Strength When Things Are Hard to Understand
Contributor: Simini Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
A family was heartbroken. Their daughter, a young woman in the prime of life, had died in a freak accident. Her husband and their infant daughter were now alone.
Two days after Coleen Casto Benard's death in Salt Lake City, J. Reuben Clark wrote her father Fenno a letter. Just how Clark learned about Coleen's death is not preserved in the historical record. Had Clark seen the obituary in the paper?
“I want you to know how deeply I sympathize with you and your family in the great seeming tragedy which has come to you," Clark began. "I say seeming because none of us are wise enough to know what the future might have held for your beloved daughter."
“I am sure her sudden passing has been a tremendous shock to you and yours."
To say it was a shock was an understatement. While she bent over to take her infant of a car seat, Coleen was hit in the head by the swinging rear car door, the one she had just opened. She died in the hospital three days later.
Coleen Benard had died in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Every day, a thousand--ten thousand--a hundred thousand--mothers opened car doors without any trouble. Coleen herself had opened the door countless of times without a problem. Why had the door not hit her hip, her side, or her leg, as it had for everyone else?
Why did it have to be her head?
For Coleen's parents, the death was unexplainable. No one expects their daughter to die that way. President Clark continued:
"There may be in your minds the question which frequently comes under such situations, as to the why a young mother is taken in the bloom of her youth and motherhood and some old persons, decrepit, with a full life behind them are left. We cannot as mortals, by mere mortal intellectual processes, give the answer to this problem. But our Heavenly Father has revealed to us that we come to this earth, first, to have bodies provided for our spirits, and, next, to provide bodies for spirits which are waiting to come to the earth. It seems that the other factors in mortal existence are ancillary to these two.
“Your daughter was provided a body for her spirit, and she also provided a body for another spirit to come, thus she fulfilled the prime essential factors of mortality. She was blessed in this because sometimes motherhood is denied, again for what reasons we do not know.
“But the Lord is all-wise. He doeth what is for the best, whether or not we can understand what comes to us. I often feel that the whole problem is answered by that great declaration of Job: 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In some small degree, President Clark understood Fenno Casto's pain. A few weeks before Christ, in December 1941, Clark received word that his son-in-law, the captain of the U.S.S. West Virginia, died aboard his ship during the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Mervyn Bennion's death left Clark's daughter Louise a widow with a child to raise alone just like Coleen's husband Ray would have to do their child. Clark often said that he loved Mervyn as much as he loved his own son. Clark had lost a son suddenly, unexpectedly, even as Fenno had lost a daughter.
President Clark did not mention the death of his son-in-law in his letter to Fenno Casto, but he did wish the Castos the same comfort he had received in his own grieving. This comfort came from the same source.
"Again, may the Lord bring to you and the family and to the bereaved husband His comfort, His consolation, and His resignation," Clark concluded.
Fenno and Amy Casto, along with Coleen's widower, Ray, wrote President Clark a letter of thanks a few days later.
"Please accept our humble thanks for those comforting, uplifting, and inspiring lines which you found time, in your busy day, to pen to us."
It was comforting to hear from one of the Lord's servants.
"We have read and reread them and each time receive greater faith and strength to accept the loss of our daughter and wife which is found so hard to understand."
Clark had sent flowers, and had even spoken at the funeral, where he had offered still more words of comfort.
The family was humbled.
"Your flowers, together with the many others, the sweet music and the inspiring words spoken at the funeral have done much to transform a tragic experience into a beautiful memory."
Source: J. Reuben Clark to Fenno B. Casto, SLC, Mar 12, 1953; Fenno and Amy Casto and Ray Benard to J. Reuben Clark, Mar 15, 1953, both in MSS 303, b 388, f 1, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.