Jonathan: Not Really the End

I will not say “Good-bye,” but only “See you later.”


I remember saying to Jonathan a few times during his adult life, “Jonathan, because you disappear from time to time, and we never know if you’re alive or dead, I want you to promise me that if you do ever die that you will come back and tell me.” He would always laugh and promised me that he would do so!

On Saturday morning, March 6, 2010 at 5 a.m., I was startled awake from a vivid dream in which a blond-haired woman said to me, “I have some very sad news I have to tell you.” I couldn’t go back to sleep, and I began thinking about Jonathan and wondered if the sad news might be about him.

On Sunday evening, March 7, we received a phone call from Jonathan’s aunt and uncle who told us that they had not seen Jonathan since saying goodnight to him on Thursday, March 4. While we were obviously worried, I jokingly said, “Well I don’t think he’s dead because he hasn’t come back to visit me yet!” I told them of Jonathan’s promise to me.

On Monday morning, the feeling came to me that perhaps Jonathan had decided to come back home and that was why Linda and Steve couldn’t find him. It was a warm, happy feeling, and I felt excited to see him again. While those feelings were not entirely accurate, they were prophetic. He was on his way home, but not our home.

That night, I had amazing dreams all night long. In my dreams, Jonathan was talking and laughing with me as he showed me around different places and told me lots of interesting things. He looked so happy and healthy, and I’ve never seen him look so confident in his life. It was a restless sleep that night, and I woke up several times, but each time I quickly fell back asleep and these wonderful dreams of being with Jonathan would continue.

When the alarm clock rang, I sat up in bed and felt this incredible feeling of peace come over me. I said to myself, “I don’t know where Jonathan is right now, but wherever he is I know that he is very happy and having experiences that will help him in his life.” As I went about my morning activities, I thought, “Where could Jonathan be where he would be so incredibly happy?” Slowly I realized that the only place he could be that happy was in heaven. Then into my mind I could see him greeting his good friend and former brother-in-law, Justin, who passed away three weeks earlier. I then knew that my dreams during the night were not just dreams, but it was Jonathan coming to visit me as he had promised. Soon afterwards, thoughts started coming into my mind about how to plan his funeral program. I knelt and prayed that if he had really passed on that we would find his body soon.

A few hours later, my sweet husband David received the call from his sister that Jonathan had indeed passed away. As David started to tell me, I said, “I already know.” But I didn’t even cry right then because that incredible feeling of peace continued to engulf me, and I knew he was no longer suffering from all the emotional pain and mental anguish that had afflicted him throughout his life.

As David and I had to tell each of our children one by one that Jonathan had taken his life, everyone was completely devastated and heart-broken. Their disbelief and cries of anguish were almost too much to bear. It was a surreal time, and life suddenly felt like it was moving in slow motion.

As David and I were flying down to California where Jonathan had died, we were trying to make arrangements to have his body transported back to my hometown of Boise, Idaho where we wanted him to be buried next to his beloved Grandmother and Granddaddy Litster. His kind and generous cousin James, who owned a black suburban with a black trailer volunteered to help. He invited Jonathan’s brothers, Andrew, Ben, and Matt, to come with him and the four of them made the twenty-four-hour round trip together from Park City, Utah to Southern California and back up to Boise. They all took turns driving, weeping, and reminiscing about their favorite memories of Jonathan as they grieved together and showed their last respects to him. Ben shared his thoughts about this tender experience with me in these words:

