Lauren had just finished her nightly prayer and started to get into bed when she noticed the hat. Chuckling, she picked it up from the desk chair where Sarah had left it. It was just like Sarah to forget her hat. She was always forgetting things.
Lauren put Sarah’s hat next to her own on the dresser. The two were identical, except that Lauren’s was slightly larger. They had bought the hats together at the first of the summer and had worn them all summer long. It was hard to believe that school would be starting next week. But there were still a few days left, and they had spent the afternoon planning just how to spend every minute until school started.
Sarah and Lauren had been best friends since before kindergarten. They had been in the same class every year in school. They both had red hair, brown eyes, and freckles. They both loved peppermint ice cream, the color lavender, the same books, the same games, the same music, and the same people. Everywhere one went, the other wanted to go too. They were almost inseparable.
As Lauren turned again to get into bed, Mom came into her room. Lauren’s smile faded when she saw her mom’s face. Something was very wrong.
“Lauren, I have something very hard to tell you,” Mom said, sitting next to Lauren on the bed. “This evening Sarah was out riding her bike with her brother. She was hit by a car.”
“Hit by a car! Was she hurt? Where is she now—in the hospital? I have to go see her right now!”
“Sweetheart, Sarah died instantly. I’m sorry.”
“Died! She can’t have! I was with her all day long. She left her hat here. We’re going swimming tomorrow morning. Then bike riding, then …” Tears streamed down Lauren’s face, and she shook all over. Her mind kept racing on: Sarah can’t be dead! We’re going to be in the same class next week. We’re going to wear look-alike outfits the first day.
Mom held Lauren tightly as she sobbed. When the sobs quieted, Mom said, “I know how sad and hurt you feel right now. It always hurts a lot when you lose someone you love. This is a very hard time for you right now. But remember that Sarah is surely happy in the spirit world. She loved Heavenly Father very much.”
“It’s not fair!” Lauren cried. “It’s not fair at all! Why should Sarah have to die? She’s too good—why couldn’t some bad person die? She’s just eleven years old—why couldn’t Heavenly Father take some old person who was ready to die?”
“I know it doesn’t seem fair, and we may never understand in this life. But we can’t change what has already happened. And we must learn, somehow, to accept it.”
Lauren cried herself to sleep that night. She cried all the next day too. She cried not only for Sarah, but for herself. She didn’t know how she could go on living without her best friend. How could she go to school without Sarah? She wondered if Sarah was missing her as much as she missed Sarah. Where was heaven, anyway? What was it like? Would Sarah have a best friend there too? A thousand more questions kept going around in Lauren’s mind.
The night before Sarah’s funeral, Lauren suddenly became very frightened. She had never been to a funeral before. What was it going to be like? What would happen? Would it be scary? She didn’t want anyone to put her best friend into the ground and just leave her. The tears and sobs started again, even harder than before.
As Lauren sobbed, she felt Mom’s arms around her. “Mom, what is it going to be like tomorrow at the funeral? What will happen? Does it hurt to be buried?”
Mom held her tightly as all Lauren’s questions and fears tumbled out. Mom was quiet at first, looking as though she couldn’t quite put her thoughts into words. Then she smiled through her own misty eyes and said, “You wait here, I’ll be right back.” A minute later she came back carrying a package of photographs. “Lauren, Dad picked these up from the camera shop today.” She handed Lauren a package of photos.
Lauren looked at the one on top, and there gazing back at her was Sarah. Sarah was smiling and waving. Lauren looked back at Mom.
“These are the photos we took of you and Sarah at our picnic last month, remember?”
Of course Lauren did. How could she ever forget such a fun day? She studied each photo. There were Sarah and she splashing in the creek with their pant legs rolled up. There they were climbing like monkeys in an old oak tree. How did Sarah keep her hat on when she was hanging by her knees in the tree? Lauren wondered as she looked at that photo. She started to laugh when she saw Sarah pulling one of her funny faces in the last photo. It felt so good to laugh again. For just a moment she forgot that Sarah had died.
“These photos aren’t actually Sarah, are they?” Mom asked. “They’re just likenesses. Even after a photo is taken of a person, that person goes on living. The likeness is left for others to see. Well, sort of like these photos, Sarah’s earthly body is left, but the real Sarah is living still. Unlike a photograph, her body will be buried, so you won’t be able to see it after tomorrow, but Sarah has gone on without her earthly body for a while. I want you to remember that tomorrow and always, Lauren.”
Mom went on to explain what the funeral would be like the next day. It helped Lauren to know what to expect. Although there wouldn’t be anything spooky or scary, she was still a little afraid. It helped to know that her parents would be with her.
Beautiful music was playing softly as Lauren and her parents entered the meetinghouse the next day. Lauren’s stomach felt empty and strange as they walked into the chapel. There were lots of people. Everyone looked sad. Lauren fought back the tears as they walked to the front of the chapel, where Sarah’s family was. Lauren held Mom’s hand tightly as she went up to Sarah’s mother, who had always seemed almost like Mom. When Sarah’s mother saw Lauren, she bent down and hugged Lauren close for a long while. When she stood up, Lauren saw tears and pain in her eyes.
“I thought you might like to have this photo of Sarah,” Lauren said, handing her one of the new photos.
Sarah’s mother’s face lit up with a smile as she studied the photo. “Thank you, Lauren. Thank you so much.”
Lauren and her parents sat down then. All through the funeral, Lauren saw Sarah’s mother looking down at her photo. As she looked at it, a small smile would cross her face. Lauren knew that the photo was helping Sarah’s mother remember that she and Sarah would be together again someday.
Lauren knew that Sarah was still her best friend. She would miss Sarah, but she was sure that Sarah was happy in the spirit world.