Experiencing the death of a loved one is especially hard while serving a mission.
We received some sad news from our missionary son recently. His companion’s little sister passed away unexpectedly. We are heartbroken for them. And feeling helpless.
My youngest brother, David, passed away of a heart attack 10 years ago while my youngest sister, Laura, was serving her mission. He was only 23 years old.
It was such a difficult time for all of us. I felt a strong desire to close ranks as a family and support one another. But Laura was so far away and alone.
Initially, I really wanted her to come home for the funeral. Until I heard that she’d decided to stay on her mission in San Diego. Immediately my heart changed, and I fully supported her decision to stay, because I knew that’s what David wanted.
Last week when we got word that our son’s companion had lost his sister, I called Laura to ask what helped her get through--what helped and what didn’t. We wanted to reach out to Elder T, but weren’t really sure how to. I knew she would have some good thoughts. And sure enough, I’m so glad I called her. She remembered that the things that helped her most were. . .
- Having a compassionate and patient friend.
Laura said that the news was so shocking and difficult, and she was surrounded by people who were caring but hadn’t known David at all. She’d found it hard to open up and share her feelings.
Her companion during that time was tenderly patient and understanding and would often suggest they take breaks during the day. They’d go for walks, sometimes just quietly being together, and sometimes Sister Z would ask just the right questions to help Laura talk about David.
Things like: What did he like to eat? What did he laugh at? What did he like to do? What were some of her favorite memories with him?
And sometimes Sister Z would just put her arm around Laura and cry with her. So compassionate. All of these gestures helped Laura not feel so alone in her grieving.
- Pictures to remember and feel closer.
Our oldest sister, Michelle, prepared a small booklet of photos of David and sent it to Laura. She loved it. There were times she’d been afraid that there’d be things she’d forget about him.
- Inviting others to remember him/her by doing good works.
Ward members and friends from home also let Laura know that they’d donated money to scholarships or to the Church missionary fund in his honor. We all felt profound gratitude for these thoughtful donations. Laura and her companion passed out pieces of David’s favorite candy and encouraged their ward members to do a kind deed for someone else in David’s honor.
- A small journal to capture the memories as they come.
Mom suggested to Laura that she get a small journal to carry with her. She did. She was able to capture memories of David as they came to her. She loved that!
It was an especially meaningful way to remember and honor him and ease the fear of forgetting a lifetime of moments with him.
- A care package from home of notes, memories, and favorite things.
Another of her favorite and most meaningful gifts was a care package from Heather, a friend from our home ward. Heather had been David’s Primary teacher several years prior, and she knew him and his quirky humor well.
In the care package she included notes and memories of her time with David.
This was so special for Laura.
And when her heartache was hard to talk about, it gave her something tangible to turn to.
Where she had felt alone, now she felt comforted and surrounded by caring friends.
With these suggestions in mind last week, our family put together a special care package for our son’s companion. We included a gift card so that he could prepare a care package to send to his family and offer comfort to them.
Care package items for a grieving missionary:
- Mementos of several “favorites” such as notes of favorite memories and special things you remember about them, such as: favorite hymn or Primary song, favorite candy, favorite game, favorite color, favorite joke, etc.
- Coupons to their favorite fast food restaurant
- A bag of their favorite candy
- A small tablet or journal to capture memories as they surface
- A gift card for a care package for their family
Most importantly, we know that they can find matchless comfort in the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.