On August 24, 2013, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland came to visit our mission. All the missionaries gathered in a church building, anxious to meet him. He spoke with such power, and I remember the Spirit testifying to me that he was indeed an apostle of the Lord and that anything he said would be of God.
I remember he gave each of us a promise. He said, “As you serve your missions with all your heart, mind, and strength, your families will be protected.” I made a promise to myself right then that regardless of how tired or tested I ever felt, I was going to serve the Lord the best that I could.
Time passed, and I faced many trials. During a particularly difficult period, I asked one of my zone leaders for a blessing. In the blessing, he told me that I didn’t need to worry about home. My family was safe and would remain safe because of my decision to serve. Again, I felt that reassurance that the Lord would keep His promise.
But on February 23, 2014, just three days after my year mark of leaving for the MTC, my life was changed forever.
It was 10:30 on a Sunday night, and I had just finished saying my prayers before bed when there was a knock on the door. After a puzzled pause, my companion and I answered the door. There stood the last two people we would have expected: our mission president and his dear wife, each wearing a grim expression.
They gave me a hug, and I knew at that moment something was very, very wrong. With tears in his eyes and a shaky voice, my mission president told me the unthinkable. An accident had happened at my home back in Idaho. During the previous night, carbon monoxide had filled the house, killing my mom, dad, and my two youngest brothers, Keegan and Liam.
I was so shocked that I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t believe it. I had just talked with them that Christmas. I had just emailed my mom last week. But, as much as I tried to deny it, I knew in my heart they were right. My companion and I packed an overnight bag and stayed at the mission home that night.
My mission president offered to give me a blessing. I felt that I was in dire need of one, and he gave me a very powerful blessing. Though I cannot remember all the words that he spoke, I do remember the peaceful feeling that comforted me.
However, that night as I lay in bed, I could not sleep. The disaster hadn’t fully hit me yet.
The day after was a blur as I received many letters of support. I was able to talk to my third brother, Ian, who was also away from the tragedy because he was serving a mission in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission. We were both so confused and unsure about what we were going to do without our family.
The next week, I flew into Salt Lake City and met Ian. It had been 18 months since we had seen each other, and I was so happy to see him. We flew into Pocatello together and walked off the plane with our arms around each other, greeting tearful members of our extended family. That is how our families saw us—as a united front intent on sticking together and leaning on each other for support.
For me, it was a strength to have him with me. We were inseparable that week.
We saw such an outstanding outpouring of love at the funeral. So many people attended that they had to broadcast it at two stake centers.
We knew that many of the people in attendance would not be members of the Church, so we felt impressed to make this a missionary opportunity. The people who spoke testified of the plan of salvation, and someone sang the song, “His Hands.” The Spirit was so strong, and there were many who commented on the peaceful feeling present.
A member of the Seventy, Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge, also attended the funeral and shared a letter written by President Monson for our family. “At this difficult time, it’s hard to understand from a mortal perspective, but we need to understand that death is a necessary step, and your family is preparing for a reunion,” President Monson wrote. These words and the support we received from the Church provided such comfort for our family and showed everyone at the funeral—members and nonmembers alike—that the leaders of the Church care for the members deeply and individually.
The Start of a “New Normal”
Not long after that, I was speaking to a very close friend of mine who also lost her mother unexpectedly five months before. As we were discussing our feelings, life, and what we were going to do, she told me, “I’m just trying to figure out my new normal.”
The phrase really struck me. The life that I knew before was gone; it was never going to be the same. But my life would somehow adapt to the sudden changes, and it would one day become “normal” again. It would be different, it would be new, and it would eventually become a new normal.
At this time, in the midst of trying to recover and find my “new normal,” another question dogged my brother and me: “When are you going back out into the mission field?”
Neither of us was sure what we were expected to do, but we both knew that we wanted to do what was right. Therefore, we decided that we would both pray and search it out in our minds separately and make our own decisions. A couple of days passed. Ian felt that he had received his answer right away and was impressed that he needed to stay home. I, on the other hand, did not feel that the Lord was answering my prayers.
On the following Saturday morning, a clear thought came into my mind. I knew that it wasn’t my own. It simply said, “You need to blog about your experience.” I thought it was odd. I had blogged during my mission, after the First Presidency announced that missionaries would begin to use online proselyting tools, but I mostly shared insights on scriptures. I had never shared anything so personal. But the more I thought about it, the more it felt right. I had received an answer. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but the impression was very strong.
Following my prompting, I began blogging about my experiences. My first post was short and simple and explained what had happened and what my blog was going to be for.
I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting from it, and I didn’t know if anyone would read it. But I definitely wasn’t expecting the response I got. Not only were my friends encouraging but they shared it with their friends, too. That led to people I didn’t even know sharing my story—and my testimony.
I started getting messages from people who had read my posts. Some left me messages of gratitude and told me that my words were an answer to their prayers. Some explained that they had lost a loved one but never knew how to share their feelings and that my blog had helped them. People even asked to use my blog post in their church lessons or sacrament talks.
During all of this, I felt so humbled to know that I was helping people through my experience and my words.
A Decision to Return
Over the past year, I’ve learned that sometimes the Lord asks us to follow commandments that we don’t understand. Sometimes,
He will require us to do very hard things when we feel extremely weak. Sometimes, He will ask us to do more things than we feel we are able to do. But as long as we put Him first, the blessings do come.
Two months after the funeral, Ian and I were able to attend April general conference in Salt Lake City.
About a week afterward, Ian and I were talking, and he confessed to me that during general conference, he felt a strong impression from the Spirit that he needed to finish his mission. It had been on his mind that whole week, and he was anxious to return.
Ian was gone within the next couple of weeks. He left quietly, telling only a few people. My brother’s devotion to the Lord helped me to get over the pain of seeing him leave again.
We Are Never Alone
It has now been a year since my family passed away. People still ask me how I am doing.
I don’t always have the answer. There are days that are intensely difficult. Sometimes, there are days when it hurts to get up in the morning. I still think about my mom, dad, Keegan, and Liam many times every day.
It has been a trying year for me and my family, to say the least, but it has also been a blessed year. The tender mercies of the Lord never cease. I’ve had to learn for myself how much God truly loves me. My mission helped prepare me for these experiences; however, coming home is when I had to genuinely put those lessons to the test. I find that when I don’t read my scriptures, or if I don’t take time to really talk to my Heavenly Father, that is when the adversary comes in. I’ve learned that I cannot do this without the help of my loving Father in Heaven.
I’ve also come to better love, appreciate, and understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that I will never fully understand it during this probationary stage of Heavenly Father’s eternal plan, but I do have a firm testimony of it. I’ve come to realize that the Atonement is not only given so that we can repent. The Atonement was an act of service out of love for us. The Atonement was given so that we can repent and be with our earthly families and our heavenly family forever.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.
I’ve often reflected back to that apostolic blessing given to me as a missionary, and I have come to realize that Elder Holland’s promise was fulfilled. My family is okay. No, they are not with Ian and me right now, but they are near us always. They are safer than they could ever have been here on earth.
We are an eternal family, and Heavenly Father kept that promise to keep my family safe if Ian and I served our missions with all of our hearts, might, minds, and strength. And we will always strive to be worthy of that promise as we continue to carry out our missions on this earth.
Find more from Parrish on her blog: firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about Jensen Parrish's faith in the face of a family tragedy in the January/February issue of LDS Living Magazine, available at Deseret Book.