My dear brother — my only sibling, but, strictly speaking, my half-brother (we didn’t even share last names), though we never thought of ourselves as half-brothers — died of a sudden heart attack just a couple of hours ago in southern California.
Though he was ten years my senior, we were extremely close. I love him more than I can possibly express, and, though normally pretty unemotional, I’m writing this through aching eyes, tears, sobs, and a persistent sense of disbelief.
It’s so common as to be trite, but no less genuine: I keep hoping to wake up, or to receive a phone call saying that it was all just an unfortunate mistake.
When my parents died, that was sad but appropriate. They were suffering, and they had lived long lives. It was time. This is different, and inexpressibly painful.
We and our wives were set to go on a cruise together, this July, around the United Kingdom. We were also going to spend time in the new house he’s been building in forested northern Idaho.
I’ve been working on a book (it’s nowhere near finished). Actually, on several. I hadn’t told him — I wanted it to be a surprise — but I was going to dedicate it to him: “To Kenneth D. Walters, Best of Brothers.”
Because he was.
I realize that blogging one’s sorrow like this, sharing it with a few hundred or thousand of my closest friends, is more than a bit odd. Very twenty-first century. But, frankly, I don’t feel like doing anything at all — the academic paper I was working on when the phone call came holds no interest for me whatever at the moment — and this at least allows me to express my grief.
Critics of the Church, particularly of the secularizing kind who altogether reject theism, and lapsed members sometimes demand of me to know what difference belief in the Gospel makes. Some are focused on social-policy concerns or complaints about unfeeling church leaders or church finances or any number of things that seem to me entirely secondary or even tertiary and have never seemed more so than now. Right now, too, I just don’t care — not even slightly — about those who take delight in cynically mocking and deriding what I and many others hold sacred.
Here is the difference the Gospel makes. I choose the words of Paul, from 1 Corinthians 15:
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
“Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.
“But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
I recently wrote in the Deseret News about what I call simply “Sarah’s Story.” Others have told me that they took great comfort in it. Now it’s my turn. Nobody escapes this: Every human relationship ends in death, if it hasn’t already ended before.
President Harold B. Lee told once of an experience he had had. He was speaking with a young military officer from Asia who had come to the United States for training. While in the States, he had met and joined the Church.
Then-Elder Lee asked him how his new religious affiliation would be received back home.
The young officer responded that, though he wasn’t sure, he would probably be disgraced, and that his military career might well be over.
“Are you willing to pay such a high price?” Elder Lee inquired.
“It’s true, isn’t it?” the young man responded.
“Yes, it’s true.”
“Then what else matters?”