred. I choked and lost control.

Then into my mind came the words “He isn’t there.” That was all. But the assurance that accompanied the words drove the lump from my throat and the tears from my eyes. I could sing.

I sang—not for the child who wasn’t there, but for his parents who were there and needed to hear the message in that hymn. The bishop’s sermon of reassurance and comfort visibly affected them. I remained calm, even when the mother half rose and gasped, “My baby …” as they carried the little coffin out.

The family joined the Church. I don’t really know how the hand of the Lord worked in their conversion, but I do know that the message of the song was important enough that I could be calmed to sing it. As an echo of the angel’s words at Jesus’ tomb (see Matt. 28:6), the message of the words that had come into my mind has remained with me, and I have never forgotten it.

  • Penny Allen, mother of four, is a Primary teacher in her Bountiful, Utah, ward.

Illustrated by Scott Snow