When I was 15 the cousin I was closest to – in age and in friendship – took his own life. I spent a lot of time with Tanner over the years. He attended scouts with me because his ward didn’t have a very active scouting program. I spent countless hours and days playing with him on campouts, sleep-overs, reunions, and other activities. I even copied his Eagle Scout project. During the summer of 1995 I had planned on spending 3 weeks as a member of the Geronimo Scout Camp staff. I spent 3 weeks the previous year as a member of the staff of the camp; I had a great time. 1995 was different. I didn’t enjoy my time there. After only a few days I was miserable. The scout troop from my ward was up there that week (as was my father) so I decided to leave early and go home with them – two weeks early. I quickly learned why I needed to be home; I believe my discomfort and misery were meant to help me be home when I needed to be home.
The night I came home, a Saturday, one of my sisters woke me up in the middle of the night to say that my cousin Tanner had hung himself. I’m normally groggy when I wake up but I was wide awake then; I was in a bit of shock. I walked into the front room and lied down on the couch. I don’t know if I cried very much then. I actually don’t think I ever really cried much about Tanner’s death. I don’t know why, I’m normally quite emotional about things (and it is worse the older I get). It is likely that his death was accidental – that he really didn’t mean to kill himself; he may have just been playing what he thought was a game. It was a dangerous game and he died. His parents and sister were devastated; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone suffer as much as Tanner’s mother, my aunt, did. I’ve missed Tanner over these years but I know that I’ll see him again in the life to come. He made a choice and he died but there is great hope for Tanner. That’s one of the beauties of the gospel – it provides hope.
A year or two after Tanner died a young man in my ward shot himself. While I had never been a good friend of his, we were in scouting together and went to church and school together (he was a year younger than me). He lived just down the street from me. Following Max’s death we had ward and stake youth meetings where we talked about his death and suicide in general. One of the only Priest quorum lessons I explicitly remember was taught by his father (he was our young men’s president) following Max’s death. He talked about coming home from church and finding his son dead. He spoke of how Max’s choice put him on a much more difficult road to eternal life than it otherwise would have been. Through the sadness, Max’s father expressed hope for his son. I’ll never forget that lesson. It was a moving and a powerful experience.
The next death of a friend occurred when I was serving as an LDS missionary. One of my freshman roommates at BYU (and also a friend from high school) was killed when a truck hit the taxi he was in. Eric was serving as a missionary in Argentina at the time. He, like Evan, was a person who had a brightness in him. I found about his death in a letter from my parents. My companion and I had spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle. The gray skies always made all the greens and other colors appear so much more intense. The spring day was lovely with apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the sky like a light snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound – up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope and restoration but no one was listening; no one was interested. They were very kind to us though. I thought it ironic that so much rejection of our message occurred on such a beautiful day. To add to the drama, I was bitten on my right thigh by a dog as my companion and I walked up a driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a small tear in them. We finished tracting the area 45 minutes later then walked home so I could get cleaned up.
All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car or something on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine worse things happening. Then I realize my life isn’t so bad. I spent the whole way home wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse. I opened the letter from my parents only to read that my friend Eric had been killed in an accident. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. I sobbed for 5 minutes. However, during this time all I could think about is how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched His beloved Son suffer and then be killed in a most gruesome manner. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after those 5 minutes, the pain was gone. My sorrow was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. As a side note, not coincidentally, my companion at the time also had a friend killed in an accident while he was serving a mission. He was able to understand what I was going through. The Lord understands our needs and places other people in our lives to help fill those needs.
Not too long after I got home from my mission – the following summer, in fact – I found out that my friend Donald, who also was one of my roommates my freshman year at BYU, had been killed in a farming accident. Once again, I was shocked. Donald was very personable. He was so interested in other people – in meeting them and getting to know them. As a freshman in college, many of the people he wanted to get to know were girls, but he was very good with people in general. He was fun to be around. He was also a good person. Two of my freshman year roommates were dead; they both died in tragic accidents. I hoped the trend did not continue.