The grieving father places the lifeless, frozen form of his ten year-old son in his mother’s lap as she sits on the ground, in the snow. He picks up his broken shovel and a borrowed pick and steps off the trail a few paces to make a grave, the second in so many weeks.
The mother’s face is the picture of pain as she softly caresses the boy's frozen face. It is not the face of one peacefully dead. The boy died in the night, frozen to death in the little tent, unable to endure the storms any longer. His jaw is pushed to one side, strangely askew, frozen that way since life left his body somewhere in the night. No peace in this death. His muddy hair is matted on one side with a flatiron of ice frozen in it. He looks more like an animal found dead on the winter plains than the mother’s only remaining son, the second to die on this trail of tears.
The icy Wyoming wind whips about the family and a few friends strong enough to help with the burial. There is not much grieving left to share, really. Too many have lost loved ones in similar fashion. Too many crude little graves have been hastily dug along the way. Too many have died. This price seems far too high to pay. Why, begs the unanswered question.
Placing her knitted shawl around the stiff corpse, the mother hands her boy to his father who has chipped away enough of the ice and rocky dirt to form a little dip in the ground — a dip that is already filling with snow as it slices its cutting knife across the frozen land.
As the father and a friend finish casting up ice and rock over the boy, this man, toughened by years of persecution, farming, and now the trek west, crumples to the ground. He is all played out. There is nothing left. He clenches his face against the wind, squeezing out the tears, and sobs great body-shaking sobs.
“Take courage”, my voice sighs in the wind, as I speak from the other side of the veil. “Open your eyes and see the bigger picture, Grandfather!” As a second-great grandson of this pitiful form, sobbing in the snow, I call to him. “Your boy will live again! You will complete your trek to Zion and have more children. Your sons and daughters will grow strong in the Gospel and marry in the temple for eternity. All will be well after all, Grandfather...” My message swirls in the wind, a few words settling into the heart of this pitiful cipher in the snow.
Slowly, Grandfather gathers himself, takes a deep breath of resolve, and steels himself against the remaining trek ahead. Somehow he hears.
I sit in the darkness in my home in Zion. It is 3:00 A.M. and my heart is breaking. My sixteen year-old daughter is out in the night and I have no idea where. I fear the worst.
My wife sits silently in the darkness in the next room. Both of us are quiet. We are grieving for a death...for the spiritual death of a daughter. This is not the first night we have suffered. There have been far too many just like tonight.
Only a year ago, her testimony was alive and healthy. She held a leadership position in her young women class, attended seminary, and was active in our religious family activities. But then she began to stumble. The bright light dimmed by degrees as her testimony began to go out. Do what we may, we could not fan it back into life. She would not have it. And so we fasted and prayed and pleaded and grieved. But the light went out anyway.
She stopped saying her prayers about six months ago. She didn’t tell us. We just knew. Then she began skipping church, sluffing seminary, and hanging out with different friends. It was as if her spirit suddenly began to suffer hypothermia. But she refused our warmth. Ran from it. And then the end seemed near.
As our wonderful daughter withdrew from the Church, and then our family, and eventually from anything that was “virtuous, lovely or of good report,” my wife and I had many long, serious talks. What might we do to help? Where had we gone wrong? Could we watch a second child turn a back to the bright truths we had taught so diligently?
I hear my wife begin crying in the dark. At first it is barely noticeable. But then the whimper turns to a sob and bursts forth without restraint. I step to where she sits and place an arm around her to give her comfort ..my strength…the strength of a righteous husband and father in Zion. But the strength is not there to be given. I am at such a loss that my reassuring touch changes to a faltering grasp.
Together, we fall to our knees and begin to plead with the Lord once again. Pleading between the tears. Is this really what we must endure? Can we stand to see the spiritual death of our children? Surely, Lord, this price is too high. Surely there is a better way!
“Take courage!” a voice whispers in the darkness, a voice from three generations past. “Take courage and see the bigger picture,” it says. “Yes, your daughter may be stumbling in the darkness. Yes, her testimony may have dwindled in unbelief. But it will revive. The light of the Gospel will burn bright once more. She is not dead to the truth forever! Be still, and know that she will eventually return. Stay true. Stay faithful. Stay the course and you will see,” the voice of my second great-grandfather whispers in the darkness of the night.
Our anguished voices soften. Together, we slump to the floor in an embrace as the Spirit stokes back our frayed nerves and soothes our aching hearts. Somehow, we hear.
The path that each of us is called to travel is strewn with tears and heartache of one kind or another. Trek well, my pioneer Latter-day Saint friends. Hear the encouraging cries of your ancestors. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Know that there are those on both sides of the veil that feel your grief. Stay the course. Keep the faith. The crown of victory will come, by and by.