Tonight I had one of the worst experiences a person can have. I attended the open-casket viewing of 21 month old Matthew, a dear friend of our family and a frequent guest at our house. It was absolutely gut-wrenching to hear the racking sobs of his distraught mother standing next to him, holding his limp little body and repeating half-coherently “I don’t want to say goodbye” as she stroked his hair and held his cold little toddler hand. It tore a hole in my heart to walk past the cherubic, colorless face with eyes closed, a face that just last week had brightened our home and our lives with infinite color and eyes that then sparkled blue as he laughed and played at our feet with our children.
Matthew died in a tragic accident on Tuesday, October 2. He was playing in his backyard when he somehow got entangled in a soccer net and hung himself in his struggle to get out. His mother found him strangled in that net, severe wounds around his neck from his struggle with the strings, his face black and blue from his struggle for air, and his lips blue and his body cold and limp from his losing that struggle. It’s amazing how even a simple backyard soccer goal can turn into a death trap for an unwary toddler!
This tragedy strikes too close for comfort to home for many reasons. It is always unsettling, of course, to see death claim one so young in its unrespecting grasp. It is even worse when the young victim claimed is one I have known since he came into the world, who has often played in my home, his sweet laughter still resonating in my ears. But it is downright unbearable when that boy was the same age as my own son, and bore the same name.
As I looked at that still face staring up amidst his blankie, binkie, and favorite toys spread across him in the coffin, it was almost as though I saw there the young face of my own sweet Matt-Matt. The thought was unbearable, and the closest I could come to feeling that mother’s anguish as the cries racked her body with my wife sitting by her side, giving what comfort she could.
Sitting there, trying to take it all in, I reflected on Alma’s words in the Book of Mormon about the bittnerness of his sorrow for his sins contrasted with the sweetness of his joy upon the thought of redemption through Jesus Christ. Certainly all around me, and within my own heart, I beheld the gall of bitterness experienced by so many because of one sweet boy caught prematurely in the promise that in Adam all die because of the death ushered into the world at his fall from the Garden of Eden.
But almost concurrently with that thought came a flicker of hope at the great joy that will be experienced by so many mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters on the morning of the first resurrection when, because of the sacrifice of our Savior, all of these will rise up from the grave to die no more. I caught a vision in my mind of young Matthew on that glorious morning, the color restored to his face and glory streaming from his body, racing ecstactically towards his mother’s tearful embrace. I saw in my mind that mother on that morning, suddenly in an instant filled with joy as exquisite and sweet as her pain was bitter, the power of the Savior’s atonement having once and for all patched the hole that filled her heart these many years until that very moment when the hope of that day became reality for her. I had one glimmer of understanding to the glory of that day when the Savior will truly, once and for all, “swallow up death in victory; and . . . wipe away tears from off all faces,” and “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
May we all be spared from such a day as experienced by this mother in anguish, a mother whose heart may never heal during this fallen lifetime. But may we also all catch the vision of that glorious morning when the Savior shall return again to comfort his people, when such mothers will be once again reunited with their sons never again to be separated. And God bless Matthew’s family at this difficult time and guide them in his paths forever.