Today I received a phone call from one of my closest friends. It was not the kind of call you ever want to get.
He called from Oregon to tell me that his youngest son, who had just returned from his mission four months ago, had died unexpectedly.
Tony and I met when I was a sophomore in high school. He lived several miles north of our ranch, on Fishback Mountain. It was closer to get back and forth by horseback than by driving a pickup truck on gravel roads. We were team roping partners. We became very good friends. When I joined the Church during my senior year in high school, Tony thought the cheese had slipped off my cracker. But just a few weeks before I left on my mission, Tony was baptized, too. And he left on his mission about one year after that.
Tony and his wife Edna had been away on a trip. When they got home, they saw Tyler asleep on the couch downstairs. But he was not asleep. Imagine trying to wake your child and finding him lifeless. I just can't hold the picture in my mind.
So far there is no cause of death. The coroner told Tony, "Sometimes people just die, and we don't know why."
Tyler served a great mission. His mission president and the many missionaries he worked with are reeling from the news.
Near the end of our very painful conversation, Tony told me something that I'll never forget. He thanked me for introducing the gospel to him and baptizing him. "The Church means everything to us," he said. "I know I'll be with my son again."
Thanks in part to faithful friends like Tony, the gospel means everything to me as well.
One last thing he said. "Never take your children for granted...When you hug your kids, don't let go..." I don't know if a word of advice has ever sunk deeper into my heart.
Tony and Edna, I'll be with you in a few days.