“As we drove down to California to get Jon’s body, we had a lot of time to talk, cry, and just be together as brothers. We shared a lot of memories of Jon. Although we’d all had a different relationship with him, we all truly loved him, and I know he knew that we loved him. While we probably could have done more to reach out to him through the years and be a better brother and friend to Jon, we knew we couldn’t change the past. However, we could honor him by doing better as we moved forward in life. Some of the things that we talked about on that long car ride were that we need to show more empathy to those who are different than us; we need to be more forgiving of those that hurt or offend us; we need to judge others less; we need to be more loving. We need be more understanding of where people are coming from and ask questions as to why they might be acting a certain way. Jon suffered so much—but while he was alive, I didn’t really understand the reasons why he acted the way he did sometimes. It brought me great peace to be able to drive with my brothers and cousin and bring my older brother’s body back home. We felt it was a small way that we could honor him. We also agreed that Jon probably would have thought it was cool that he was being brought home in a Harley Davidson motorcycle trailer. As James said, ‘In our family, we bury our dead and we bring our dead home.’”

My husband David and I met James, Andrew, Ben, and Matt when they arrived in Desert Hot Springs, California. We all cried together as we visited the place where Jonathan had hung himself, but our grief was accompanied by a feeling of comfort and peace that comes when you know you are being carried in the arms of our Savior’s love.

When David and I walked into Jonathan’s small apartment where he had been living before he died, his GED books that he had been studying up to the very end were still sitting on the couch. I cried as I thought about the sixteen years he had been looking at those books and trying to master all the information that was in them. Jonathan told me many times the reason he wanted to pass the GED was so he could go to college and find a profession where he could provide for a wife and children someday. With his learning disabilities, he could never learn the material well enough to even pass one test. Jonathan was completely discouraged and depressed about this major failure in his life, but his thirst for knowledge never left him.

As we went into Jonathan’s bedroom, I looked carefully at the few things he had left on his nightstand. There were pieces of Nicorette gum, so I knew he was trying to stop smoking once again. There were several packages of Tums, so I knew that the terrible stomach pains, which had been afflicting him off and on for years, had still been plaguing him. There was an unfilled prescription for pain pills for the terrible tooth extraction that he had to have done a few weeks before, so I knew how hard he was trying to stay drug-free. He told me once that whenever he took a prescribed pain pill for an injury or illness that the little high it gave him would always make him relapse. After taking prescription drugs, he would soon be out using street drugs again—and he refused to take that chance.

Sitting on his nightstand was also a little notebook with the phone numbers of a few friends—and his sister Angela. The little baby girl he had laughed and played with on the ride up to his first drug rehab was now a beautiful, twenty-year-old, grown up woman, and she had remained a faithful friend to her big brother throughout his life. She never judged him, but always radiated love and happiness whenever she was around him. Jonathan told me in one of our last conversations how much he appreciated her kindness towards him.

Quickly, our grief-stricken family began gathering for Jonathan’s funeral from across the country. The memories of those few days we spent together will forever be firmly etched in my mind. It was a solemn time, but also a sweet and tender time.

As Jonathan’s body lay in his casket at the church, I gently stroked his hair one last time as I had done so many times before when he was alive. My oldest daughter, Ali, who had not only lost her brother, but also her best friend, somberly stood nearby wearing the leather jacket that had belonged to Jonathan. He forgot and left it at her house the last time he visited her, and it was now a precious reminder of the many good times they had shared together throughout his life.

Three of my daughters, Annie, Elizabeth, and Angela, were in one room sadly, but bravely, practicing one of Jonathan’s favorite spirituals, “Amazing Grace,” which they were going to sing at his graveside service after the funeral was finished at the church.  With tears blurring their vision, two of my other daughters, Kat and Rebekah, were in another room quickly framing and putting together several beautiful picture collages of Jonathan’s life to put on display for others to see.

My youngest daughter, Michelle, with quiet, sad eyes that had witnessed too much sorrow in her young lifetime, tried to be helpful by caring for all her little nieces and nephews as she was always so willing to do. My husband David, with his tear-stained face and loving smile, continually greeted our many family members and friends who came to be with us.

