It’s amazing how when someone you know passes away, every instance you ever spent with them comes rushing back at you like a waterfall of memories. That’s what happened when I learned last Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m. that my sweet cuzzin, Spencer passed away. A flood of memories over this last week, nothing big or momentous or hilarious, just small happenings that bring a smile, warm the heart, and make me grateful that I was able to have that moment in time with him.
There was the time… he couldn’t have been more than 8 years old and I was a frizzy mullet-haired, rotund, pimple-popping, hormoney, know-it-all teeny bopper of 14… convinced I knew everything since I was the oldest kid of the group, the group that included Spencer, Lindsay, Jennifer, Michael, and Jessica. I remember we were all sitting around the table and Spencer was reading a story he had written. I was sure it couldn’t be good… he was 8… I was 14… I was the most intelligent mullet girl on the planet after all! But I remember my mouth dropping when he began reading… this kid was intelligent beyond his years… beyond my years… and after I picked my jaw up off the floor, I remember laughing several times throughout that story. You see, Spencer had a sense of humor for days… even a kid of 8… and I remember saying to myself, this kid is going to do big things in his life. It’s pretty hard to impress a hormoney mullet wearer… but he did.
There was the time soon after he came up with a brilliant invention, a target designed to continually flip over when you shoot it. I was impressed once again, and immediately began shooting ideas off of him. Our best joint invention idea was the camouflage stroller. It’s a multi-purpose stroller, you see… your kid doesn’t have to be able to walk to go on his or her first hunting trip any longer. We decided we’d rig up some kind of an under carriage where you could load the deer you just shot… baby’s first deer hunt. The merchandising sold itself! It was genius!
There was the time just 10 or 11 months ago, Spencer, Jessica, and myself were charged with chasing Cruz around Temple Square for a few hours while other family members were inside. We walked around the grounds for a little while, but eventually ended up in the child’s playroom on chairs about 4 inches tall coloring at a table about 6 inches tall. We talked about roommates and cleanliness and germs and Spencer showed me some of the pictures he took around the Temple of the flowers and grounds, because that was another of his aresenal of talents, nature photography… and he told me of his sweet, beautiful, perfect daughter, Bethany.
The last time Spencer impressed me was just over a month ago at Jessica’s wedding. He had his beautiful, 3-year-old Bethany with him, and I remember thinking how sweet and gentle and loving he was with her. I saw him take her down the slide and push her on the swing, jump with her on the trampoline. She clung to him and you could tell just how much they both loved each other. Not all dads give their full attention, but he knew it was important…
Of course death is inevitable for each one of us, but when we picture dying, we picture it after having lived a long and full life with grey hairs and rotted out teeth. No one pictures passing away when they’re young and just beginning on this crazy path of adulthood. No father or mother expects to bury their child and no brother or sister expects to lose one of their best friends while still in their prime. God must have had urgent need for a brilliant man with many talents for his Heavenly Army. I’m grateful that my sweet Berger family knows that this is just a temporary separation from their son, brother, father, and friend. The time in between the next time they are able to see him will feel long and days and nights will get lonely sometimes and hearts will forever have a piece broken off of them, that piece that Spencer filled up so fully.
I know that Spencer is wearing camouflage up in heaven, a silent cheerleader for his family still on Earth, swapping fish stories with Grandpa Berger and reminding Grandma Berger to lay off the fake purple hair dye. Because you get to keep your sense of humor in heaven… I’m sure of it. Much love to Uncle Shane, JenJen, Michael, Jessica, and Leslie, and all those who knew and loved our sweet Spencer.
Lindsay found this story retold by Ezra Taft Benson in a talk:
When the spirits leave their bodies they are in the presence of our Father and God, they are prepared then to see, hear and understand spiritual things.
. . . If the Lord would permit it, and it was His will that it should be done, you could see the spirits that have departed from this world, as plainly as you now see bodies with your natural eyes. [JD 3:368]
What, then, is death like? Here is a simple incident as told by my friend, Dr. Peter Marshall, the late chaplain of the United States Senate:
In a certain home, a little boy, the only son, was ill with an incurable disease. Month after month the mother had tenderly nursed him, but as the weeks went by and he grew no better, the little fellow gradually began to understand the meaning of death and he, too, realized that soon he was to die. One day his mother had been reading the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and as she closed the book the boy lay silent for a moment, then asked the question that had been laying on his heart. “Mother, what is it like to die? Mother, does it hurt?” Quick tears filled her eyes. She sprang to her feet and fled to the kitchen, supposedly to go get something. She prayed on the way a silent prayer that the Lord would tell her what to say, and the Lord did tell her. Immediately she knew how to explain it to him. She said, as she returned from the kitchen, “Kenneth, you will remember when you were a little boy, you would play so hard you were too tired to undress and you tumbled into your mother’s bed and fell asleep. In the morning you would wake up and much to your surprise, you would find yourself in your own bed. In the nightyour father would pick you up in his big, strong arms and carry you to your own bedroom. Kenneth, death is like that; we just wake up one morning to find ourselves in the room where we belong because the Lord Jesus loves us.” The lad’s shining face looked up and told her there would be no more fear, only love and trust in his heart as he went to meet the Father in heaven. He never questioned again and several weeks later he fell asleep, just as she had said. This is what death is like. [Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter, pp. 260 – 61]
The sweet tradition brought from cousins who are on a mission in Tonga, write messages on balloons and send them to Spencer in heaven.
Until we meet again, Spencer.
Quote found by Madre Dessa:
“There is terrible suffering in our world today. Tragic things happen to good people. God does not cause them, nor does He always prevent them. He does, however, strengthen us and bless us with His peace, through earnest prayer.”
—Rex D. Pinegar, “Peace through Prayer,” Ensign, May 1993, 67
My favorite version of How Great Thou Art sung by Carrie Underwood.