“The Answer Was Peace,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, 7
“We would like your permission to disconnect your son from the life-support system. There has been no brain activity in the last forty-eight hours.”
As the doctor spoke those painful words, I could feel myself falling apart inside. “No! No! He can’t be dead! You said his injuries were serious, but not life-threatening!” I cried.
The doctor explained that the original prognosis was conditional upon Brett’s regaining consciousness, but I was inwardly screaming, What will this do to the faith of all the wonderful people who are praying for Brett to get well! I was immediately concerned that Brett’s death might shatter the faith of those who had prayed for his recovery. As I struggled to hold on to the chair for support, another voice spoke clearly into my mind: If their faith is sincere, it will not be shattered; it will be strengthened. How can that possibly be? I wondered.
Three days earlier, on Wednesday, December 14, 1977, at 4:45 P.M., my thirteen-year-old son, Brett, had been hit by a car while he was delivering newspapers. A severe storm had come up, its forty-mile-an-hour winds and heavy rain causing havoc on the roadways. The seventeen-year-old driver saw neither the road markings showing the curve he should have taken nor Brett standing in the bike lane.
Stuffed with Christmas ads, Wednesday’s newspapers were three times heavier than normal. Brett carried these newspapers in a double newspaper bag draped over his shoulders, another double bag slung over his bicycle’s back fender, and a single bag attached to the handlebars. The dirty paper bags and dark coat may have concealed him from the driver’s view, and the fur-lined hood I told him to wear may have restricted his vision.
Hit head-on, Brett’s body took out the entire windshield of the car as he landed prone inside the car on the driver’s lap. In the car behind was a doctor who called an ambulance.
Seconds later I rounded the corner a half block away after having delivered a group of children to church for Primary. Newspapers were flying everywhere, slapping on motorists’ windshields and causing brakes to squeal and cars to spin out on the wet, oily pavement. I pulled off the road, knowing the newspapers must be from my son’s bags. All cars had stopped, and their headlights focused on the doctor bending over the boy lying on the road.
“Is that Brett?” I yelled, but no one answered. As I stood over him, he was crying, “No, no. Please, no.”
I asked someone standing nearby to call my children at home, two blocks away. My sixteen-year-old son, Matt, came to take the car home while I went to the hospital with Brett. My husband, Jim, could not be reached at work but was due home an hour later.
At the hospital, a CAT scan showed a hairline fracture at the base of Brett’s skull. Except for bruises, no other injuries were evident. Brett had not lost a drop of blood. However, his right arm and leg jerked about, and we were told he was temporarily paralyzed on his left side.
It seemed forever before I was allowed to see my son. As I spoke to him, he seemed unaware of my presence. Jim arrived at the hospital an hour later than I had expected. The local blood bank had called him at work earlier that day with an urgent request for his blood. Because of the storm, Jim had wanted to go home early to drive Brett to deliver his papers, but the request for donated blood had seemed the greater need. I heard the words “Thy will be done” in the priesthood blessing that Jim gave to Brett, but it didn’t enter my mind at that time that God’s will might be different from my own.
Brett was expected to regain consciousness anytime, and we were assured we would be called the minute he became coherent. He was taken to intensive care, and we were allowed to visit him individually for five minutes each hour. We learned from our five children at home that the phone hadn’t stopped ringing. Customers had been calling about their evening paper, and when they were told of Brett’s accident, most said they would be praying for Brett. As news of the accident spread, friends as well as strangers began calling, offering their faith, prayers, and whatever help was needed.
Our son Aaron had a leading part in a school Christmas play that evening, and I urged Matt to drive him there. School personnel were saddened to learn of Brett’s accident. They all had known him and worked with him during his eight years at the school. They spoke of how they loved this shy little boy who so often seemed lost in deep thought during their classes. At the invitation of the mother volunteer who was directing the Christmas program, all the school staff and students in the play joined in a kneeling prayer for Brett to get well and return home soon. As members of our ward were alerted, more prayers for Brett’s quick recovery were added.