My sons, Andrew, Ben, and Matt, who were all still weary and emotionally drained from bringing Jonathan’s body back to Boise with their cousin James, were in the chapel as Ben played the piano and practiced with the many cousins who had come to honor Jonathan as they prepared to sing, “You Have a Savior” (The Way Back), with our family. I had asked that our family sing this song and also the song, “Because We Are a Family.” I knew in my heart that these were the two songs Jonathan wanted to have sung at his funeral.

It is hard to describe the grief we felt as we gathered around Jonathan’s body as the viewing came to an end. As we stood with our arms wrapped tightly around one another forming a half-circle in front of the casket, everyone wept while we said our last goodbyes.  Andrew had purchased a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ embracing a young man in his arms. On the back of the picture he, his wife Charity, and all his brothers and sisters wrote one last message of love to Jonathan. As Andrew gently laid the picture on Jonathan’s chest before the casket was closed, we all knew in our hearts that Jonathan was truly in the arms of his Savior, and he wasn’t suffering any more.

During the funeral service, there was a great feeling of peace that came over us as we all felt of Jonathan’s great love for each one of us. We could also feel our Father in Heaven’s love and our Savior’s love for Jonathan and for our whole family. We were all comforted by the Holy Ghost and the great outpouring of love and support from our extended family and friends from coast to coast who were praying for us. Everyone was sorrowfully mourning with us over the loss of our son. As I sat in the chapel and listened to our children and Jonathan's cousins sing “You Have a Savior,” I could picture in my mind the Savior standing with his arm around Jonathan. Yes, Jesus Christ lives and because of Him, my son lives too.

While Jonathan has passed on, his story is not over yet. In a way, it has just begun.

This is the message that I know Jonathan now wants everyone to know:  Jesus Christ is real. Jesus Christ is alive today. Because Jesus is our Savior, He can save us. We don’t have to wait until we pass on to the other side of the veil to have His help in our lives. No matter what our struggles are, no matter what our problems are, our Savior can help us right now.

I have always believed these things to be true, but now I know them for sure. I know that my son Jonathan’s spirit is alive. I know that our Savior Jesus Christ is alive. I know He will help us as we come unto him and make Him the center of our lives.

Jonathan lived a life of compassion, and he wanted other people to live lives of compassion also. He had come to know his Savior, and he tried to follow His example of humility and sincere, selfless service to others. I am grateful for Jonathan’s testimony of the reality and divinity of Jesus Christ.  He shared his testimony not only in his words but in his actions. His beliefs were reflected in the words to a song that I had written for him many years earlier: 

The Son of God (The Plan)

When the Son touches the snow,
It suddenly melts in the earth—
Restoring my self-worth
Through His miraculous birth . . .
The Son of God. 

When the Son touches my heart,
I suddenly feel no more pain—
Removing all my shame
Through His redeeming name . . .
The Son of God.

When the Son touches my soul,
I suddenly know who I am—
Remembering God’s great plan
Through Him, the chosen Lamb . . .
He is the Son of God. 

Although Jonathan’s body now lies in a grave, his spirit lives on. I know he wants his story to be told so that others may come to know what he now knows for certainty: Jesus Christ’s infinite Atonement can heal everyone from sin and sorrow.

I spoke at Jonathan’s funeral. My final words were directed to him—

Jonathan, you have been my son, my teacher, and my friend. I am proud to be your mother. And yes, my dear son, I will do what you have been telling me to do these last several days. I will be happy and help those around me be happy, too.

I will not say, “Good-bye,” but only, “See you later.”

You are now free to go fly on your own Wings of Glory.

I love you.

As we lowered Jonathan’s casket into the ground, it seemed so unreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually burying my son. I had envisioned him dying so many times in his life, but now it had really happened. While we took turns as a family shoveling dirt into Jonathan’s grave, so many memories came rushing back into my mind. My little baby boy was gone. This part of his life was now over. But, as tired tears trickled slowly down my grieving face, I vowed that my son would not die in vain. I knew I would go forward with my life and help the rest of my family, and everyone else in the world who needed it, to find true freedom from addiction.

This is my story of hope.