The Gift and the Promise

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“The Gift and the Promise,” Ensign, Sept. 1996, 28

The Gift and the Promise

Through the loss of three sons, I have learned to treasure our Father’s plan of life and his Son’s sacrifice for us.

With lights dimmed and a lavender paper butterfly taped to my delivery room door, a somber medical staff quietly attended me as I gave birth to my fourth son. This experience was totally different from my previous three experiences at childbirth; there was no crying, no gasping for air, and no breathing.

On 27 January 1991, I gave birth to a perfectly formed, stillborn baby boy. My hellos were really good-byes as Michael brushed my life for a few sacred hours. As I was wheeled down the long hospital corridors that evening, I left with empty arms. No baby went home with me. I found myself recovering from the birth and making burial preparations at the same time.

Just two days later, I did the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I wrapped my stillborn, four-and-a-half pound baby boy in a soft, white blanket and placed him in a tiny, white satin casket. At his feet I placed a small white teddy bear. Then I kissed my little son good-bye so that he could be taken to the cemetery for a short graveside service and burial. Tears streamed down our faces as we closed the lid of his small casket.

Though this wasn’t an easy experience for me, I learned a great deal from it. Experiencing Michael’s death helped me gain a greater appreciation and a reverence for life. With empty arms and a broken heart, I began my search for understanding.

Three and a half years later, on Memorial Day, my husband, our four sons, and I were traveling a lonely highway between Phoenix, Arizona, and Henderson, Nevada. A wonderful family weekend turned out to be a horrible nightmare when an oncoming truck suddenly swerved into our lane. With only moments to react, we barely avoided a head-on collision.

Yet, the oncoming truck struck our van on the left front side with such force that the rear axle broke off, causing our vehicle to spin and then roll. Two of our sons, thirteen-year-old Dean Brandon and seven-year-old Jeffrey Linden, were thrown through the rear window and killed. During the next few days, numbed and in shock, my husband and I made funeral arrangements for two more of our children.

The following Saturday I again found myself doing the most difficult thing I had done in my life. I bent over not one but two caskets to kiss my sons good-bye so that their lifeless bodies could be taken away for burial. Again tears streamed down our faces as we bid our sons farewell and watched their caskets close for the last time.

After experiencing the deaths of three sons, I have continued to search for understanding through scripture reading and prayer. Through the loss of these sons, I have learned to appreciate the gift of the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life in a personal way.

One of the most comforting and beautiful scriptures for me is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Until I had experienced the loss of a child, I really hadn’t thought much about what it must have been like for Heavenly Father to allow his Only Begotten to come to earth, knowing that he would eventually suffer, bleed, and die for each of us.

Heavenly Father, in his omniscience, knows the beginning from the end and everything in between. He knew from the very beginning that his precious Son had a great mission. He knew that our Savior would suffer for our sins and feel more pain than any of us could bear.

I can only begin to imagine how difficult this might have been for our Heavenly Father. From a parent’s perspective, I know that it is excruciatingly painful to experience the death of a child. I was told by my doctor that Michael did not suffer as he passed from life to death. I was also assured that Brandon and Jeffrey were killed instantly. But Father in Heaven knew that his Son would suffer. What tremendous love Heavenly Father demonstrated to all mankind in allowing his eternal plan to be carried out.

Our dear Savior, too, demonstrated the greatest love that anyone could show as he voluntarily laid down his life for us. His special mission here on earth was to do his Father’s will—“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

To begin to understand the perfect love that the Savior has for us, I have learned that we must realize that he willingly gave his life for us.

“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.

“No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17–18).

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

President Ezra Taft Benson explained the Savior’s gift of love to us: “Because He was God—even the Son of God—He could carry the weight and burden of other men’s sins on Himself. …”

That holy unselfish act of voluntarily taking on Himself the sins of all other men is the Atonement. How one could bear the sins for all is beyond the comprehension of mortal man. But this I know: he did take on Himself the sins of all and did so out of His infinite love for each of us. He has said: ‘For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; … Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink’ (D&C 19:16, 18).

“In spite of that excruciating ordeal, He took the cup and drank. He suffered the pains of all men so we would not have to suffer. He endured the humiliation and insults of His persecutors without complaint or retaliation. He bore the flogging and then the ignominy of the brutal execution—the cross.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, 14–15).

President Marion G. Romney expressed Christ’s love in this way: “This was the world’s supreme act of charity, performed by Jesus out of his great love for us. He not only thereby met the demands of the law of justice—which would have left us forever marred by the effects of our own transgressions—but made effective the law of mercy, through which all men may be cleansed from their sin” (Ensign, Apr. 1985, 6).

I know that I am not alone in my loss. Many have shared similar grief. I am deeply touched by all who have offered prayers in my behalf and have helped carry my burden. I also know there are many others who have lost loved ones in one way or another or who have had other difficulties to bear.

While dealing with the death of loved ones is not easy, there is much in life that is not easy. I have been strengthened as I’ve watched friends with children who have various physical or mental disabilities. I have seen other friends struggle financially. I know some whose spouses have been unfaithful to their marriage covenants, and I’ve seen others grapple with the effects of divorce.

A sister I know was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor; she has a loving husband and eight children. Many couples struggle with the inability to have children. Still other individuals struggle with their testimonies or with helping less-active or nonmember family members discover the joy of living the gospel. Others have lost a spouse or live in unhappy marriages. I have friends whose wayward children cause them heart-wrenching pain. Learning of the trials of others has helped me to put my own challenges in perspective and gain a clearer understanding that trials in one form or another are a necessary part of our mortal experience—the opposition that makes the eternal blessings of the gospel all the sweeter and more prized.

It is also tremendously reassuring to know that our Heavenly Father and our Savior are mindful of all that we must endure in this life and that they can lift our burdens and make them light. I am grateful for the knowledge that they know and love us individually and that through the Father’s great plan of happiness, which takes on a glorious family-focused significance in the temples, my husband, our three other sons (Sean, Nathan, and Jonathan), and I can be with Michael1, Brandon, and Jeffrey again someday.

Illustrated by Keith Larson