"On June 18th of 2015, our family went to the Payson temple to be sealed for time and eternity. It’s not a coincidence that Kaylee finished her mortal life exactly three years later," Kaylee Marvin's mother, Sydni Johnston, said at her funeral. "It’s a sweet reminder and assurance that we didn’t lose her that date but that we gained her for eternity on that date."
On June 18, 16-year-old Kaylee Marvin was hiking with her best friend above a waterfall in Santaquin, Utah, when she slipped, falling to her death. While Marvin's sudden and heartbreaking loss brought her family and friends to their knees in pain and prayer, it has also brought a community together through her light, love, and example.
"[Kaylee] wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed," Marvin's aunt Megan shared at her funeral. "The more I look back on the life of this beautiful soul, the more I see how prepared she has always been to meet her Father in Heaven."
On Friday, August 24, the Payson High School football team lined up across the gridiron, purple decals on their helmets carrying Marvin's initials. That night, members of Marvin's school, ward, and community gathered for a candlelight vigil as dozens of balloons rose into the air. These events were only a continuation of the outpouring of love Marvin's family has experienced since her death. "My ward tied purple ribbons all around town (many of which are still there), they made beautiful centerpieces for the funeral dinner, the youth wrote messages on candle lanterns, which they set up around our home and sang Primary songs," Johnston says. A donated burial plot, flowers, banners of purple ribbons, and a new "Love Like Kaylee" Facebook page have inspired others to reach out in kindness in Marvin's honor. "We are really hoping to touch as many lives as possible with the love Kaylee shared during her life. We don’t want her legacy of love to end in her death, but for her light to continue to be shown here on earth," Johnston shares.
This level of love and peace did not come instantaneously for Johnston or her family, though they did experience small miracles and mercies along the way. After Johnston received a frantic call from Marvin's best friend at 10:18 a.m., saying her daughter had plummeted over a waterfall, Johnston called 911 as she raced to the canyon where her daughter had been hiking. Johnston parked next to her daughter's car but didn't know where to turn. Friends and paramedics quickly arrived, and Johnston found herself falling to her knees. "I knelt down right there and prayed," she says. "I noticed a butterfly was on the ground next to me. I plead for her to be okay. I also asked for guidance to find them. After my prayer, I opened my eyes and there was the large butterfly still next to me. Except now there was a smaller butterfly next to it. I continued to see these two flying around me until I left the canyon."
That simple, beautiful experience stayed with Johnston as she glimpsed her daughter's pale body, learned her daughter had stopped breathing, and received a priesthood blessing along with her daughter's best friend. "The entire hike down after the blessing, I kept repeating, 'Everything is going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay,'" Johnston says. "I knew in my mind it wasn’t going to be the 'okay' I wanted but felt the words were just coming to me and I was repeating them out loud. Looking back, I realize it was Kaylee’s words I was hearing."
She continues, "There are so many things that Heavenly Father had aligned to help us before I even knew I needed help."
Before Johnston could leave to follow the emergency vehicles and helicopters to the nearest hospital, Johnston's husband arrived. He was there with her when an officer approached, telling Johnston the unthinkable. There was nothing more they could do. Kaylee was gone.
"I have a depth of emptiness that I never knew existed," Johnston said at her daughter's funeral. "I just kept pondering how I could possibly live on without my precious girl. I honestly don’t know how to do life without my best friend." But she continued, "The Lord's tender mercies have surrounded us in a very real and powerful way."
While battling the despair and emptiness left by the death of her daughter, Johnston testifies how the love of others has buoyed her through this time. "The scar will never be fully healed until I hold my baby girl again, but the substance that your prayers are filling me with is sustaining me until that blessed day. I pray for the same to be true for all of you," Johnston said during the funeral before sharing a powerful experience from the temple
"On Tuesday morning, I knew I needed to be in the temple. I was able to sit in the celestial room and felt what I would call a spiritually induced, emotional coma. All my emotions were lifted and my mind was stilled. I was brought to recall a very frequent prayer I had. My prayer was that He would never take my children from me. But I would also reluctantly add, 'Lord if taking them from me early means saving them spiritually, thus being able to keep them eternally, then I pray for you to do so.' . . . In the temple, I was also made aware of how badly the adversary wanted her and worked on her, because of her tremendous spiritual strength. I was comforted that she is now free."
Johnston continued, "The wisdom Heavenly Father gave me in the temple that really sustains me is that He did not take her from me, but saved her for me. Kaylee has always been my angel and will forever remain that way. She has comforted me to know that she could and would be with me even more now. I have so graciously felt this truth."
For those who are grieving from their own loss, Johnston says, "Though it may seem during hard times that time is at a standstill, hold to the counsel given by the Lord to the prophet Joseph, 'peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high' (D&C 121: 7–8)."
She adds, "Go to the temple. That is the best place on earth to find peace and feel your loved ones' spirits that have passed on. The Lord can truly give you a peace that you never knew existed. One that can outweigh the depth of sorrow and heartache. I didn’t realize the depth of my pain was possible, but I also didn’t realize the depth of peace and love that could be felt from my Savior. I have a newfound appreciation and love for His atoning sacrifice. I also have a newfound love and appreciation for our Heavenly Father and Mother."