The first day of concert choir was always the worst day of the year. The teacher had to cajole 150 teenagers into an arranged seating assignment. If I had to sit next to a stranger, I would run the risk of being subjected to two hours of irritating interaction instead of being able to exchange news and confidences with friends.
I sat in the first row, sandwiched among friends as we waited for our seating assignments. I surveyed my peers and submitted a fervent prayer to end up sitting by someone I knew. Consequently, I couldn’t keep the disappointment from my face when I was assigned to sit next to Ashley—a girl I’d rarely spoken to. I was sure the happiness of my junior year of choir had been doomed.
For the next few days, the situation proved as miserable as I’d predicted. But time worked its magic, and my walls of reserve were broken by this girl’s unusual character. Before a month had passed, we were both the truest of friends, each keeping confidences about the other’s life and loves.
Ashley’s enthusiasm for life spilled over to include everyone she came in contact with. I began to look forward to choir more than any other class merely for the sake of being with her. She was the happiest person I knew, and she constantly delighted me with her humor. Ashley stood out because of her kindness and true Christlike attitude.
When I hugged Ashley good-bye a day before graduation, I thought I would see her again before she set off on a yearlong journey across the nation to help children. But less than a month after graduation, Ashley died in a car accident.
At 17, I’d never experienced the loss of a loved one, and I didn’t know how to handle this tragedy. I had never met Ashley’s family, so I didn’t feel that I could share my grief with them. My other friends hadn’t been as close to her as I had.
So I mourned alone in my room at night, with tears trickling into my ears as I lay on my bed. “Okay,” I thought, “this is natural. I’ll have my cry and then go to sleep.” But to my surprise, the pain didn’t end. I was frightened to feel a great hole growing inside of me, and it felt bottomless.
In desperation, I pulled out my scriptures and read blindly until a measure of calm stopped the aching, and I slept. But the sadness continued. For about a week it was hard to sleep, and the tears kept falling.
I started to get angry. I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I knew that death was not the end and that Ashley was in a better and happier place. I was aware that I would see her again. I didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time getting over her death while knowing these things were true. I’d always heard that members of the Church weren’t as sad at funerals because they know about our life after death, and I felt ashamed of my sorrow.
As time passed, so did the ache, but occasionally something would remind me of my friend, and I would have a hard time controlling my emotions.
It’s now been over three years since Ashley’s death, and I’ve finally come to a better understanding of my grief. Jesus Christ blesses those who mourn and commands us to “live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die” (D&C 42:45).
My tears for the loss of my friend were not wrong. These tears did not indicate a lack of faith in God’s plan. Comfort can reach us. It will sit beside the grief, and while not replacing sorrow, will at least keep it from overpowering one’s heart entirely.
I still think of Ashley occasionally. I picture her in her favorite striped sweater and with the hundreds of friends she had from all areas of the high school. Many times I have thanked my Heavenly Father for not answering my prayer that first day of choir class to be seated by someone I knew. If He had, I never would have experienced the joy of knowing such an inspiring person before she left this earth.
To learn more about coping with the loss of a loved one, read these articles in the Gospel Library at www.lds.org: “Hopeless Dawn—Joyful Morning” (Ensign, Feb. 1993) by President Thomas S. Monson, “But If Not” (Ensign, Nov. 2002) by Elder Lance B. Wickman, and “To Mourn with Those That Mourn” (Ensign, June 1992) by Kevin Fitzwater.