It was New Year’s Day, and a snowstorm had just blanketed the small mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado, where I lived. Filled with the excitement of the holiday season, my older brother, Roger, and I had gone outside to play in a field near our home. A little lake where we had played on the ice many times before now lay underneath a fresh mantle of snow, flat and absolutely flawless.
No one worried about the lake being unsafe at that time of year—we lived at such a high altitude that the cold weather generally insured that small lakes would be frozen. But as we were playing, Roger suddenly fell through a soft spot in the ice. I was only six years old, and I didn’t know what to do. I could see no sticks around to pull him out with; everything was covered by snow. His heavy clothing soon pulled him under the water.
I ran all the way home through the deep snow, over a mile, to get my father. We drove back to the lake, and he dove through the ice and somehow found my brother. He tried to revive him, but by that time Roger had drowned.
That experience left me with several feelings. First, I saw the strength of the gospel in my parents’ lives. We were the only members of the Church in our community. Everyone rallied around my parents to give them support and comfort, but I think that the whole community gained more comfort and understanding by watching how a knowledge of the gospel helped my family handle that very difficult situation.
Years later, after I had a family of my own, my wife’s mother heard a caller in a radio talk show describe how he had watched a young family that had lost a son in a drowning accident. He didn’t mention the names of my parents, but the accident had occurred in Estes Park. It was obvious of whom he was speaking. He said it had taught him a great lesson about the strength of that family and the principles that guided their lives. Even then, about twenty-five years after the accident, my parents’ conduct continued to influence others.
Second, I learned about the purpose of this mortal experience. We come to earth to gain a body. Some of us are going to live on the earth a shorter time than others. When you’re literally side by side with your brother, and he goes through the ice and drowns and you don’t, it gives you a whole different way of thinking about life. It could have just as easily been me that drowned. But I’ve always felt that my brother’s mission here on earth had been completed and that he was just “called home” at an earlier age than most of us. But being the one who was allowed to remain, it was important to live as well as I could so that not only Heavenly Father but also my brother would be pleased with my actions.
Third, I learned a great deal from the courage exhibited by my father. He risked his life to break through that ice and dive underneath it to try to rescue his ten-year-old son. It was an immediate response; he did what he felt he needed to do. He showed great love, courage, and strength of character.
Mortality is significant, but it is a very small part of our eternal existence, I learned that lesson then too. I also learned to appreciate that through the ordinances and covenants of the temple our family relationships truly can be eternal.
There’s always another side to tragedy, and that side is one of greater understanding of the purpose of life. I know that Heavenly Father provides special comfort to family and friends who go through painful experiences, as He did with my family. It was a time when Heavenly Father was particularly close to us. And He will be close to you in times of difficulty if you call on Him in prayer.