I didn’t have a big extended family growing up. In my world I had one Aunt and Uncle and two boy cousins that I actually knew. When my oldest cousin married I felt so lucky to now have a girl cousin even though I was only 3 or 4. I still remember how beautiful she looked at their wedding. During the family photo I kept trying to sneak right next to her. The photographer would move me over and I would move right back. I thought she was amazing because she could do a cart wheel on cue with no hands! Little girls always need big girls to look up to. When she got pregnant with her first baby I couldn’t wait to meet another cousin and of course get to hold him!
Jesse ended up being the closest cousin in age to me. Even though I was 5 years older than him he became my playmate at family gatherings. He had the sweetest deposition and was constantly smiling. I always looked forward to any holiday because I loved getting to see my cousins. Since Jesse was the youngest he was fun to spoil. I’m sure his mom loved it when we gave him the toy fire truck that would sound a loud siren with every touch. She got my mom back by giving us play dough.
I was 10 and Jesse had just celebrated his 6th birthday. I got to go over to his apartment complex and roller skate as Jesse laughed and ran after me. His laugh was infectious. I didn’t realize that was the last time I would hear it.
I remember my mom waking me up so early one morning it was still dark out. She was frantic and told me to hurry and get out of bed. All the kids gathered in the living room. Jesse had been rushed to the hospital, something was seriously wrong. We all knelt down to pray for Jesse together and my parents rushed out the door reminding us to keep praying that he would be ok. We all sat and cried together for a while. I could hardly handle the worry and guessing that was going through my mind. I wanted to know that Jesse was ok.
I sat on the steps right in front of the front door and waited. I stared at it, willing it to open with my parents on the other side ready to tell us good news. I could hardly move from that spot. It was the exact spot Jesse and I had sat just a while ago. Sitting, drinking our soda, and laughing.
I would only leave my place on the stairs to run up to my room to say a quick pleading prayer. To this day I don’t remember praying as hard as I did that day. How badly I wanted my prayer to work. I thought the tighter I closed my eyes, the stronger I squeezed my hands together, the longer I stayed on my knees, the more I cried… surely my prayer would help save Jesse. Exhausted from praying and not knowing what else to say I started repeating “please, please, please” over and over again, stronger and stronger, then softly and sobbing, “please.” “Please Heavenly Father, please don’t take him, please let him live.”
I saw my parents drive up from the window in the entry and get out of the car. I felt like someone was squeezing my heart when I saw the looks on their faces. I jumped up and opened the door. I knew the answer before I could ask it but I had to hope because I couldn’t imagine the alternative. All my mom could do was cry and shake her head. I dropped to the steps and began to cry. My brother softly, repeatedly bumped his head against the wall, “no, no, no.”
I returned to the same spot I had been sitting all day, the step Jesse and I sat on together. I ran my hand over exactly where he sat and I tried to imagine him there.
Nothing felt real. I didn’t want to move. All of the sudden I felt angry. I had prayed so hard! Why didn’t my prayer work? Did God even listen to me? My mom told me Jesse had passed early in the morning, shortly after they arrived at the hospital. Something had happened with his stomach, a twist in his intestine. Then, I felt foolish, all that time I was praying and Jesse was already gone. God must have been laughing at me as I prayed.
I had never been to a funeral before and I can’t remember what was said. If there was a viewing my parents didn’t take me. I do remember wanting to see Jesse one more time and being frustrated that I couldn’t. I kept looking over at his mom and dad. Seeing their sorrow. I had never seen such sadness before and didn’t realize how much it could hurt to see someone else hurt. I watched his father walk up the casket and grab the handles so hard I thought he would open it. Part of me wanted him to open it so I could see Jesse and say goodbye.
The procession to the grave site was the longest line of police cars I had ever seen. Jesse’s father was a police officer and it seemed like the entire police force was there to support him. After the graveside service was over people slowly trickled off. I didn’t want to leave. If I left it would make everything final. My dad and I stayed until everyone was gone. There were two men standing to the side waiting to cover the grave. My dad walked to them and asked for a shovel. I questioned my dad as he started to shovel the dirt into the grave, “Why are you doing that?”
He told me, “Those men don’t even know Jesse. I want someone who loved him to do this.” And so I sat crosslegged at the edge of Jesse’s grave and watched as my dad filled it. I methotiaclly helped arrange the flowers over the grave once it was covered. We quietly drove home.
That night as I lay in my bed I couldn’t stop thinking about how badly I wanted to see Jesse one more time. I couldn’t relax. I could hardly process all the emotions, the disbelief going through my mind. In one moment I was mad at God and in the next I just wanted His peace. Then came the defining moment. The unique moment only a “first” experience can give you.
Did I believe what my parents had taught me? Did I believe that Jesse was still with us? Did I believe I would see Jesse again? Before experiencing loosing someone I loved I could have easily relied on my parent’s faith that this life is not the end. Now that reality had came too soon, I had to believe for myself. I knew that figuring out what I believed was the only thing that would bring me peace. I could have turned over in my bed and forced myself to sleep. I would have fallen asleep believing that God didn’t listen to me that day I prayed so hard. Or maybe God didn’t love me. Or if there was a God He wouldn’t let His children hurt like this.
Instead, with all the faith I could muster, I got down on my 10 year old knees and prayed again. I poured my heart out. I told my Heavenly Father exactly how I felt. My heart hurt as I spoke of how badly I wanted to see Jesse again. Then in my innocence but in all sincerity I prayed, “Jesse, is with you right? Would it be ok… could you get him and let me talk to him?” I even waited a few moments for God to “get him” then started talking to Jesse in my prayer. When I was done I thanked Heavenly Father and finally fell fast asleep.
That Sunday at church was a testimony meeting. Anyone could get up and share. I was nervous but I knew I wanted to get up. I’m sure few could hear me through my tears but it didn’t matter. I wanted share what I now knew for myself. My cousin was gone but I would see him again. Our Savior loves us. He loves us so much that he suffered and felt every pain we would experience. He knew exactly how I felt and how to comfort me. I only had to turn to Him. Because of Him families can be together forever and we can all live with Him again.
I wonder how differently that experience would have affected me… IF. IF I didn’t have that knowledge, IF I didn’t know that I had a loving Father in Heaven, IF I didn’t know that I could pray to him, IF didn’t know what it felt like to have the Spirit fill you from head to toe with knowledge of truth. How grateful I am for parents that thought me of the infinite love of my Father in Heaven and my brother, His son Jesus Christ.
Sometimes I think back on that night I prayed and smile. I’m sure our loving Heavenly Father let Jesse hear the words I wanted to speak to him. Twentynine years later I still stop every now and then and tell Jesse, “Hey, I miss ya. Can’t wait to see you again.” Even though I only got to know him 6 short years and wish I had more memories of him, there is something about family that keeps you connected. You never forget how much you loved someone and that love stays until you get to see each other again and beyond. Love you Jesse, see you again soon!