“I’m calling to let you know Katie passed away last night, I know you two were close.”
We were, even though we had only known each other for a couple of years. We had moved into her ward, and she caught me in the halls one day after church.
“Chelsea Bretzke!” She called out with a big smile. Then quieter, she leaned in, “I think we should be friends—I think there’s more to you than your Instagram shows.”
She was right. There was more. And we were for sure meant to be friends.
Building Bonds of Friendship
Both our oldest boys were about the same age with special needs. We could easily relate to one another’s frustrations and fears. We laughed easily, even when discussing really hard stuff. We both knew how to cut straight through all the fluff of small talk. Even when we could only steal away a few moments to chat, I always left feeling like we knew where each other was: how we were really feeling, how we were dealing (or not dealing), and how our hearts felt tired. We also always shared bolstering words of spiritual strength. Her testimony—her hope and her love of God—were always mixed into the play by plays of how crazy life could be.
When I got the call, I was in total shock.
Three days before, I had sat in my kitchen ready to tackle a whole bunch of things on my long list. But I felt prompted to text a few friends, including Katie.
I wrote how much I admired her and was in awe that she was always so aware of people's needs. Even if she couldn’t personally help, she would reach out and coordinate with others who could. I remember feeling the Spirit helping me express how much I appreciated her friendship and example. I trusted God had a purpose for me to express such thoughts and sent the message.
After the devastating call, remembering that text comforted me that I had shared with Katie how special she was to me. Secondly, I felt that God knew she was leaving. Her death was not a shock to our Lord.
Teaching Children about Death
I was so worried to tell my kids. They loved her too. She taught them piano for a while.
Whenever she was in my home, I kept telling my children to give her space, but she seemed happy to let them crawl all over her. Their only experiences with death were elderly great grandparents when they were too little to even understand. This was going to be one of their first real griefs, and I desperately wanted to soften the blow.
Because Katie loved music, I got out an old hymnal and selected some songs I felt reflected her soul. I folded the music sheets into a little paper angel. We hadn’t decorated our Christmas tree yet, so I got out all the ornaments waiting for the kids to get home from school. As soon as they saw the big red totes, they squealed with delight.
I pulled them close, “I have something to tell you before we decorate the tree. Katie died last night.”
My six-year-old welled up with tears and disbelief. My heart broke for her.
But my four-year-old (perhaps not totally grasping what had happened but sensing the sadness and responding to a sweet urge to comfort his big sister) picked up our little plastic baby Jesus from our toy manger display, which spends more time strewn on the floor than on display. Then, he said, “But it’s okay Mom! We will see her again! That’s why baby Jesus came. Remember?”
“Yes!” I replied through tears, “We will all be resurrected. Katie isn’t gone. You’re right.”
Jesus Weeps with Us
It has often been pointed out in the scriptural account of when Jesus meets Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Even though Christ knows He has power over death and in a few moments would command Lazarus to “come forth” (John 11:43) and be reunited with Mary and Martha, Jesus feels their sorrow.
Our Savior feels our sorrow and weeps with us as well. I spent days crying. I still have times when the sadness overwhelms me. I know Jesus doesn’t just say, “There there—that’s why I came; you will see her again.” Jesus cries with us. Long and hard when we need to cry.
I had an older friend I would drive with to the temple years ago. Her husband had passed. She shared how another sister, whom we both knew and whose husband had died only the year before, had asked her, “Will I ever go to sleep with a dry pillow?”
We miss them so much. We fall asleep with drenched pillows. We can’t believe life is going on without them. For weeks I had to catch myself from texting Katie out of habit. I would feel her absence all over again.
Understanding the Joy of Christ’s Sunday Morning
The psalmist wrote these comforting words, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
As the March 29-April 4, 2021 Come, Follow Me lesson explains: “Joseph Smith knew how it feels to mourn the death of loved ones. Two of his brothers, Alvin and Don Carlos, died as young men. Joseph and Emma buried six children, each younger than two years old. But from the revelations he received, Joseph gained an eternal perspective on death and God’s eternal plan.”
Likewise, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve shared: “Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays. But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come. No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come.” (“Sunday Will Come,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 30).
We all will have Fridays of grief. They are real and painful and dark regardless of our levels of faith.
Isn’t it interesting that Easter is always on a Sunday? To remind us the joy is coming. Easter mornings full of sunlight, giggles and sweets can be symbolic of the light-filled resurrection morning we are waiting for— that will also be full— full of joyful reunions, that will likewise be, oh so sweet.
I believe Christ will cry with us then too—big smiling, knowing, tears of joy.
“In Christ Shall All Be Made Alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22)
There will be a final Easter morn—for all those that mourn—that will eventually include all of us.
When we make that covenant “to mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:9) that is a covenant to become as Christ who is always there with us on our Fridays of grief and our Sundays of joy.
I testify that the little baby Jesus we celebrate at Christmas fulfilled His mission and rose from the grave that first Easter morning. Because He did, my little four-year-old can hold up a little plastic manger and say, “It’s okay Mom, we’ll see Katie again.” And he’s completely right.
We will. Because of Jesus Christ, we will.