My faith and hopes were high as we left the hospital for the first time the following evening to spend an hour at home with our other children. Good friends had offered to remain at the hospital while we were gone. I was absolutely certain that with so many people praying so hard, Brett’s full recovery was assured.
Our children showed us a list of more than one hundred people who had phoned or come by our home. Knowing that the faith and prayers of these people were with us, we gave the children a very positive outlook. While at home, I took a call from an older couple who explained that although they didn’t believe in God and didn’t feel it was appropriate to pray for Brett, they loved him so much they wanted to do something for him. The woman told me how in the summer she would watch for Brett and give him popsicles. Brett had told me how much he enjoyed talking to this “popsicle lady” and her husband. They offered the only thing they could think of to do for Brett—to think “good thoughts” about him until he was well.
When we returned to the hospital, our friends told us there had been a “Code Blue” (respiratory failure or cardiac arrest) on Brett while we were gone. I didn’t know what that meant and didn’t ask. I was certain Brett would get well. Love and support came in many forms over the next two days, and I enjoyed visiting with friends who came to the hospital. They all seemed more worried than I. On Saturday afternoon the doctor came to the visitors’ waiting room and asked my husband and me to follow him. Then he dropped a bombshell, announcing the need to disconnect Brett’s life-support system. I fought what I was hearing, thinking of the hundreds of people of various religious persuasions praying for Brett and of how I had hoped his complete recovery would increase their faith in God. The words came clearly into my mind: “If their faith is sincere, it will not be shattered; it will be strengthened.” To me, it didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense.
I did not want to be part of “unplugging” my son. We drove home, gathered our children together, and told them their brother would not be coming home. Jim called our bishop and asked him to go back to the hospital with him. As Brett’s father, Jim felt he should be the one to release his son from the cares of this world. And so that is how it happened.
Brett’s funeral was on Wednesday, December 21. The church overflowed with hundreds of people we knew, plus hundreds more unknown to us who knew and loved our son.
Over the next few weeks, fulfillment of the promise the Spirit had made to me began to become apparent. Many people whose names the children had written down called back with a similar message: “We don’t understand why we feel as we do, but somehow we know Brett is happy where he is, and we know that you will all be okay.”
Callers expressed receiving a feeling of comfort, and they knew that in spite of Brett’s death the Lord is loving and wise. Even the agnostic couple called to say they didn’t understand their feelings at all but knew Brett was happy and would be all right. It suddenly occurred to me that for each of them to express essentially the very same message, they surely had received comfort from the very same source! The Lord truly had heard and responded to the prayers of his children, even the unspoken desires of his nonbelieving children.
Evidence of faith being strengthened was brought to our attention in the notes that some of Brett’s friends left on his gravestone. One friend came faithfully every day to “talk” with Brett. He later joined the Church. The mother who directed the Christmas play told how she and her daughter had stayed behind after the rest of us had left the cemetery the day of the funeral, concerned that Brett might feel he had been abandoned as his casket was lowered into the ground. She later told how her children had said they didn’t need Christmas presents that year; they just wanted to hold each other close and feel thankful for what they had. The couple who had stayed at the hospital the night of the Code Blue invited us over on Christmas Day, which was quite a surprise. They had separated months earlier and had been in the process of getting a divorce. Their love for Brett had helped bring them back together and helped them realize how much they loved each other and their three children. When we see them now, they often mention that in spite of the sadness of Brett’s death, that was the warmest, sweetest Christmas they had ever known.
Others told how their children gave their Christmas presents to the needy in memory of Brett. We took all the gifts we had already purchased for Brett and gave them to his closest friends, who said they would treasure them not for their value but as a memory of their friend.
Months later, I was talking to a woman who didn’t know I was the mother of the paper boy who had died. She commented, “When something like that happens, doesn’t it just make you wish you had never had children so you wouldn’t have to suffer all the heartache?”
“Oh, no,” I told her. “Whatever length of time we are able to have any of our Father’s children is a blessing. I would have taken Brett for however long I might have been privileged to have had him.”
And I trust in the Lord’s promise that if I live faithful, I will again enjoy association with this beautiful, brown-eyed boy who in his short life had brought people closer to the Lord. His death created a deep spiritual impact in our lives.