It was 10PM on a Sunday in August, a decade ago. The next day was the first of three day-long sessions that comprised my comprehensive PhD exams. I was just thinking about how I probably should call it a day pretty soon when the phone rang. It was the police. The officer started asking me if I had seen my friend Jim [not his real name]. Jim was a good friend of mine, a fellow ward member and graduate student who shared my unusual sense of humor and my absurdist approach to life. Jim was a gifted linguist who was studying Mongolian language and history, but unlike so many of our fellow doctoral students, he wore the mantle of his superb intellect lightly. The officer on the phone was asking me strange questions: did Jim have a girlfriend? No, he was married with two kids. After a few more questions, the officer told me that Jim was missing. He had left church in the middle of the meetings and he was no where to be found.
I hung up the phone and told my wife. She insisted that we walk across the street to Jim’s apartment to check on his wife Jane [not her real name]. When we arrived, the police were just leaving. Several other women from the ward were there. It was surreal. Jane seemed to be holding up well-enough, but I had a very bad feeling about the whole thing. At some point, as we all sat there, Jane asked if I would give her a blessing. I was the only man in the room, so, for better or worse, I was her only option. I would have given anything not to have been there at that moment. I had no idea where Jim was, or what he was doing, or if Jane and her two small kids would ever see him again. I’m not one for spiritual experiences. I just don’t tend to have them. In all candor, I am predisposed to roll my eyes when I’m being regaled with testimony-meeting stories. I was scared beyond words as I put my hands on Jane’s head and started speaking. What happened next was, for me, frightening. I knew I was speaking, but I didn’t know what I was saying. I was overwhelmed by the sensation that there were dozens of arms reaching out to touch Jane, to comfort her. It seemed as if all of heaven were groaning and stretching to reach her. I knew by the end of that blessing that Jim was dead. Nothing else could have caused the heavens to react that way. I was shaken. I felt like I had gone insane. What was worse, I didn’t have any idea what I had said. No one in the room seemed to be any worse off than they had been before I started, so I assumed I hadn’t said what I felt. On the walk back to our apartment, I told my wife that I thought I had made a terrible mistake. One of the women told me that I had said that “Jim would find his way back home.” I told my wife I knew Jim was dead. I was terrified that I had given false hope to Jane. I didn’t sleep much that night.
The next day, I went to campus and endured the first day of exams. When I was done, my wife picked me up and told me that Jim was still missing. We drove to Jane’s house and took her little boy, who was about four, to a nearby McDonald’s just to give Jane some time. On the way, the little boy said “Do you know where my daddy is?” My heart was not broken. It was utterly obliterated. It was all I could do to keep my composure as I said “no, buddy, I don’t know where he is.” I kept thinking about that blessing. What had I done? After McDonald’s, we pulled back up in front of Jane’s apartment. My wife, who was 9 months pregnant with our first child, got out to walk the little boy up to the door. Before she could get to the door, another young mother from the ward met her on the sidewalk. Words were exchanged. I watched my wife, who very rarely show much emotion, dissolve into shuddering sobs. Jim had been found. He had left church, driven to a local park, and shot himself in the head with a shotgun. I was numb. But I was also tormented by my “he’ll find his way home,” statement. Later, after the funeral was over and my friend’s ashes had been buried in his beloved Cache Valley, Jane spoke to me. I stammered an apology for the blessing. Her response still rings in my ears, “When you said he would find his way home, I knew he was gone. Jim was never at home in this world. I knew that he had gone to his true home.” I think about Jim a lot. He would have done much good in this world. I miss him. My world is lonelier without him. But I know he’s home. Save a place on the back row for me, Jim. I’ll be home soon.