When Kirk Dory woke up on Friday, January 7, he turned on a Latter-day Saint music playlist, just as he had the day before. The music was a request from his 22-year-old son, Kyle, who lay in a large, comfortable hospice bed in the family room. Kirk and his wife, Kris, knew from their son’s labored, rattling breaths that his six-year battle with brain cancer was nearly over. As Kirk lay next to Kyle, listening to the familiar, comforting music, he turned to look out the window. As he did, he had an impression that would carry him throughout that difficult day.
“I looked out and saw this absolutely gorgeous sunrise. And I thought about how Kyle would want us to find joy in [our] journey, and I found joy in that moment,” Kirks says. He thought of how Kyle wouldn’t have wanted him to be blinded by the grief of watching his son die. “He’d want to me to look around, see that he’s about done with the pain, that he’s about to graduate, and here’s this absolutely gorgeous sunrise. That was a really cool experience for me, and one that I don't think I'll ever forget.”
At 2:44 that afternoon, Kyle did “graduate,” surrounded by his parents and other loving family members in their home in Laramie, Wyoming.
“It was hard. Those deep breaths they take in that death rattle, and his heart going all over the board. He didn’t seem to be in much pain—we kept enough pain meds in him—but all of that can really be a hard thing to watch,” Kirk says. “But it was an absolutely, incredibly peaceful and beautiful thing. That’s the word my wife uses—it was a beautiful thing to be there as he passed through the veil.”
Although the family’s hearts were breaking, there was joy mixed with the tears as they thought about how Kyle had always sought to find joy in the journey—even when his journey included brain cancer. They thought about Kyle’s unshaken faith in the Savior and the peace he’d repeatedly found through His Atonement. The son they’d nicked named “Smiley-Kyley” may have left mortal life, but the impact his faith had on their hearts remained. And that impact reached far beyond the family’s home in Laramie.
Live Like You Were Dying
Kyle was first diagnosed with brain cancer in high school, but medical treatments eliminated the disease, and he made plans to serve a mission. He received a call to the New York Rochester Mission, but two weeks before he was set to leave, a final MRI showed the cancer had returned—and this time it was terminal. At that time in 2019, Kyle told LDS Living, “Before I was diagnosed, I was supposed to go on a two-year mission in New York. But now with my cancer, I was given two years of life, so I feel like this is my mission right now: to inspire people not in the mission field but at home. I feel like I’m on my mission right now.”
Kyle took that mission seriously, and for the past three years he shared his testimony at any opportunity. He spoke at devotionals, at missionary zone conferences, and shared his story in videos and posts on social media, garnering tens of thousands of views.
In addition to sharing his testimony, Kyle found other ways to live life to the fullest. He lived out the adventures mentioned in Tim McGraw’s popular song “Live Like You Were Dying,” including hiking in the Rocky Mountains, sky diving, and riding a bull.
He worked full time as an electrician’s apprentice and had fun living with roommates and going on hunting trips with friends. In May 2021, he moved to Seattle for two months to participate in a clinical trial for a new cancer treatment. He knew the treatments may not eliminate his cancer, but Kyle went with the attitude that his participation would further the study and help others down the road.
Now his family, and thousands of others who know his story, are reflecting on his example more than ever.
“I knew he was supposed to bring others to Christ and testify of the peace that you can find when you turn to Him,” Michelle Burton, Kyle’s older sister, says. “But I never realized how much that would change me.”
Michelle remembers feeling angry when Kyle’s cancer returned, an emotion she knew was a natural part of the grieving process. But it was her brother’s continual love and testimony that softened her heart and prompted her to turn to the Savior for help.
“I’ve had some of the deepest heartbroken sorrow over the last few days, but it almost immediately seems to be replaced by peace and comfort. I know that the only way that could be possible is through my Savior, and I believe that I got that because of Kyle and watching his example,” Michelle says.
“What Do You Mean ‘All You Can Do?’”
Following Kyle’s passing, the Dory family has been touched by the outpouring of support and love they’ve received, both from those in their ward and stake and from people who have followed along on social media. And while many people express their desire to do something tangible to help the family, Kirk doesn’t want people to forget the power of prayer.
“I have people say, ‘All I can do is pray for you.’ And I say, ‘What do you mean ‘all you can do?’ That’s drawing down the powers of heaven! What better thing to do than to pray and have faith that it will make a difference for us,” Kirk says. “There are thousands of people praying for us, [that] we’ll find peace and comfort. And we are! It’s working.”
Michelle has also felt the impact of those prayers and people’s desire to help. One of her friends, Natalie, felt impressed to ask if she could watch Michelle’s two children so she and her husband could attend the temple. The timing of her offer was just what Michelle needed, as Kyle passed away the day after their temple session.
“What an absolute tender mercy,” Michelle says. “We didn’t know that Kyle was going to pass away the next day, and to have an eternal perspective reiterated to me through serving in the temple was exactly what I needed.”
Finding Joy in the Journey
Kirk notes that the peace of an eternal perspective doesn’t mean moments of sadness don’t come.
“Last Sunday I thought, ‘Man, I’d love for Kyle to come for Sunday dinner today.’ I’d love that. But that’s not going to happen for a while,” he says through tears. “We have our moments, and we will for the rest of our lives. … But there’s something to the agency of letting those feelings run their course, and then choosing to put it back on the shelf for a while and seeing who I can go bless today like Kyle taught me to do.”
When Kyle’s cancer returned for the second time, the family adopted the phrase “Live like Kyle” as a motto, printing the words on bracelets and using the hashtag #livelikekyle on social media. That phrase and Kyle’s example took on new dimensions for Kirk when he began his own journey with cancer after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in July 2021. The night before beginning his radiation treatment, Kirk wrote on Facebook that he was feeling bitter about his and Kyle’s situation when the bracelet on his wrist brought him a needed shift in perspective.
“Kyle has said that if whining and complaining cured cancer then he would do it, but it won’t. So I will go forward trusting God even deeper. … I fully expect to not only endure this but endure it well. … Kyle Dory, thank you for teaching me by example to trust Jesus and how to find peace in Christ.”
As the family looks ahead to the rest of their lives, they are determined to take Kyle’s example with them. And for Michelle, that means carrying on the missionary work her brother loved so much during his life.
“I’ve felt overwhelming gratitude for this entire journey, even though it’s been hard. I feel so blessed and honored to have witnessed firsthand all the good things Kyle did in the world,” she says. “What we need to do as a family is to continue his legacy in the way that he wanted to bring others unto to Christ. That’s our job now, to continue on that mission for him.”
For Kirk, the motto “Live like Kyle” is actually a reminder to live like the Savior.
“I’m going to help people and love them unconditionally. … I’m going to do the things the Savior did. That’s what I’ve taken away from this, especially the last year or so,” he says. “We’ll still have hardships; my cancer may be gone, it may not be, but if I can live like Jesus, it’s going to be OK. Because ultimately, I’ll go home. And that’s what this is really about.”